Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In which the author gives a lady advice upon marriage

Retrieved from NYTimes, Social Qs, 12/22/13
My boyfriend and I have been living together for three years, and I am hoping he will ask me to marry him over the holidays. If he does not, I will probably break up with him in January. Is there any way I can raise the subject to see which way he is leaning?
Anonymous, Boston

Dear Anonymous,
No, unfortunately for you, there is no acceptable way in which you can “raise the subject” with your proclaimed suitor to discover his matrimonial timetable. If he is indeed your suitor, it would be highly unrefined on your part---not to mention a mark of ill-breeding---as it would upon the part of any honest lady---to bring up the subject of marriage to the gentleman in any such forward manner as you seem to suggest. I’m afraid the gentlemen will need the wherewithal to come to the resolution himself.
If I may draw some general inferences from your boyfriend’s personality, though I risk being too severe, it is likely that your boyfriend is but a sort of a repressed libertine, to use a word a modern audience may understand. Indeed, what is your boyfriend if not an illustration of the difference between promise and performance, between profession and reality, as this tendency affects all mankind? But whether there is design and studied deceit in his workings or a true though sapless resolution to conform to society’s rules I presume not to judge.  
Yet to be charitable to your boyfriend, I will assume him to be an honest gentleman. And, like Signor Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, your boyfriend may simply be unaware of his own own wish to marry you, who is truly his Beatrice. And of course Benedick’s and Beatrice’s  marriage was ultimately brought about through a cunning scheme performed by their friends. Your problem thus could be resolved with a sly appeal to the help of your mutual friends, who themselves may be dependent upon to drop certain hints concerning your matrimonial holiday wishes into your boyfriend’s ears.
Meanwhile, when in his company, you are to strain to be your most charming and womanly. In other words, you should humor his whims, laugh at his jests, ignore his follies, and praise his virtues all out of proportion. If you can behave in such obliging manner, he is very likely to propose to you at first opportunity. And I am sure all gentlemen will agree that  holidays offer great opportunities for making propositions. ‘Tis the season for propositions indeed. But if after you have tried everything, and he still fails to  utter the proposition, for whatever reason, during the holidays, and if you still feel the way you do now, you should certainly leave him, and then perhaps start considering spiritual alternatives to a life of earthly matrimony.   

Monday, December 9, 2013

Containing description of a merry toasting ceremony

Dear Reader---

I offer for your pleasure and instruction the following memoranda pertaining to what occurred upon another recent gathering of my MeetUp group, known as the Amateur Shakespeare Society, of which I am the founder and current supreme figure of authority. You must forgive, if you find the following account to be less than fully cohesive; for it was scribbled from pure memory, dear reader, like a spontaneous overflow of recollections, with small interference from that mental faculty known as judgment.

We had all assembled in the living room, and dispersed thereabout in small conversation circles. In one such conversation nook, Mr. Byrd and Miss Farquhar were disporting upon the virtues and the flaws of those works of fiction called comedies of romance against those called heroic romances. Mr. Byrd made a solid argument, saying the former exhibits life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind; whereas the latter requires the help of wonder to keep up the curiosity of the reader and where every transaction and sentiment is so remote from all that passes among men that the reader is in very little danger of making any application to himself. When Byrd finished the argument, Miss Farquhar struck him with a haughty look in her eyes.

“Well-a-day,” spoke Mr. Byrd.  “I take it you enjoy stories in which twelve-year old wizards from the suburbs battle evil giant reptiles, and where professors metamorphose into werewolves, or where zombies snatch away ladies from their nuptial rites.” In response, Miss Farquhar snapped her fingers across the face of Mr.Byrd and impudently turned her back to him.

“Pardon me, my friends,” said Mr. Slepovitch, directing his words to everyone in the room. Seizing thus our attention, he invited us to raise our bumpers in toast to yours truly, the author of this blog. No doubt, Slepovitch was feeling all the advantages of liquor upon the constitution. “Ladies and gentleman,” he said. “May I have the pleasure to lead this toast, as we express our deepest love and admiration for our own Mr. Richardson, our honorable Toastmaster, and greatest living writer. A health, a ringing health, unto the king of all our hearts to-day!” And so everyone took thimblefuls of wine together in my honor. Miss Carrington and Miss Shanka munched on some croutons which had been dipped in wine. In truth, I was no more delighted than everyone else to hear fitting compliments paid a deserving writer.---And even were I not myself that writer, I’d  commend my genius just the same.

