Category: Briefs

Notes and Quotes

Hate the River-Rat!

I gotta say, I’m really enjoying Will Percy’s 1941 autobiography, Lanterns of the Levee. I’d heard of it for years but never bothered to buy it, much less read it.

The prose is beautiful, if a bit ornate by today’s standard, and he brings up topics that seem terribly antiquated in today’s world, with opinions and sentiments that are hardly politically correct, but not necessarily “Twitter wrong.” They’re just different, things that probably don’t arouse much animosity or admiration today.

It’s not too often one finds a strong opinion on something that doesn’t arouse emotion in today’s polarized world.

This portrait of the “river-rat” person really cracked me up for some reason:

Where he comes from no one knows or cares. Some find in him the descendant of those pirates who used to infest the river as far up as Memphis. . . Illiterate, suspicious, intensely clannish- blond, and usually ugly, river-rats make ideal bootleggers. The brand of corn or white mule they make has received nation-wide acclaim. They lead a life apart, uncouth, unclean, lawless, vaguely alluring. Their contact with the land world around them consists largely in being haled into court, generally for murder. No Negro is ever a river-rat.

Like I said, strong opinions but on topics that I doubt many people have a strong opinion on.


Another example, this time about the poor whites in the Delta:

The poor whites

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Southern Literary Figure Hated Confederate Statues

Will Percy (Walker’s cousin and guardian) was no fan of the Confederate monuments, saying they’re so pathetic, they don’t even qualify to be ridiculous:

[Y]ou will find in any Southern town a statue in memory of the Confederate dead, erected by the Daughters of something or other, and made, the townsfolk will respectfully tell you, in Italy. It is always the same: a sort of shaft or truncated obelisk, after the manner of the Washington Monument, on top of which stands a little man with a big hat holding a gun. If you are a Southerner you will not feel inclined to laugh at these efforts, so lacking in either beauty or character, to preserve the memory of their gallant and ill-advised forebears. I think the dash, endurance, and devotion of the Confederate soldier have not been greatly exaggerated in song and story: they do not deserve these chromos in stone. Sentiment driveling into sentimentality, poverty, and, I fear, lack of taste are responsible for them, but they are the only monuments which are dreadful from the point of view of æsthetics, craftsmanship, and conception that escape being ridiculous. They’re too pathetic for that.

Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son(1941). By William Alexander Percy. 348 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $3.

Will Percy was not a BLM advocate, much less an Antifa subversive. He was “the embodiment of Southern culture, … Read the rest

Carting Away Hobbits

I’ve started to re-read The Lord of the Rings. While listening to Brad Birzer’s three-part interview on the National Review “Great Books” podcast, I realized that I had forgotten a lot of things about the books.

More troubling, I had forgotten a lot of the charming things about the book. Or maybe I had never noticed the charming things since I read the books in my teens. Charm, after all, is unexpected grace or enchantment, which is something I suppose most teenagers are incapable of feeling or, if they are, of recognizing.

Two weeks ago, I read the Prologue and Tolkien’s libertarian paean to the Shire. Last week, I finished Chapter One, “The Long-Expected Party.” Now I’m Chapter Two, where Gandalf confirms his suspicions about the Ring and Frodo decides to leave the Shire.

I’m greatly enjoying it.

As of this moment, though, my favorite passage is about the hobbits leaving the huge party:

“About midnight carriages came for the important folk. One by one they rolled away . . . Gardeners came by arrangement, and removed in wheel-barrows those that had inadvertently remained behind.”… Read the rest

The Real Transylvania

From the One Thing File

Dracula’s Castle. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

“The One Thing File” is a practice I learned from Econtalk. It’s the practice of writing just one thing (okay, maybe more than one) that I learn from a book, essay, documentary, podcast, whatever.

For younger TDE readers, think of it as Reddit’s “Today I Learned” feature.


The One Thing: William Penn was so impressed by the religious freedom in Transylvania that he almost named his American colony “Transylvania.”

