Hanover Tigers, Memory, and Place

Eternally trying to post more and to allow myself to post more scattered thoughts and fragments.  Thus, a small note from Ritter’s fanastic The Glory of Their Times.  For those who’ve forgotten, the book is an oral history of baseball at the turn of the century and, in my opinion, the best thing written on the sport.

Reading Tommy Leach’s1 story, I was very surprised to run into a mention of my hometown and its short-lived professional baseball team:

I still remember in 1896 when I was playing semipro ball with Hanover, Pennsylvania, in the Cumberland Valley League.  I couldn’t hit a lick on earth.  One day I struck out four straight times.  Some fellow got a piece of wood about half a foot wide and four or five feet long from someplace–that’s when they used to have those rail fences–and when I came up for the fifth time he presented it to me at home plate.  I didn’t even have enough sense to laugh.

The Glory of Their Times, 24

Before reading, I had no idea Hanover once had a minor league team, much less, as I was to find out, that it had two of them: the short-lived Tigers of 18962 and the Hanover Raiders, a D-Level Minor League team that lasted from 1915-1930.

It’s sad that the memory of these teams has faded from the consciousness of the town.3  A place without memory is no place at all, for it is only memory that separates place from wilderness.  I fear too many places today have become barren and empty, bereft of history, without stories.

Medieval writers understood the importance of memory to place very well. We can see this fact in, to name one of many examples, Gerald of Wales’s Journey Through Wales.  Gerald is practically bursting at the seams to tell us every local legend, every odd geological, zoological, and botanical tidbit he comes across on his travels.  As he writes,

This little work is like a highly polished mirror.  In it I have portrayed the pathless places which we trod, named each mountain torrent and each purling spring, recorded the witty things we said, set down the hazards of our journey and our various travails, included an account of such noteworthy events as occurred in those parts, some in our times, others long ago, with much natural description and remarkable excursions into natural history, adding at the end a word-picture of the country itself.

Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales, 70

Wales comes to life not in his descriptions of the land–or rather not only in them, a number of these are rather evocative and beautiful–but in the memory passed down to him and on to us in his writing.  A mirror, the book reflects reality, a reality that includes witty remarks and noteworthy events, just as much a part of the landscape as the woods and waters.  The work’s fundamental purpose is to commemorate Wales in all its thickness, and it’s in this commemoration that the place, any place, truly exists.

 

1. Fun fact, Leach led the NL in home runs in 1902, hitting a staggering 6 home runs, all of them inside-the-park.
2. According to baseball reference, Leach was actually fourth on the team in total hits, though I suspect his average was not particularly high considering he garnered only 26 in 37 games. The Tigers do not appear to have been an offensive juggernaut.
3. Thought I must mention that a local author has written a history of the Raiders and maintains a modest, charming website with some photos and information on the team.

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Dirge in the Woods

Continuing the recent poetry posting.

Dirge in the Woods
George Meredith

A wind sways the pines,
         And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
         And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
         Even we,
         Even so.
I’m not sure why all these poems are about death.  They were not all chosen in a single reading, not even a single month, and I’m not a particularly morbid person.  nevertheless…

Unwelcome

Another poem from the Oxford Book, Unwelcome by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (great grandniece of the more famous poet).

We were young, we were merry, we were very very wise,
And the door stood open at our feast,
When there passed us a woman with the West in her eyes,
And a man with his back to the East.

O, still grew the hearts that were beating so fast,
The loudest voice was still.
The jest died away on our lips as thy passed,
And the rays of July struck chill.

The cups of red wine turned pale on the board,
The white bread black as soot.
The hound forgot the hand of her lord,
She fell down at his foot.

Low let me lie, where the dead dog lies,
Ere I sit me down again at a feast,
When there passes a woman with the West in her eyes,
And a man with his back to the East.

St. Agnes’ Eve

I’ve been (very) slowly making my way through an old edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse, inspired by the fact that Patrick Fermor carried a copy with him on his journey through Europe.  Since I’ve stalled a bit on posts lately, I thought I’d highlight some of the poems that have caught my eye on my own trip through the book.  I have no ability to describe why these appeal to me, nor to detail their poetic merits, therefore, all will be offered with minimal commentary, though, reading them, there is perhaps a theme here.  The first, St. Agnes’ Eve, by Tennyson:

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes;
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil’d and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper’s earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro’ all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide—
A light upon the shining sea—
The Bridegroom with his bride!

A Theory on Mandeville

Preparations for my course on travel (still time to sign up!), led me to reread one of my favorite medieval works recently, Mandeville’s Travels.  The merits of the book are many. It’s wondrously imaginative, with all the sciapods, fountains of youth, and mighty Christian kings of the East that you could ask for, made all the more charming because it’s likely that Mandeville1 hadn’t traveled any further than his local monastery’s library.