“I thank you, Mr. Slepovitch, you are a mighty fine toaster,” quoth I, “Yet you ought to drink my Clarissa, not to me.” I was in highly jubilant spirits.  I have no doubt but that I availed myself of the biggest draught of them all.

Now the company had fallen into a spirited conversation upon the benefits of human society. Mr. Byrd said that, among other advantages, in society we find a world so adjusted that not only bread but riches may be obtained without great abilities, or arduous performance. Mr. Slepovitch expressed his admiration for living amidst the conveniences of a town, saying that one cannot be but satisfied to see that as nothing is useless but because it is in improper hands, what is thrown away by one is gathered up by another, and the refuse of part of mankind furnishes a subordinate class with the materials necessary to their support.

“O Slepovitch, you and Byrd are a fine pair of rhetorician,” quoth I, who overheard their learned talk, “but enough talk, what say ye, my friends? What say we fall to some dancing?”

“Indeed, why must we always talk? Words, words, words,”---said Miss Farquhar---“Dancing will be so delightful”----said Miss Shanka “”---“How I long to dance again,”---said Mr. Brockden---“Truly, nothing is greater than going to a ball,”---said Miss Carrington---“O to have first dance with any of the ladies here, ‘twould be a great honor---said Mr. Brockden---“”Twould be an even greater honor for me”---said Mr.Chatterjee---“No, ‘twould be the biggest honor for me”---said Mr. Lishmago, etc. etc. 

“Now tell me, Slepovitch,” quoth I. “as I am dying to know, what sort of dancer are you? Were your Russian ancestors, like the sprightly grasshoppers in the field, not fine dancers themselves? I’faith, you have such lusty legs and thighs, man. Now let me see you caper. Come on, give me a Scotch jig.”

“Ha, if it please you, Mr.Richardson,” said Slepovitch. So after taking a hearty sip from his goblet, and as Miss Carrington played the piano, and as the merry gentlemen shouted “Higher! Higher!” he cut a lovely Scotch jig in the middle of the room to everyone’s apparent satisfaction. When the sprightly number was completed, I proposed that Slepovitch dance something in a slower mode, such as a stately measure; which he kindly obliged, and was accompanied on the piano, as ever, by the delightful Miss Carrington. When the measure was completed, I bade that Slepovitch and Byrd now burst forth into a cineque-pace. They gladly obliged me by doing the galliard together, leaping into the air, and madly wiggling their feet, to our utmost delight, prompting much applause. Yet Slepovitch soon became so exhausted and so short of breath, his legs giving way, that he collapsed on the floor---the spectacle being too shocking for some of the ladies.---Yet the men quickly hoisted him up, and he was promptly revived with the aid of smelling salts. With his humors thus restored, he was as radiant as a lantern. Still, I knew exactly what needed to be done. In less than twenty minutes, I dispatched nine separate taxi rides to carry my friends safely to their respective homes.

Later that evening, ere going to bed, I had made a note in my octavo, scribbling thus: “Slep.’s deplorable dancing: reminds Beatrice, Much Ado about Nothing, “Wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace: the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and, with his bad legs, falls into the cinque pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”   


Friday, November 8, 2013

Beauty's inventory

It pleases me to relate for my dear readers the following conversation piece from a recent gathering of my MeetUp society, known as the Amateur Shakespeare Society, of which I am both the Supreme Leader and Founder.

Upon this evening, a number of us had been assembled in my house, and some of us were either playing backgammon, or reading the New York Times, skimming over penetrating journalistic accounts of the world’s damnation,. Happily, in the pages of the Art Section my attention was captured by a photograph of some movie actress, “I say, if this isn’t most lovely pair of lips on a woman, then I’m a rotten villain. See for yourself, ladies and gentlemen, if these lips be not some miracle of nature. Oh to have such a deep red too. Such heavenly shade as was never seen before. ” Following my panaegeric upon the lady’s lips, everyone had turned to the said photograph to confirm for themselves the truth of my discovery.

“Aye, no doubt these be the loveliest lips,”---said Mr. Slepovitch.---“They are delicious,”---said Mr. Byrd.---“Marvelous lips. Marvelous. Spectacular. Large but not vulgar,”---said Mr. Brockden.---“Forsooth, they are charming and deserve to be respected by all human creatures,”—said Miss Farquhar.

