Robert Browning, Incident of the French Camp, First Stanza


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The poem forms a short story. On August 23, 1809, the French Army under the leadership of then-Emperor Napoleon engaged in a battle at the walled city of Ratisbon. A breach in the walls led to three advances into the city, all of which were defeated. On a third advance, the Marshall Lannes (a general office, just below Napoleon himself) made way to lead a fourth advance through the breach. Lannes is reported to have said to troops, understandably reluctant to charge through a breach which had seen three defeats in short order, “I will let you see that I was a grenadier before I was a marshal and still am one.” Lannes’ men held him back, and the troops rallied for a fourth, successful assault. During the battle, Napoleon suffered a rare, minor injury to his foot.

The poem describes the scene of a young soldier returning to make a report of a successful taking of the city. The young man having given the news falls down dead.

The first stanza sets the scene:


You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: 
A mile or so away,

On a little mound, Napoleon 
Stood on our storming-day; 
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, 
Legs wide, arms locked behind, 
As if to balance the prone brow 
Oppressive with its mind. 

The first words of this poem are critical to understand the whole. If you miss those words, you miss what is taking place. If we drop those words, the poet would be writing from the objective, third person narrator; the one who truly knows what is going on with every character. We the reader, are watching the whole scene from a distance.

But the first words subtly shift the meaning in two important ways. First, our perspective on the event does not come from a third person objective narrator, but it comes from an eyewitness. Second, we are not at home with a book of poetry in our hand sipping tea and admiring Browning’s skill.

If we are going to follow Browning, we must be present at the scene of the conquest of Ratisbon. First, we are speaking with a witness to the event:

You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: 

The narrator is a mere of the French army. You are not, the use of “you” and “we” create two distinct groups. This is why you were not present at the events. 

Second, you are not far from the scene of the battle, but you were not directly affected, the narrator has to remind you of the battle. If you home had been burnt, he probably would not be talking with you.

Third, you are near the battle, 

You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: 
A mile or so away,

This then leads to a question: Why is the soldier telling you the story? Is he proud, amused, incredulous, angry? 

Whatever the case, you only truly understand this poem if you see it as a conversation with a French soldier lately at the battle. You are brought into this piece of gossip.

The narrator then begins to set the scene. It centers upon Napoleon (as everything in Napoleon’s world did). 

On a little mound, Napoleon 
Stood on our storming-day; 
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, 
Legs wide, arms locked behind, 
As if to balance the prone brow 
Oppressive with its mind. 

The narrator here begins to let us into how he sees the event: Napoleon stands “on a little mound.” Here is the Emperor, the terror Europe, the most powerful man in the world, standing on a “little mound.”  The prosaic point that Napoleon stood on an elevation to get a sight of the whole has been described in charged terms: “little mound” That is biting. 

Napoleon is also not present at the battle: he is standing while the soldiers are fighting and dying (as we will learn)

Stood on our storming-day; 

Although not a direct allusion, this reminds me of a scene from the Bible:

2 Samuel 11:1 (ESV) 

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 

The great general is apart from his troops. But at least Napoleon is at the scene of the battle.

Notice also that you are drawn back into the scene. You know what Napoleon looks like. You are being made a confidant. 

With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, 

And finally Napoleon is a distress, two forces are opposed in him and he struggles to balance all:

With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, 
Legs wide, arms locked behind, 
As if to balance the prone brow 
Oppressive with its mind. 

This scene sets up the tentative nature of Napoleon’s position. The emperor on a little mound is reduced to a mere observer. This brings us to the next stanza

George Swinnock, The Godly Man’s Picture 1.4d



2. He Takes Advantage of All Opportunties

Statement of the proposition:

The industry of a man about his calling, or whatsoever he makes his business, appeareth in his taking all advantages for the furtherance thereof. 


A tradesman that minds his employment, doth not only in his shop, but also abroad, and when he is from home, drive forward his trade. Indeed, when he is in his shop, his eyes are most about him to see what is wanting, that it may be supplied, to take care that all his customers may be satisfied, and to order things so, that by his buying and selling his stock may be increased; but if he walk from home, he doth not wholly leave his trade behind him. 

If he visit his friends or acquaintance, and there be any likelihood of doing any good, you may observe him questioning the price of such and such commodities, inquiring at what rates they are afforded in those parts; and if they be cheap, possibly furnishing himself from thence; if dear, it may be, put off a considerable quantity of his own. 

Having developed the illustration, he here applies the illustration to his proposition:

Because he makes it his business, his mind runs much upon it, that wherever he is, he will be speaking somewhat of it, if occasion be offered, whereby he comes now and then to meet with such bargains as tend much to his benefit; 

so the Christian that makes religion his business, is industrious to improve all opportunities for the furtherance of his general calling. 

