Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Tests of a Civilization

John Peale Bishop (1892-1944), "The South and Tradition," Virginia Quarterly Review (April, 1933), rpt. in his Collected Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), pp. 3-13 (at 4):
For the South, whatever may be said, had at least passed those two tests which the French have devised for a civilization and to which they admit only themselves and the Chinese. It had devised a code of etiquette and created a native cookery.
Id., p. 5:
For it is to be noted that the Confederacy, for all the brevity of its formal existence, achieved more surely the qualities of a nation than the enduring Republic has been able to do. There were more emotions shared; its soldiers knew how to speak to one another or without speaking to arrive at a common understanding. Their attitude toward life was alike, and when they faced death it was in the same way.
Id., p. 6:
For when all is said and done, a myth is far more exciting to the mind than most discoveries of mere things.
Id., p. 7:
But what distinguishes an aristocracy is that the government is directed in the interests of a class which acts together and whose individuals do not, as plutocrats do, destroy one another—and eventually the state—in a mean competition for privileges. It is this which gives it stability. A government by businessmen, as we have seen, not only corrupts government, but, being a cut-throat affair, frequently ends by destroying business.
Id., p. 8:
What is necessary, if a tradition is to be carried on, is that it should be inculcated in children before they have acquired minds of their own. It is too late to teach a child morality at seven. And in modern America, where the parents have given up all hope of controlling their progeny and have thrust the moral task on the school—which, in the more modern classes, is now passing it on to the children themselves—we have not only a great number of unmannerly brats, but a constantly increasing host of youthful criminals.
Id., p. 9:
The assumption commonly made in America is that the machine has so altered the present from the past that nothing our parents knew is of any use to us. The answer to that, which may be a futile one, is that had we retained our integrity as men, we should never have allowed mechanization to proceed so rapidly as to destroy all that accumulated wisdom. How meagre life is without it, needs no demonstration by me.

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