While my friends were thus admiring the lady’s lips, I had come across another photograph in the newspaper, upon which I was compelled to make the following observation, “Egad, are these eyes not but the orbs of heaven?” I could hardly believe my own luck in having made such splendid discoveries twice in a row. “Aye, and with such lids to them. Do they not flutter like the wings of a cherub? Now, I say, ladies and gentlemen, let us worship these heavenly eyes that belong to this sublunary creature in the photograph.”

“Indeed, I adore her eye,”---said Mr. Slepovitch.—“I love her eyes,”—said Mr.Chatterjee.---“I worship her eyes,”---said Mr. Byrd.---“More beautiful than my own wife’s,”---said Mr. Lishmago.---“Their expression so highly articulated,”---declared Miss Carrington.---“They ought to be set up as models for nature to bestow upon all honest members the fair sex,”---said Miss Farquhar.---“The nonpareil of eyes,”---said Mr. Brockden.

Mr. Lismahago, being highly desirous to satisfy the people in like manner, turned to his newspaper and found one photograph that particularly struck his fancy, for he thus spoke forth, “I’faith, look at this fine chin. I would be a damnable friend indeed if I didn’t show you this chin as you see here in this photograph. How graceful a line is here, what think you? And look how proudly she carries her chin. Have you seen a chin this gorgeous before?” And he identified the photograph where such a chin may be found, to which we had all turned to marvel at its beauty.

“I’ll grant you, a fine, strong chin,”---said Slepovitch.---“No, ’tis only an average chin,”---said Miss Shanka.---“My chin is no doubt superior to this chin here,”---said Miss Farquhar.---“There may be grace, but, alas, little intelligence to it,”---said Mr. Chatterjee.---“A little too much pride in that chin, I’m afraid,”---said Mr. Hutchenson.

It appeared to us that Lismahago was rather vexed by the mixed reception he received, and troubled by his inability to identify real beauty, as I evidently could. So my attention returned to the newspaper, whereupon I endeavored to read several articles about the sorry state of our society. Yet another picture of a lady had suddenly caught my attention, “I beseech you all to have a look at her beautiful nose. Come look, admire its charm, and those delicate nostrils. Upon my word, a woman with a lovelier proboscis lives not among us.” Everyone turned to the place in the newspaper where this nose could be found and, if my words held true, to be properly commended.

“A most handsome nose. Very gentle too,”---said Mr. Slepovitch---“I would give my chin for her nose,”---said Miss Farquahar.---“Splendid. Splendid nose,”---said Mr. Brockden.---“Such nose can not be worth less than four hundred ducats. It may fetch a fine sum of money indeed on the market,”---said Mr. Rosenthall.---“Zounds man, it may fetch five hundred ducats any day,”---said Mr. Lismahago---“What blasphemy. Six hundred ducats for that nose, and not a pfennig less,”---said Slepovitch---“Nay, six hundred and fifty,”---said Brockden.

“Please, gentlemen, cease your knockabouts. We are here to praise beauty, not to appraise her. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, let us raise our goblets high to Lady Beauty.” And so we swallowed our glasses empty---and shortly thereafter the ladies burst forth into much coquettish laughter, while the gentlemen did fraternally start to pat each other on the back, and then proceeded to shake each other’s hands for several merry rounds.

“Gentlemen, let us not forget the marvels of earthly beauty we have here in the flesh,” declared I, indicating all the ladies in the room, with a swarth of my arm, for we were indeed blessed to have upon attendance such beautiful female creatures as Miss Ursula Farquhar, Miss Constantina Carrington, and Miss Betsey Shanka.

“Were lovelier cheekbones ever seen than Miss Farquhar’s? “proclaimed I. “What say you my friends to a drink to Miss Farquhar and her superior cheekbones.” So we all took another hearty gulp of wine to honor Miss Farquhar’s cheekbones.

“And let us not forget Miss Constantina’s hair,” said Lismahago, “and give her hair the proper worship it deserves. Would that you join me in drinking to Miss Constantina’s hair. I confess to being a life-long admirer of that lovely fleece,” finished Mr. Lismahago, and we all took in a thimbleful of wine in honor of Miss Constantina’s beautiful hide.

“Upon my word, if anyone has seen a lovelier pair of elbows than those of Miss Shanka’s, I would surely like to see them.” declared Mr. Rosenthall. “By Gad, I’d wager any man seven hundred ducats a more handsome pair of elbows cannot be found in all Christendom. So let the canakins clink, my friends, in tribute to Miss Shanka’s elbows,” said Mr Rosenthall. We refilled our bumpers with sack, and took in another bibulous round. O'er flowing with the sanguine press, Slepovitch performed a Russian jig to our utmost satisfaction.     

