You gotta love this kind of stuff , Representative Sherrod Brown writing to Senator Mike DeWine last Friday to denounce Samuel Alito’s record on labor¯and plagiarizing the complaint straight from an uncredited blogger. "We couldn’t decide who to respond to: the person who sent us the letter or the person who wrote the letter," DeWine’s communications director, Mike Dawson, said. "So we decided not to respond to either." From time to time, one encounters a kind of intellectual sneer at politicians as being fundamentally stupid. It isn’t true, of course. In fact, it is manifestly false. I never met a truly stupid politician in Washington; you simply don’t get elected to national office in this country without something on the ball, even if that something is only political smarts. Of course, there are political smarts, and then there are political smarts. Inviting mockery by plagiarizing a public letter is probably the latter. Or I do mean the former? Anyway, not smart.
The University of Chicago Press has just released a new translation of the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões (1524¯1580). It’s called Selected Sonnets: A Bilingual Edition , and it’s the first significant English translation of Camões’ sonnets in more than a hundred years. The fact that it’s by our friend William Baer, and a dozen of the translations appeared in the pages of FIRST THINGS over the years, is mere happenstance. This is an important publication and deserves notice.
Camões is the author of the Portuguese national epic, The Lusiads , and once upon a time was known throughout Europe as one of the great sonneteers. Ever wonder why Elizabeth Barrett Browning called her most famous book Sonnets from the Portuguese ? There was a reason¯but a reason that we seem to forget as the major European languages crowded out the minor ones.
In his fascinating introduction, Baer notes that Camões was almost as well known for his adventures as his poetry. He was banished for brawling at the court, half-blinded fighting the Moors, shipwrecked in India, jailed in Goa, and exiled in Mozambique. Along the way, he wrote intensely religious, political, and romantic poetry. You can read some of William Baer’s translations in FIRST THINGS here and here . Or, better yet, you can buy the book and read them all.
The Washington Post has taken up the question of Catholics on the Supreme Court. Mostly a set of quotations from various commentators, the story at least asks the right questions. "Why have recent Republican presidents turned again and again to Catholic jurists when making appointments to the Supreme Court? It may be partly an effort to woo Catholic voters, but mostly it’s because so many of the brightest stars in the conservative legal firmament are Catholics, several scholars said."
Those scholars included Notre Dame’s Gerald Bradley, who told the Post : "I do think that there is an important truth in saying that Catholics are the intellectual pillars of social conservatism. Compared to their political allies in that movement, Catholics are heirs to a richer intellectual tradition and . . . are more inclined to believe that reason supplies good grounds for the moral and political positions characteristic of social conservatism. Call it the ‘natural law’ thing."