Reading this time, I was struck by the question of why then did he write the book?  Why invent these travels?  Luckily, medieval authors are prone to explaining (even over-explaining) themselves, and Mandeville is no exception:2

And for as much as it is a long time past since there was any general passage over the sea into the Holy Land, and since men covet to hear that land spoken of, and divers countries thereabout, and have of that great pleasure and enjoyment…of these lands and isles I shall speak more plainly, and shall describe a part of those things that are there, when the time comes, according as they come to my mind, and specially for those who desire and intend to visit the holy city of Jerusalem and the holy places that are thereabout; and shall tell of the way that they shall go thither, for I have many times traveled and ridden over it in goodly company of lords.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, 44-5

What do we take from this?  I think it’s unlikely that Mandeville intended for his book to be a serious guide to the routes toward the Holy Land.  Any number of these already existed in his time period and, while he does give fairly concrete directions in the first part of the book (that part dealing with the Eastern Mediterranean world), that leaves the entire second part, his fantastical travels through Asia, unaccounted for.

Instead, I’d like to suggest that his purposes speak to the purposes of medieval travel writing more generally (and perhaps modern travel writing as well).  Medieval travel literature, particularly the literature of pilgrimage, can often dull us with its pedantic concern with how many paces wide a church is, how tall the altar of this shrine is to that shrine, and endless catalogs of relics.  But these passages serve a very specific purpose.  They’re their so that the reader can construct an imaginative landscape in their memory, so that they can continue to contemplate the place visited well after they have returned home, and even if they hadn’t traveled at all.  In a passage that I was pointed to by Shayne Legassie’s book on medieval travel, Elizabeth Bennet neatly describes the end goal of this sort of writing:

Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.”

Pride and Prejudice, Chap. 27

The point (or a point, at least) of travel writing, therefore, is to engender a recollection of the distant landscape as an object of contemplation.

Connecting back to Mandeville, what if we take his comments about the difficulty of travelling to the Holy Land (notably, they are preceded by a call for Crusade to re-open these routes) as not simply a statement of fact but also a lament.  Mandeville’s own ambitions to travel there thwarted, he turns to books, reading widely and constructing imaginative journeys therefrom.  As he notes, learning about the wonders of the world affords great pleasure (and he repeatedly invokes delight when describing these later in the book), and so he writes his book in order to impart the joy of these imaginative journeys to others.  He turns out to not be such a liar after all, for he had traveled to the east many times in the company of great lords, the great lords who wrote the accounts that delighted him so.  He traveled the landscape of memory, where he now sets out to take his readers on a journey of their own.

Very cool.

 

1. Who, incidentally, probably didn’t exist.
2. Of course, we can’t always trust these, for a myriad of reasons, but that doesn’t mean we ought to discount them, as too many scholars are willing to do, out of hand.

Against Flatness in Baseball

Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times is the greatest book on baseball ever written.  It’s an oral history of the game at the turn of the century, and it’s utterly charming.  The love of the game, the sheer fun of playing shines through on almost every page.

The game was more colorful then, chaotic and raw, and it feels right.  The modern world has a tendency to flatten everything, to make us into cardboard cutouts and in this book you can see what was lost, the fun and adventure of it all.

The players themselves noticed the change, and even properly diagnosed (at least in part) the cause.  Here’s Davy Jones, who played in the outfield alongside Ty Cobb and Wahoo Crawford:

I was playing in the Big Leagues in 1901, when Mr. William McKinley was President, and baseball attracted all sorts of people in those days.  We had stupid guys, smart guys, tough guys, mild guys, crazy guys, college men, slickers form the city, and hicks from the country.  And back then a country kid was likely to really be a country kid.  We’d call them hayseeds or rubes.  Nowadays I don’t think there’s much difference between city kids and country kids.  Anyway, nothing like there used to be.

Back at the turn of the century, you know, we didn’t have the mass communication and mass transportation that exists nowadays.  We didn’t have as much schooling, either.  As a result, people were more unique then, more unusual, more different from each other.  Now people are all more or less alike, company men, security minded, conformity–that sort of stuff.  In everything, not just baseball.

The Glory of Their Times, 35

Losing our distinctiveness, becoming flat, is a great tragedy.  We need to turn away from the mass-produced, the all-encompassing, and back to the local, the slow, the weird.  Leisure, true leisure, and play are key to that turning.  We should start right now.

Priorities

It is a very serious perversion to view professional work as the serious part of life, and family life as relaxation.  No, the time we spend with our loved ones is not the time to relax and take it easy, but rather the moment to put on our festival garment, the moment to accomplish a real sursum corda (the elevation of the heart to God).
Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living, 55

Of Angels and Motes

Every once in awhile you read something that makes everything click into place, a puzzle long scattered in your mind comes together all at once.1 A passage from Tolkien recently set this clicking together in motion, on the subject of the angels:

I had not long ago when spending half an hour in St Gregory’s before the Blessed Sacrament when the Quarant’ Ore was being held there. I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote (or millions of motes to only one of which was my small mind directed), glittering white because of the individual ray from the Light which both held and lit it. (Not that there were individual rays issuing from the Light, but the mere existence of the mote and its position in relation to the Light was in itself a line, and the line was Light). And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God’s very attention itself, personalized. And I do not mean “personified,” by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real (finite) person.