And in such manner did we spend another meeting of our society, in a worshipful inventorying of Lady Beauty’s virtues.         

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

from Samuel Butler's "Erewhon," chapter XXV "The Book of the Machines"

“For how many emergencies is an oyster adapted?  For as many as are likely to happen to it, and no more.  So are the machines; and so is man himself.  The list of casualties that daily occur to man through his want of adaptability is probably as great as that occurring to the machines; and every day gives them some greater provision for the unforeseen.  Let any one examine the wonderful self-regulating and self-adjusting contrivances which are now incorporated with the vapour-engine, let him watch the way in which it supplies itself with oil; in which it indicates its wants to those who tend it; in which, by the governor, it regulates its application of its own strength; let him look at that store-house of inertia and momentum the fly-wheel, or at the buffers on a railway carriage; let him see how those improvements are being selected for perpetuity which contain provision against the emergencies that may arise to harass the machines, and then let him think of a hundred thousand years, and the accumulated progress which they will bring unless man can be awakened to a sense of his situation, and of the doom which he is preparing for himself.

Monday, October 14, 2013

From Samuel Butler's "Erewhon," chapter XXIII "The Book of the Machines"

"Surely if a machine is able to reproduce another machine systematically, we may say that it has a reproductive system.  What is a reproductive system, if it be not a system for reproduction?  And how few of the machines are there which have not been produced systematically by other machines?  But it is man that makes them do so.  Yes; but is it not insects that make many of the plants reproductive, and would not whole families of plants die out if their fertilisation was not effected by a class of agents utterly foreign to themselves?  Does any one say that the red clover has no reproductive system because the humble bee (and the humble bee only) must aid and abet it before it can reproduce?  No one.  The humble bee is a part of the reproductive system of the clover.  Each one of ourselves has sprung from minute animalcules whose entity was entirely distinct from our own, and which acted after their kind with no thought or heed of what we might think about it.  These little creatures are part of our own reproductive system; then why not we part of that of the machines?"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Who stole the cookie from the amphora?

From NY Times advice column "Social Qs," published October 3, 2013
Turning the Table

My husband’s friend made a beautiful coffee table for us as a wedding gift. We have kept it for over a decade, even though it is much too large for our living room. Now we have a toddler, and I am afraid that he will hurt himself by stumbling into the table (even though we baby-proofed the edges). Should we discuss the table with our friend and offer to give it back to him, replace it and say nothing, or just keep it? My husband votes for the last, but he is sentimental. If it matters, we rarely see the friend.
Anonymous, Brooklyn

Dear Anonymous,

You should certainly keep the table, and then make sure to ask favor of your carpenter friend to undo the damage you caused the coffee table when you “baby-proofed the edges.”

Indeed, if you permit this digression, I am opposed to the excessive degrees to which parents go to accommodate their household upon the arrival of a child, hoping to shield little Jonathan from potential collisions and skirmishes with the furniture.  Alas, modern society has erected too many artificial fences, as it were, between a child and the state of nature. If the child’s growth is to be successful, it must be about learning---both through self-experimentation and parental guidance---to examine the natural world around him and to separate the objects of nature into two categories: those that are dangerous and those not.  

Moreover, when nowadays the child proceeds to examine the world through his sense of touch, he soon makes the unfortunate discovery that, instead of natural materials, all household products tend to be constructed of synthetic materials, or natural ones of grossly inferior element.  Instead of mahogany, walnut, or teak, modern furniture is built mainly of that vulgar admixture known as “particle board.”

This appalling trend relates also to society’s increasing preference for electronic over paper books. Yet consider the differences in textures, if you will, between an object made of Morocco leather and one made of high-impact polystyrene (as the scientists call it), of which most electronic gew-gaw casing is made, as well as PVC sewer pipes. Consider also the difference between the smell of buckram or vellum and the smell of a polycarbonate-enclosed smart phone. Alas, the child growing up today is deprived of such pleasures as smelling Morocco leather, or of feeling fustian and linsey-woolsey fabrics; and ‘tis no doubt owing to people like you, who would repudiate as “sentimental” these kind of differences.