Second application: He here takes uses some allusions to Scripture to flesh out the application. The first allusion is based upon Psalm 102:7, “I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.” (ESV) The basis of the allusion is “I like awake.” Thus, I am constantly watching, like David’s sparrow.           

As his time (for he is God’s servant) so his trade goeth forward every hour; he is, David-like, as a sparrow upon the house-top, looking on this side and that side, to see where he may pick up some spiritual food. 

He doth not only in the church and in his closet, but also in all his converses [his interactions, broader than merely speaking] with men, walk with his God. If God prosper him, as the ship mounts higher according to the increase of the tide, so his heart is lifted up the nearer to God, as God’s hand is enlarged towards him. If God afflict him, as the nipping north wind purifies the air, so the besom of affliction doth sweep the dust of sin out of his heart. As his pulse is ever beating, so his heavenly trade is ever going forward. 

Note that last epigram: As his pulse is ever beating, so his heavenly trade is ever going forward. It is a well balanced line. The beats are not identical on both sides of the pause, but the concepts “rhyme” and clauses “pulse is ever beating” and “trade is every going” does balance perfect. Thus the “forward” drops one more metrical “foot.”

Again, such epigrams work particularly well at the beginning or end of an idea as a way to summarize and recall the whole.

His visits to his friends are out of conscience as well as out of courtesy; and his endeavour is, either by some savoury Scripture expression, or some sober action, to advantage his company. He will watch for a fit season to do his own and others’ souls service, and catch at it as greedily, and improve it as diligently, as Benhadad’s servants did Ahab’s words.

A few things which this last paragraph. Benhadad’s servants are referenced in 1 Kings 20. The allusion is ironic, because they were “diligent” in an evil matter. Again, note how he uses repetition – with an increase information (not a mere repetition of synonyms):

His visits to his friends are 

out of conscience 

as well as out of courtesy; 

and his endeavour is, 

either by some savoury Scripture expression, 

or some sober action, 

to advantage his company.

There are two main verbs: visit/endeavor. Each verb is modified by two clauses, each marked with alliteration. There is a result clause: to the advantage of his company. Such rhetorical structures are not overdone; they are not gaudy – even non-rhetorical age. They make it easier to understand are more affective than something such as: He makes it is his habit to to do his best to speak and act like a godly man whenever he is in company. 

This next section has an allusion to “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31. He applies the principle to eating, commerce, and socializing. 

If he be eating or drinking, the salt of grace is ever one dish upon the table to season all his diet. He will raise his heart from the daily bread to the bread that came down from heaven. He eateth, is full, and blesseth the Lord. Before he begins he asketh God’s leave, while he feeds he tasteth God’s love, and when he hath done he giveth God thanks.

If he be buying or selling, he is very willing that God should be a witness to all his bargains; for he prayeth to God as if men heard him, and he tradeth with men as if God saw him. His shop, as well as his chapel, is holy ground.

If he be amongst his relations, he is both desirous and diligent to further religion. His endeavour is that those that are nigh him in the flesh may be nigh God in the spirit. He is careful that both by his precepts and pattern he may do somewhat for their profit. His house, as well as his heart, is consecrated to God.

He here shifts a bit on the nature of his exhortation: rather than focusing on someone whose does a certain thing, Swinnock explains the godly man in terms of nature: this is a thing he is (not merely a thing he does):

As Cæsar’s image was stamped on a penny, as well as on a greater piece, Mat. 22:20, so godliness, which is the image of the King of kings, is imprinted not only on his greater and weightier, but also upon his lesser and meaner practices.

He returns to the question of conduct:

Godliness is not his physic, which he only now and then (as at spring and fall) makes use of, but his food, which he daily dealeth about; besides his set times for his set meals of morning and evening devotion, he hath many a good bait by the by in the day-time. ‘Evening, morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud,’ Ps. 55:17. ‘Oh, how love I thy law; it is my meditation,’ not some part, but ‘all the day.’ 

Whether the actions he be about be natural or civil, he makes them sacred; whether the company he be in be good or bad, he will mind his holy calling; whether he be riding or walking, whether it be at home or abroad; whether he be buying or selling, eating or drinking, whatsoever he be doing, or wheresoever he be going, still he hath an eye to further godliness, because he makes that his business. 

And now back to ontology. This switch back-and-forth, detracts a bit from the structure. In a day of long-hand writing, I assume he completed one section (godliness as conduct) switched to godliness as being, and then thought of another section, added it, and then returned to his subject. Note that the second of the above-sections repeats the concept from above about eating and buying. 