Letter 89, To Christopher Tolkien

The love of God is a person.  It’s a stunning insight, one flowing naturally from the reality of God as three-in-one.2  Love, the highest name of God, must have an object, and the love of God, as the most perfect instance of love (indeed, to call it an instance is essentially a confusion, for all love simply is participation in the Love that is the inner life of the Trinity) must have an object appropriate to the lover.  Thus the lover, the Father, is a divine person.  The beloved, the Son, a divine person infinite and equal to the Father as befits the perfect object of the Father’s love, and the love of the Father and the Son is itself a person, the Spirit.3

But what about the love of God for lesser, finite things?  This too, Tolkien notes, is a person:

As the love of the Father and Son (who are infinite and equal) is a Person, so the love and attention of the Light to the Mote is a person (that is both with us and in Heaven): finite but divine: i.e. angelic.

Letter 89

In other words, angels are the love of God for the distinct aspects of creation.  Staggering in itself, there are a few implications that are worth noting:

    1. Your guardian angel is God’s love for you, so perfect as to be a divine, albeit finite, person.
    2. Every single bit of creation from the smallest mote to the biggest stars has an attendant angel.  There are as many angels as there are things, and all are fundamentally creatures of God’s love.
    3. With this understanding, we can begin to grasp the import of the concluding line of Dante’s Comedy, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”  The celestial bodies are truly moved through the heavens by angels, by the personal attention and love of God, and so too are all other things.4
    4. Moreover, when the Psalmist writes that “the heavens declare the glory of God,”  our minds ought to turn towards the singing of the angelic choir.  The angels, the personal manifestations of God’s love, do not merely move the cosmos, they sing it in praise of its Creator.  This is the celestial music, the music of the spheres, which we bring our inner being into alignment with through our participation in the love of God.  The whole of creation is, therefore, a vast and beautiful love song.

 

Truly wonderful.

1. This phenomenon is, I believe, inspiration in the truest sense of the word. Some fragment of the world acts as a key in the mind, directing it toward the contemplation of higher things from whence it can be illuminated. In the light from above, what was previously obscure becomes apparent in a sort of interior vision.
2. It was, perhaps, no accident that I encountered this passage shortly before Trinity Sunday.
3. And this is why, in loving, we are conformed to God. The more we participate in the intercommunicative love of the Trinity, the more we come to resemble the divine persons, as the love of God transforms us to become more receptive/worthy of being beloved by the divine. More, it entails that in loving we attain to greater degrees of personhood. Love of neighbor and love of God makes us more of a person, more real.
Also, since God loves every fragment of creation (the individual motes, as Tolkien observes), we see that it is this love that acts as the motive force behind the movement of the cosmos back to its ultimate culmination in union with the Creator.
4. The objection that this truth is superstitious, simplistic, or somehow superseded by scientific accounts of planetary motion reveals only the intellectual carelessness and, frankly, the stupidity of the objector.

Why I Haven’t Written Much Lately

There is not a fragment in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit itself.  All together form the one grand palimpsest of the world.

Muir, The Spiritual Writings, 48, TMW, 151-64

There’s just too much to say.  Where do you start when it’s all so densely woven? where do you end?  I stand at the foot of the mountain and cannot find the path to begin my ascent.

Preview of my Kalamazoo paper

 

Next Thursday, I’ll be presenting at the International Medieval Congress on “Creation and Conversion in Northern Europe.”  The general idea is that creation featured heavily in both medieval missionary preaching and in the conception of what those missionaries were accomplishing.  The subject was first suggested to me by a reading of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.  Creation, God as Creator, nature miracles, they cropped up all over the place, particularly in connection with missionary work, and I began to wonder why.

It wasn’t the easiest subject to study, far harder than I assumed when I first proposed the paper.  Turns out, medieval authors weren’t particularly interested in laying out an explicit theology of conversion, nor were they forthcoming about what missionaries actually said to their audiences.  Nevertheless, I believe I’ve found some interesting stuff, with a lot of potential for further investigation, though I’m not sure how interested I am in pursuing that potential going forward.  The general idea of the various permutations of conceptions of creation in the Middle Ages (and earlier? later?), absolutely, but perhaps not in the realm of the missionary project.

My contention is that there is a coherent theological outlook that lay behind Carolingian/Anglo-Saxon (perhaps also the Irish) missionary work, one deeply linked to an understanding of creation and described well by Romano Guardini here:

These churches in their turn carried forward the blessed work, sanctifying space itself by spreading cemeteries, chapels and wayside crosses over the land.  The very land became hallowed by the presence of the Church at large.  Each church building itself through the supernatural rite of consecration symbolized and enfolded the whole of Creation.  Every part of a church building from the direction of its main axis to its most minute appointments was invested with a divine meaning which fused the cosmic picture of the world with the course of sacred history into a symbolic whole.

Guardini, The End of the Modern World, 20

I argue that what Guardini describes in the landscape was consciously occurring everywhere, from within the minds of monks in their cells to amidst the pagans of the Saxon wilderness.

That’s the basic idea, come get some specifics next Thursday at 10am in Kalamazoo.