Finally, allow me to offer the following simple solution to your problem. I urge that you henceforth devote less time upon various internet-related activities, such as tweetering, facebooking, and emailing, and more upon attending to your child’s living-room perambulations.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tour of 18th century London Churches

It brings me great pleasure to take my readers upon a walking tour of 18th century London (made possible by Google Street View), dwelling especially on those of the city's churches erected directly in consequence of the Act of 1711, also known as the Commission for Fifty Churches, passed by the Tories in Parliament, and approved by Queen Anne, with the intent of signifying the triumph of the High Church. To finance this noble goal---of erecting fifty churches---it was deemed appropriate to impose a tax upon coal.   

The unconventional viewing angle of these photos, rather than that of a professional photographer, merely reflects the pedestrian's actual street-level perspective. 

St George, Bloomsbury
 St George’s at Bloomsbury, finished in 1730, designed by Mr. Nicholas Hawksmoor. This church enjoys the reputation of having the finest Corinthian portico in London.

St George in the East 
St George in the East was finished in 1723, also designed by Mr. Hawksmoor. Observe its Gothic origins.

Christ Church Spitalfields
Christ Church Spitalfields, finished in 1729, designed by Mr. Hawksmoor. Take note of its Gothic steeple and Tuscan columns.

St Alphege, Greenwich
St Alphege at Greenwhich, completed in 1730, likewise designed by Mr. Hawksmoor. Notice  the splendid Tuscan portico.

St Anne's Limehouse
 St Anne’s Limehouse, completed in 1730, designed by Mr. Hawksmoor.

St George's, Hanover Square
 St George’s at Hanover Square, completed in 1725, designed by Mr. John James. It enjoys the reputation as the most fashionable of all the churches erected during this period, being a popular spot for patrician weddings.

                                 St Mary-le-Strand                             

St Mary-le-Strand, built in 1717, designed by the papist Mr. James Gibbs in the Roman Baroque style.

St Luke's, in Old Street

1760 illustration of St Luke's
St Luke’s in Old Street, jointly designed by Mr. Hawksmoor and Mr. James, and completed in 1733. Note the obelisk spire, a feature of high rarity in Anglican Churches.

St Paul's, Deptford
 St Paul’s, in Deptford, designed by Mr. Thomas Archer in Roman Baroque style, and completed in 1730.

St John's, in Smith Square

St John's, in Smith Square, 18th century illustration

St John’s, in Smith Street, designed by Mr. Archer, and completed in 1728, in finest example of British Baroque style. Note the distinct four towers, as if resembling an upside-down footstool--- this in honor of Queen Anne’s caprice of kicking over the footstool and gesturing towards the upside object, in a whimsical attempt to illustrate to Mr. Archer what Her Majesty wanted her church to look like.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A father's letter to his son, advising him to reform his Art School occupation

Dear boy:

By your past letter and the picture enclosed therein I find that you are a tolerably good Pop Artist, as such an occupation is called, and can present several arch, colorful impressions of supermarket dairy isles to the curious. Your mother delights in your series of rows of industrial yogurts and puddings.  For my part, I am very glad on’t, as it is a proof of some attention towards your craft---and a certain bringing forth of fruit in our lavish investment in your Art School education.

But I hope you will be as good a Portrait Painter, which is a much more noble occupation, than that of a Pop Artist. By portraits, you will easily judge, that I do not mean the mere outlines and the coloring of the human figure---as one might do with a pudding container---but the inside of the heart and mind of man. This art requires more Attention, Observation, and Penetration, than the other. Search, therefore, with the greatest care, into the characters of those whom you converse with. And through the perspective of a Portrait Painter, endeavor to discover their predominant passions, their prevailing weaknesses, their vanities, their follies, and their humors, with all the right and wrong, wise and silly springs of human actions, which makes such inconsistent and whimsical beings of us supposed rational creatures----and learn to represent this upon the canvas through the person’s natural likeness or a satiric construction thereof.

You will find that being a Portrait Painter will enable you to reach a deeper understanding of your fellow human creatures and ultimately your own self. To achieve this end, you are not to shrink from any physical blemishes, nor make too many allowances for people’s moral shortcomings.  Pray, do not forget that the final purpose of Higher Education is to deepen one’s knowledge of Human Nature. I must therefore urge you to devote more of your hours in studying the human face instead of yogurt and pudding containers.  Endeavor by all means, to acquire this talent, for it is a very great one.

