The Secret Commonwealth

From Web Exclusives

As the feast of All Souls nears, spare a piteous thought, if you will, for the poor Rev. Robert Kirk, who lived from 1644 to 1692, and whose mortal remains rest”or do they?”in his parish kirkyard in Aberfoyle, a Scottish village lying near the Laggan River and at the foot of Craigmore. The great slab of his gravestone is in much the same condition as most of the other funerary markers that survive from the seventeenth century in those latitudes… Continue Reading »

Obama and the Lama

From Web Exclusives

The received wisdom has it that only Nixon could have gone to China, and I imagine that in this case the received wisdom is right. By the same token, though, I hope it will one day be recognized that only Barack Obama could go to China by stabbing the Dalai Lama in the back. That day will be long in coming, no doubt… . Continue Reading »

Origin of the Specious

From the October 2009 Print Edition

I suppose it would sound somewhat bigoted of me to say that readers should be suspicious of journalists with an appetite for Large Ideas, but I intend no insult. The journalist’s chief vocation is to elucidate, simplify, and synopsize”to reduce a story to its most elementary logic. All . . . . Continue Reading »

The Music of Eternity

From Web Exclusives

A famously cultured friend of mine, now sadly deceased, used to express polite amazement at my ability to enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, despite my almost idolatrous devotion to Bach; apparently this struck him as a combination of tastes as improbable as a successful alloy of fire and water. And, on the one occasion that I touched upon the topic of Anton Bruckner in his presence, he merely arched an eyebrow and directed me to the table where the drinks were being served. Consequently, I never quite learned his opinion of the old Austrian schoolmaster, but I suspect it fell somewhat short of rapt veneration… . Continue Reading »

Saint Sakyamuni

From Web Exclusives

In 1571, the Doge of Venice presented King Sebastian of Portugal with certain relics of St Josaphat of India (including, if memory serves, a fragment of his spine). This was a lavish gift, to say the least. No legend of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period was more famous throughout the entire Christian world than the tale of Barlaam and Josaphat, nor were there very many saints more beloved than its eponymous protagonists… . Continue Reading »

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (and Christ)

From Web Exclusives

I have had this experience three times now, on three different occasions, in admittedly similar circumstances, but not similar enough to explain the coincidence: I am speaking from a podium to a fairly large audience on the topics of—to put it broadly—evil, suffering, and God; I have been talking for several minutes about Ivan Karamazov, and about things I have written on Dostoevsky, to what seems general approbation; then, for some reason or other, I happen to remark that, considered purely as an artist, Dostoevsky is immeasurably inferior to Tolstoy; at this, a single pained gasp of incredulity breaks out … Continue Reading »

On Butterflies and Being

From Web Exclusives

We are living this year in a cottage in the forest, halfway up the slope and under the slightly furrowed brow of a green mountain whose ridge forms our western horizon, and over which the brief twilight rises in the evening as a pale gold thinly fringed with dark amethyst. The days are filled with the incessant clamor of stridulating and timbalating insects, to which at night”undiminished”is added the mighty song of the Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum, for those with a taste for taxonomic Latin) and the sweet belling of the Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis). Earlier in the summer, the woods were full of fireflies, but they are gone now… Continue Reading »

Upward and Onward

From Web Exclusives

I had not known that Edward Upward was still alive until I read that he had died”a tad too late to compliment the man on his longevity, perhaps, but not too late to marvel at it. “He must have been ancient!” I exclaimed to my wife, who”with her customary Anglo-Saxon phlegm”ignored me entirely (which was for the best, of course, as she had no idea who I was talking about and wouldn’t have cared if she had). But I was quite right … . Continue Reading »

The Gnostic Turn

From Web Exclusives

My son was still too deeply immersed in his thousandth or so re-reading of The Wind in the Willows to take an immediate interest in the copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince that I had just rescued for him from the chilly hinterlands of my library, so I decided to read it again myself. Memory, I found, had not really altered the story in my mind, but also had not quite prepared me for its total effect… . Continue Reading »

Tsunami and Theodicy: Myanmar

From Web Exclusives

(Tens of thousands of Burmese have already died in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar this past weekend, and tens of thousands more are threatened by disease and a lack of food and clean water. Children comprise upward of 40 percent of the dead. We thought this would be an appropriate . . . . Continue Reading »