What the philosopher said of the soul in relation to the body—The soul is whole in the whole body, and whole in every part of it1—is true of godliness, in reference to the life of a Christian; godliness is whole in his whole conversation, and whole in every part of it. 

As the constitution of man’s body is known by his pulse; if it beat not at all, he is dead; if it beat and keep a constant stroke, it is a sign the body is sound. Godliness is the pulse of the soul; if it beat not at all, the soul is void of spiritual life; if it beat equally and constantly, it speaks the soul to be in an excellent plight.

He ends this question of godliness as matter of constant attention and action by means of a contrast between the example of the Lord and the one who shifts to circumstance:

It was the practice of our Saviour, who left us a blessed pattern therein, to be always furthering godliness. When bread was mentioned to him, upon it he dissuaded his disciples from the leaven of the pharisees, Mat. 16:56. When water was denied him by the Samaritan woman, he forgets his thirst, and seeks to draw her to the well-spring of happiness, John 4:10. When people came to him for bodily cures, how constantly doth he mind the safety of their souls: ‘Thou art made whole, go sin no more,’ or, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.’ He went about doing good; in the day-time working miracles and preaching, in the night-time he often gave himself to meditation and prayer.

The example of the Lord is useful in two ways. First, this is the supreme example of what is required. Second, there is a reference back to his prior description: the godly man is concerned with godliness while he is eating or drinking. 

Now we turn to the contrast, who reminds on of Mr. By-Ends in Pilgrim’s Progress:

Money-Love: Alas! Why did they not stay, that we might have had their good company? for they, and we, and you, Sir, I hope, are all going on pilgrimage.

By-ends: We are so, indeed; but the men before us are so rigid, and love so much their own notions, and do also so lightly esteem the opinions of others, that let a man be never so godly, yet if he jumps not with them in all things, they thrust him quite out of their company.

Save-All: That is bad, but we read of some that are righteous overmuch; and such men’s rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but themselves. But, I pray, what, and how many, were the things wherein you differed?

By-ends: Why, they, after their headstrong manner, conclude that it is duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men are against them; but I am for religion in what, and so far as the times, and my safety, will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.

He that minds religion by the by doth otherwise; he can, Proteus-like, turn himself into any shape which is in fashion. As the carbuncle, a beast which is seen only by night, having a stone in his forehead, which shineth incredibly and giveth him light whereby to feed; but when he heareth the least noise, he presently lets fall over it a skin, which he hath as a natural covering, lest its splendour should betray him; so the half Christian shines with the light of holiness by fits and starts; every fright makes him hold in and hide it. The mark of Antichrist was in his followers’ hands, which they can cover or discover at their pleasure; but the mark of Christ’s disciples was in their foreheads, visible at all times.

A note on the fabulous beasts and events referenced by our ancestors. When we look at back at these things, we can think: How credulous they were. But think for a moment. 

1 Anima est tota in toto et tota in qualibet parte.

Measure for Measure, Human Nature, and Original Sin


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Claudio to Lucio

From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty.

As surfeit is the father of much fast,

So every scope by the immoderate use

Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue,

Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,

A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die.

Measure for Measure, Act I, ii, 122-127.

These lines are fascinating from a few perspectives. First, they present a theme (perhaps  the theme) of the play. But I am interested in the structure of this short argument, and it works both make a logical case and an affective case. It would be hard to make such a compressed and persuasive argument in such few words. 

Background on the lines. 

Claudio is being led through the street as a prisoner. Lucio, a friend, sees him and asks what he has done. Lucio has been making sexually charged jokes about prostitutes and disease with some acquaintances and with a pimp and a madam. 

Claudio has been arrested for fornication. He got his fiancée pregnant (they were holding off on a dowery increase). The very strict and straightlaced interim ruler has enforced a law which the Duke (now “absent”) had allowed to go unheeded.

Claudio has been taken for the excess of his sexual behavior. Interestingly, Angelo, the interim ruler will face his own sexual politics and will be caught in the same vein as Claudio.

This short speech consists of three elements: First, a direct, albeit cryptic answer:

From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty.

Second: an observation of the general movement of human life. This is the pattern I followed to be destroyed:

As surfeit is the father of much fast,

So every scope by the immoderate use

Turns to restraint. 

Third: an explanation of the psychological process which gives rise to the pattern of human behavior.

                                    Our natures do pursue,

Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,

A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die.

First, the answer:

Question (Lucio):

Why, how now, Claudio? Whence comes this restraint?


From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty.