To learn to become an excellent Portrait Painter you are advised to study the works of Mr. Francis Cotes, Mr. Joseph Highmore, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and for the satiric modes of representation Mr. William Hogarth. Unless you submit to this transformation, my boy, you will continue to give anxious thoughts to

Your loving, affectionate father,

Sunday, August 25, 2013

In which the author praises long-distance romances

Published in NY Times Social Qs column August 22, 2013
My high school boyfriend and I will be starting at different colleges in the fall. The schools are several hours apart. We’re talking about a long-distance relationship and visiting each other every weekend. My parents think this is a bad idea. What would you do?
Jean, New York

Dear Jean,

Your question has given me the freedom to pursue a topic of particular significance to everyone, a thing concerning human kind’s social and spiritual condition. For do not long-distance romantic relationships provide one with the opportunity to revive epistolary intercourse? Your generation, however, has shown preference for those modish forms of communication wherein the thumbs alone are used to scribble the message, upon different types of electronic gew-gaws----having, alas, left letter writing, as they say, in the dust-heap of history. Yet 'tis clear that one’s beloved still remains the best letter correspondent one may have. And is not this gradual movement---away from the epistolary arts towards the more liberal arts, shall we say, of twittering and emailing---is not this transition analogous to a change of residence from a Palladian country house to that of a sod-house, or a tipi? Indeed, as it has been accepted by many classical authorities, the art of letter writing allows man to perfect his intellectual and spiritual development by providing him with  opportunities to make minute written accounts of matters which on a daily basis affect his mind and spirit most intimately.

Firstly, as you are a lady at the beginning of your university studies, and as your boyfriend is in much the same situation, it is most proper for you to compose letters to each other both expressing your thoughts on the substance learned in your university classes. For instance, you will likely be required to take a chemistry class at the beginning of your university---and concerning this class you may rail against the abandonment of the chemical principles of Hermes Trismegistus in favor of Robert Boyle. You will also likely take a class on Imaginative Literature---whereupon you may write of your outrage at any author who fails to make proper condemnation of human sin through their works---or a class on Literary Theory---whereupon you will find much to write about on the wretched state of all feminist rakes, post-colonialist dandies, or Marxist beaus. Finally, as you will also take a class on economics you will want to write about our modern society’s gross corruption of Mr. Adam Smith’s principles. These are some examples of topics upon which you may discourse, as they will lend your pen the ease and grace it deserves.

Secondly, letter writing will provide you both with an opportunity to reflect upon all sorts of spiritual matters, by which I include that aspect of our lives the modern philosophers are wont to call the moral dimension. You may, for instance, discourse upon the likelihood of the vile Turk’s conversion to our great faith. Or you may condemn the severity of the wicked treatment of the servant classes in our society, or the gross inequality between the plebian and patrician classes here in America. Wherein does this inequality reside, in the people's material or spiritual conditions? These are examples of some of the topics that will enable lively discussion between you two.

Thirdly, you will find that letter writing offers an excellent opportunity for one to discuss matters of the heart, or as the modern people may call it, gossip or self-gossip, with your beloved. In this capacity, you must be warned against a too ready acceptance of other people’s follies, as is the habit among the modern gossip industries. You are of course encouraged to express your romantic feelings towards each other in your letters, preferably in 14-line sonnet form, yet you are to avoid an overmuch focus on the sentimental or indulge in excessive Rousseanism. This proscription will make your letters a pleasure to read and a joy to respond to.  

To learn how to become a great letter writer you are advised to study the works of the Lords Bacon and Chesterfield, as well as the collected works of yours truly, Samuel Richardson.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In which the author responds to another advice column

Retrieved from NY Times Social Q's column, on August 8,2013

A Hero's unwelcome

We received a “save the date” card for a fifth birthday party for a boy my daughter knows. It was to be a Superhero Soiree. But shortly before the date, we were uninvited. The party is now just for boys because of its “masculine” theme, and my daughter was invited to a separate party for him just for girls. I don’t want to tell my daughter that she isn’t allowed to attend the real party, but she is going to want to know what happened. Something about this feels wrong. Should I mention it to the mother?

Anonymous, New York

Dear Anonymous,

Allow me to give a different construction to your questions---though you will ultimately understand the purpose of my digression. Your letter gives me license to pursue a topic of personal interest, familiar no doubt to readers of my blog, regarding the nature of all those modern events, set up for the entertainment of children, known as costume parties or masquerades, of “superhero soirees,” or any such kind of spectacular mummeries, whatever be their names. For these are all vile events wherein children are inevitably spurred into Dionysian revelry, with the aid not of libations but an excess of confectionaries, which plunge the poor children into an epileptic sugar orgy. They writhe on the floor and thrash about the room like demented Maenads.   