Details: Transylvania is not culturally the same as the rest of Romania.

It lies west of the Carpathian Mountains and was not, unlike the rest of the Balkans, conquered by the Turks during the Middle Ages, meaning it experienced the high Middle Ages like the rest of Central and Western Europe and its cathedrals, Cistercians, Baroque, and the Enlightenment.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula—and its evil-looking and suspicious peasants, howling wolves, and midnight thunderstorms—resembles Moldavia far more than Transylvania (and Dracula himself is based on Vlad the Impaler, whose castle was in Wallachia, not Transylvania).

(Bonus one thing: Bram Stoker never visited Romania.)

Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts.… Read the rest

What the Frick, Amazon?

I just watched The Fight of Our Lives. It’s a thoughtful yet unequivocal attack on the far left ideas that every Democrat and Republic ought to resist. It explains the problem with postmodernism, Marxist infiltration of the universities, safe spaces and cancel culture, declining population.

A must-see.

I simply can’t figure out where Amazon is coming from. First, it rips Parler off the Internet in one of the most brazen assaults on free speech since Stalin, then it airs this documentary, which is one of the strongest defenses of freedom of speech and other western values since William F. Buckley launched National Review.

And it’s packed with, I’m guessing, interview excerpts with at least two dozen different professors.

So, although I still hold Amazon in contempt, my contempt isn’t as withering as it was a few weeks ago.

Who knows, maybe this is all just a ploy by Amazon to salvage its mainline customer base. It could be. It’s that unexpected and out of nowhere.

(Caveat: I still have 20 minutes to go.)… Read the rest

Oh Mighty TDE Seer

I can usually sniff ’em out before they come out

Okay, I’m no seer, but I was pleased with myself when I found these notes from 2009 that I wrote after reading James Martin’s My Life with the Saints:

“I wasn’t bowled over by the book, and Fr. Martin is, I fear, a leftist (but of the sincere and well-meaning sort), but it deserved to be finished. It’s splendidly-written, fun, packed with interesting anecdotes. The list of saints alone should be enough to entice you to buy a used copy: Therese Lisieux, Ignatius Loyola. Bernadette, Mother Teresa, Aquinas, St. Francis. Of course, he throws Pope John XXIII into the list of saints (the leftism at work), but I came away with more respect for the reforming pope, so that’s a good thing.”

Ok, so I botched the “well-meaning” part, but otherwise, I sniffed him out like a German Shepherd on Cheech and Chong (sorry for the sarcastic bravado . . . I’ve been drinking a bit this evening). … Read the rest

McLuhan Sighting

“Philosophize This” dedicates its current episode to Marshall McLuhan. It’s very good.

The podcast is here.

The transcript to the podcast is here.

You ask people that question what would you rather be? Blind or deaf? And 99% of people say they’d rather be deaf…because our culture is so visual in terms of how it communicates. But how might that sample size change if a new media or technology was introduced that communicated primarily through audio? You know, McLuhan once said:

“We don’t know who discovered water but we know it wasn’t a fish. A pervasive environment, a pervasive medium is always beyond perception.”

The big point to McLuhan is this: the messages that these media of written language are sending to us…go far beyond the actual content or subject matter of the thing that’s being written about. There are latent messages being sent that as fish in the water we just don’t perceive.

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Epstein Corner

A few passages from his enjoyable Essays in Biography:

Saul Bellow, always mindful of the possibility of malice extended to a fellow scribbler, once told me that [James] Baldwin’s problem was simple: “He wanted to be Martin Luther Queen.”

“T.S. “Eliot was the equivalent in literature of Albert Einstein in science in that everyone seemed to know that these men were immensely significant without quite knowing for what.”

”Will Rogers, a contemporary of Fields, famously said that he never met a man he didn’t like (causing George Jessel to say that he once had a wife who felt the same way, and it turned out to be no bargain).”

When Jean-Paul Sartre wished to meet with him, Solzhenitsyn felt honor-bound to refuse this particularly egregious “useful idiot.”

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