Lucio does not know what this means and will directly ask if it was murder.

The line is well constructed:

From too much LIBerty, my LUcio, LIBerty.

I’m not sure what to do with the other syllables: The accent could fall any of the other words, thus giving a different nuance of meaning. Why is clear is the alliteration on the L (and m: much, my). The L will drop out of the rest of the speech underscoring the use here. 

The answer is ironic: he speaks of liberty and that is precisely what he does not have. The nature of the liberty is unclear.

The characters have just been speaking of the bawdy houses being torn down, so the background of liberty and immorality in play.  Liberty and constraint will be a theme which will work out. 

In the next scene, the Duke will explain himself to a friar. There were many laws which the Duke had failed to enforce. He has left his position so that Angelo can reinstate and apply those laws. He explains the effect his failure to enforce laws has had:

For terror, not to use – in time the rod

More mocked than feared – so our decrees,

Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead,

And liberty plucks justice by the nose,

The baby beats the nurse, and quiet athwart 

Goes all decorum

I.3. xxvii-xxxii.

So a liberty which counters order and justice is an issue which the play will consider.

Second, the observation:

This is stated in the form of a natural law, like gravity:

As surfeit is the father of much fast,

So every scope by the immoderate use

Turns to restraint. 

Claudio notes a principle of human life: an excess ends in its opposite so as to bring balance. This principle of balance is a theme throughout Shakespeare and takes its origin from the Galen theory of humors and the need to balance humors in the body.

The physician’s task was to diagnose which humor was out of balance; treatment then focused on restoring equilibrium by diet or by reducing the offending, out-of-balance humor by evacuating it.

(For the theory in Shakespeare see here: ):

This statement of a natural principle and pattern is exactly 2.5 lines long. It will be matched by another line of 2.5 lines. 

There is a light alliteration which holds the lines together: S & F: Surfeit, Scope, Father- Fast. The R in the final word will tie these lines to the following.

The use of the word father is ironic: Claudio’s “fast”, his imprisonment is because he is a father. 

And so far we have moral principle: excessive liberty leads to restraint. A principle of medicine and psychology: when one aspect of human life (a humor) is in excess, a contrary principle must be put into place to bring balance. 

This leads to a question: If balance and order are the good which we should seek to achieve, then what would bring a human being to act beyond moderation?

Third: The psychological process:

                        Our natures do pursue,

Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,

A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die.

This is a deeply Christian observation. It has to do with the concept of original sin. Original sin is often reduced to, guilt for a wrong I did not commit. (See, Finnegans Wake). Article 9 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England reads:

Original sin is not found merely in the following of Adam’s example (as the Pelagians foolishly say). It is rather to be seen in the fault and corruption which is found in the nature of every person who is naturally descended from Adam. The consequence of this is that man is far gone from his original state of righteousness. In his own nature he is predisposed to evil, the sinful nature in man always desiring to behave in a manner contrary to the Spirit. In every person born into this world there is fund this predisposition which rightly deserves God’s anger and condemnation. This infection within man’s nature persists even within those who are regenerate. This desire of the sinful nature, which in Greek is called fronema sarkos and is variously translated the wisdom or sensuality or affection or desire of the sinful nature, is not under control of God’s law. Although there is no condemnation for those that believe and are baptized, nevertheless the apostle states that any such desire is sinful. 

Look back at Claudio’s explanation: the fault springs from our “nature”.  Now consider carefully the article:

It is rather to be seen in the fault and corruption which is found in the nature of every person who is naturallydescended from Adam. The consequence of this is that man is far gone from his original state of righteousness. In his own nature he is predisposed to evil, the sinful nature in man always desiring to behave in a manner contrary to the Spirit…. This infection within man’s nature persists even within those who are regenerate. This desire of the sinful nature,

Our “natures pursue” their own destruction by a compulsion “man is always desiring”.

Our nature is like a rat – which is a striking image – that ravin: ravin is an act of rapine, it is a greedy, thoughtless criminal desire and action – ravin down poison: a “proper bane,” that is, my own poison, the poison that is “proper” to me. It is a “thirsty evil”: it is never satisfied, never quenched. Moreover, this desire is such that fulfilling it brings its own destruction:

When we drink, we die.

Musically, the lines are held together by the use of R which picks up the R in restraint found in Lucio’s question and in the middle of Claudio’s answer:

Restraint – restraint – rats that ravin.

We have pursue-proper. And finally, drink-die.

The use of this imagery to illustrate and explain the psychological process which leads to self-destruction is very effective. It would have even more to the point for the original audience, who were faced constantly with the menace and evil of filthy rats. 