Yet the greater offense of these costumed parties lies in their being supportive of that vile  and all-powerful social abstraction, which I continue to rail against, that many-headed monster known as consumer culture. For what is the real purpose for the existence of those modern-day popular children’s characters---such as Dora the Explorer, Spiderman, Sponge-Robert Square Pants, and the ever-famous Michael Mouse--- what is their purpose if not simply as means, established by the capitalist business ventures, to compel your children to compel you to buy them merchandise bearing the face of these characters? These toy-generating businesses know very well that if the children, being thus seduced by the shallow glamour and the oafish humor of these personages, if the children's demands be refused by the parents, the children may resort to whatever desperate length to achieve their objective, such as depriving their parents of sleep, destroying household furniture, or simply producing such monstrous wailing as to frighten all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood.

Thus by advising you to avoid all costumed parties for you children I hope to have cut the Gordian knot of your dilemma. There is, however, positive counsel I can offer you, which is to suggest a viable alternative to modern-day costume parties---a children’s party modeled on the Elizabethan masque.

There are indeed many costumes that may be worn for this occasion. It is recommended that girls attend the party dressed as a Virtue, while the mischievous boys may dress as a Vice. And as Virtue always triumphs over Vice, so the boys will learn to emulate the Virtues, whilst the girls will learn to be wary of the Vices. Here are some costumes that may be appropriate for the girls to wear---


The personification of Innocence is a sweet, small young girl, robed in virginal white, and with flowers in her hair. 
from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
As Innocence, you are to be washing your hands, or applying liquid soap, whenever possible because your ablutions indicate freedom from blemish of any kind, spiritual or physical. You are to carry a palm frond---for that is the symbol of the purity of you received after baptism. You may also carry a stuffed sheep with you, if you are unable to bring a live one, as that, of course, is the symbol of the Great Redeemer, who represents innocence and purity.


The personification of Diligence is a girl dressed in red who holds an hourglass and a spring of thyme. Over her wrist hangs a spur. Beside her, a rooster pecks at the ground. You may bring a toy rooster, if a live one cannot be obtained.

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The hourglass, symbolizing time, represents the industrious person’s wish to do something and finish it.

Here is a list of costumes that may be worn by mischievous boys, who may thereby represent different types of Vices, in contradistinction to the Virtues represented by the girls.


To represent Deceit, the boy ought to wear a cloak decorated with many masks, with goatskin hanging over one shoulder, and a fish net over one arm. In the other arm, the boy ought to carry a fishing rod with a long line and a hook. The panther, by hiding his head and only showing his beautifully spotted back, attracts those who marvel at his appearance, and then springs up and devours them. You may carry a toy panther if a live one cannot be obtained.

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The goat is much beloved by the sargo, a kind of fish, and the clever fisherman, according to Alciatus, covers himself with a goatskin to lure the infatuated fish into the net; thus the deceitful person, through an appearance of innocence or affection, tricks the unwary.


To represent Obstinacy, the boy ought to wear a multicolored sixteenth-century costume, holding a bellows in one hand, a spur over the wrist, and be pointing to his forehead.  

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The varicolored dress refers to the variety of thing youth can get stubborn about. He touches his forehead, for willfulness is a state of the mind, a determination to have one’s way. The spur is a goad, a means of imposing one’s will on others, and the bellows is used to whip up the fire, just as persistence or stubbornness is whipped up by the desire to have one’s way.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Does a reformed rake make the best husband?

Retrieved from Vice. com, advice column “Hey Ron.” 

I'm turning 30 in a few weeks. My marriage countdown clock is doing that beeping thing time bombs do when they're closing in on zero. I’ve been dating the perfect guy. We've known each other for a long time, but we just started taking things to the next level. He's smart, funny, and great in the sack. Plus, he's close with all of my friends, so it's easy for us all to kick it together. The problem is, he's a little too close.
I fell in love with him three years back when I saw a shirtless pic of him on my girl’s phone. Since then, he's had his way with most of my girlfriends. But none of them understand him like I do. Am I making a mistake trying to turn this man into a one-girl guy? Even though he ran through my crew, nothing would make me happier than having his baby and being his wife.
Madame Save-a-Slime-Ball

Dear Madam,

I hope I may be given the freedom to infer from your letter your American ancestry. And given the nature of your background---that is of your American educational institutions---you may be forgiven for not having that familiarity with my books, especially with my Pamela and Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, that familiarity which marks the educated, honest lady. For had you read those two books you would have known very well of that dangerous but all too commonly received notion that a reformed rakes makes the best husband.  Unfortunately, members of your generation nowadays tend to receive instruction on love and courtship not from the example set by the noble Miss Clarissa Harlowe but from the popular antics of the vulgar Miss Kimberly Kardashian.  

