Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gérard in the nave: who knew, except the whole Middle Ages?

   The twelfth and thirteenth 
   centuries, studied in the 
   pure light of political e-
   conomy, are insane .. One 
   artist worked for Mary of 
   Champagne; the others work-
   ed for Mary of Chartres, 
   commonly known as the Vir-
   gin; but all did their work 
   in good faith, with the 
   first, fresh, easy instinct 
   of colour, light, and line. 
   Neither of the two Maries 
   was mystical, in a modern 
   sense; none of the artists 
   was oppressed by the burden 
   of doubt; their skepticism 
   was as childlike as faith. 

     If one has to make 
     an exception, per-
     haps the passion of 
     love was more seri-
     ous than that of re-
     ligion, and gave to 
     religion the deepest 
     emotion, and the most 
     complicated one, which 
     society ever knew.

Incomparably the most strenuous text ever assigned to me as an undergraduate was this book. You may marvel at how easily we got off in those days, or you may wonder what deficit of compre-hension made it so arduous. Our youth was being gutted to a close, our maturity was being stigmatised. Adams had known these experiences in a lucidly troubling way, of which this book is a literal tour. We are fortunate, who do not resemble Henry Adams. But the extremity of our youth was a godsend; or when we turn to him, reading in the ruthless mode of our day, only period quaintness and disability might survive. Gérard, whose ditziness is that of our dearest friend, was never so impressive as he was in undergoing this.

In his autobiography, Adams confesses to our kind of education. If [college] gave nothing else, it gave calm. For four years each student had been obliged to figure daily before dozens of young men who knew each other to the last fibre .. and no audience in future life would ever be so intimately and terribly intelligent as these .. Whether this was, or was not, education, Henry Adams never knew .. As yet he knew nothing. Education had not begun. 

 I admire more gigantically 
 his claim to what he knew, 
 than if it were the whole 
 of Widener Library by heart. 

Henry Adams

  and Chartres
  XI: The Three Queens
op. cit.

The Education
  of Henry Adams
  An Autobiography
Massachusetts Historical Society
Charles Francis Adams, 1946©
Houghton Mifflin, 1961©


  1. fyi:


  2. I thank you for the referral, indeed any reminder to revisit this fun site. I'm posting this comment here although possibly you were thinking of an e-mail by other means ("any ghost pursued," as Latta whimsically says, is not off-base in reading "Mont-Saint-M & C"), and I'll link to a Bellini, anytime. Hoping you have been well, yr obt svt, L