I urge, therefore, that you venture on a careful reading of my Clarissa, wherein you will learn of the tragic sequences of countenancing this notion. In order to finish reading Clarissa you are recommended to make all the proper arrangements as will be necessary for your self-removal from modern society for a period of about six months, that is in forgoing all interaction with any electronic gew-gaw, such as IPhones, or YouPhones, or whatever else these shiny toys be called.

Finally, I would be remiss if I spoke not of the deep impropriety of Mr. Slime-Ball’s method for seducing the fair sex, namely by transmitting pictures of his naked chest---and, no doubt, his rallying face---to the ladies’ phones. Indeed this may be a common enough practice among various people known as hayseeds, clodhoppers, and all those of general oafish nature. Yet, I hope you will agree with me, this behavior is hardly fit for a gentleman. If, after finishing my Clarissa, you are still not convinced of the evil of the libertine personality, and insist in the future in trying to reform rakes, I advice that, at minimum effort, you henceforward prefer only those suitors of less uncouth disposition.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In which the author of this blog answers a Dear Prudence letter

From a letter to Dear Prudence, from Slate.com, posted July 18, 2013


My husband wants to donate sperm to his ex-wife. Should I let him?

I am a young woman who recently married a very successful athlete. He is caring, kind, and thoughtful. We both want children, but in a world where so many children are without loving homes, I can't imagine having biological offspring when we could provide a wonderful life for children who would never otherwise have one. My husband has always been supportive of this, but recently he brought up an interesting proposition. His ex-wife, who is older than me and has never remarried, asked him to be a sperm donor. She has a successful career and would not need financial support, but I think the proposition is bizarre. He argues that they both have excellent genetics that would be "wasted" if they do not jump at what could be their only chance to have biological children. He said it is no different from donating sperm to a bank, except that he knows the mother will be able to provide well for his offspring. The two split amicably due to pressures of both of their careers. Am I being selfish to say she should find another sperm donor?

—Confused Wife

Dear Confused Wife,

To hold such notions as you and your husband do is to involve oneself with nothing more than   preposterous absurdity at best, moral corruption at worst. Though I am hardly a gambling man, I would be most willing to wager three hundred ducats upon the likelihood of your family being of Yankee-doodle descent.  For need I remind my regular readers that ‘tis very common in American society for people to regard the word successful (as in the phrase “I am married to a very successful athlete”) as meaning either full of merit or, as they like to say, filthy rich?

I am struck by the rarity of this entire situation, for I wonder what curious miracle of fate brought two such people as yourselves together, a wife who cares not whose child she has, as long it be an adopted  orphan, and a husband who cares not what lady , including his loving wife, might ultimately have his child. You two complement one another in a rather perverse manner. Doubtless, he would prefer (as you claim he says) to impregnate only those members of the fair sex who are known for their superior genes. Yet consider this point, madam, if every young wife at the beginning of her marriage had decided, as you did, to adopt an orphan rather than have a child herself, then sooner or later there shall be no more orphans left in the world, and neither any people.

As for your husband, I must universally condemn all those activities whereby a man is compelled to ejaculate his oily balsamic liquid into a little saucer for any purposes other than official scientific inquiry. For if there is any procedure in the world more morally corrupt than that of manual inseminandus, as it now exists under capitalist societies, I know not what that may be. The ability for us to purchase human life is unholy because blasphemous against the Almighty Creator. Still, you should be warned that in-vitro fertilization, as it is called by the doctors, is a very expensive procedure, and it requires you to visit those damnable for-profit baby factories known as sperm banks. Such services as they provide create a society in which the wealthy are enabled to use their gold to purchase human life---as they now can use their gold to compel their children to read books---whilst the poor are put under a certain disadvantage, shall we say, of being unable to afford to produce sires. Therefore, I must pronounce against this entire method of begetting children, and urge your husband to reserve his kernels for no one but you.

By the way, mayhap you convince your husband’s former wife, that rather than desire to buy her own child using your husband’s, or some other gentleman's, organic leakage, she might charitably consider investing 15,000 ducats upon some poor London chimney sweep. What say you to this plan, madam?