There is one final point in this observation: Shakespeare is condemning the audience along with the character’s self-condemnation. He is making a categorical statement about humanity: Our nature. When we drink, we die. 

Which means that as we read this, we are drawn into the scope of the play. It is our nature, our drinking, our death.

George Swinnock, The Godly Man’s Picture 1.4c


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1. He is laborious in the work of godliness.

a. He makes godliness his chief concern

b. He is diligent

c. He is heedful

d. He is zealous

e. He is careful

This sort of a list should not be read over as if it were mere information. To be properly understood, it is necessary to also ask, “Is this me?” It is also best read with a Bible in one’s hand to check to consider the passages cited.

Thus he that makes religion his business is industrious and laborious in the work of the Lord. 

a. He makes godliness is his chief concern

The heart of his ground, the strength of his inward man, is spent about the good corn of religion, not about the weeds of earthly occasions. 

To prove this point, Swinnock lists six ways in which this chief concern are apparent. I have broken-up this paragraph and have added numbering to make these elements apparent.

i. He makes haste to keep God’s commandments, knowing that the lingering, lazy snail is reckoned among unclean creatures, Lev. 11:30

This use of a seemingly unimportant and certainly obscure  element from the law to illustrate a proposition is a characteristic of the English Puritan. The word translated “snail” in the KJV is now understood to refer to a sand lizard of some sort.

ii. and he is hot and lively in his devotion, knowing that a dull, drowsy ass (though fit enough to carry the image of Isis, yet) was no fit sacrifice for the pure and active God, Exod. 13:13

iii. He giveth God the top, the chief, the cream of all his affections, as seeing him infinitely worthy of all acceptation; 

This is a proposition that was famously developed by Jonathan Edwards, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. Swinnock plainly hopes to stir up affections from the manner of his writing. He does not treat people as merely lacking some generally knowledge: he is constantly seeking to cause the reader to be taken up and to desire these things which he is being encouraged unto.

iv. he is ‘not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit,’ when he is ‘serving the Lord,’ Rom. 12:11

v. He believeth that to fear God with a secondary fear is atheism; that to trust God with a secondary trust is treason; that to honour God with a secondary honour is idolatry; and to love God with a secondary love is adultery; 

This is a biting observation. It is our nature that we settle for having some fear, some trust, some honor, some love. That is not merely insufficient, it is dangerous.

vi. therefore he loveth (and he feareth and trusteth and honoureth) ‘the Lord his God, with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength,’ Mat. 22:3637.

(vi.) 1. His love to God ‘is a labour of love, as strong as death; the coals thereof are coals of juniper,’ which do not only burn long, (some say twelve months together,) but burn with the greatest heat. 

(vi.) 2. His measure of loving God is without measure.

Illustrations. He here provides two historical illustrations:

The Samseans in Epiphanius were neither Jews, Gentiles, nor Christians, yet preserved a fair correspondency with all: a hypocrite is indifferent to any, never fervent in the true religion.

It is reported of Redwald, king of the east Saxons, the first prince of this nation that was baptized, that in the same church he had one altar for the Christian religion, another for the heathenish sacrifices. The true believer doth otherwise; he that makes religion his work, gives God the whole of his heart, without halting and. without halving.

b. He is diligent:

Set him about any duty, and he is diligent in it. 

He is diligent in his prayer and in receiving the sacraments.

In prayer, 

he laboureth in prayer, Col. 4:12;

he crieth to God, 1 Sam. 7:9;

he crieth mightily, Jonah 3:8;

he poureth forth his soul, Lam. 2:19;

he strives in supplication with God, Rom. 15:30

stirs up himself to lay hold on God, Isa. 27:5;

and even wrestleth with omnipotency, Gen. 32:14

There is the repetition of the “he” in five short phrases, each backed with biblical support. He then switches the form of phrase to conclude. Not also that the variation between each line is a verb. The verbs are not bare synonyms, but rather each phrase provides more information. When I hear contemporary preachers make an emphasis similar to this they repeat the “he” with a verb, but each line is merely a repetition not an addition.

He then ends with this epigram, which is fit to the previous statement and also is each to remember:

When the mill of his prayer is going, his fervent affections are the waters that drive it. 

The movement of image from water to fire works well:

There is fire taken from God’s own altar, (not the ordinary hearth of nature,) and put to his incense, whereby it becomes fragrant and grateful to God himself. 

He then provides an additional epigram:

His fervent prayer is his key to God’s treasury, and his endeavour is, that it rust not for want of use. 

When he goeth to the sacrament, he is all in a flame of affection to the author of that feast; with desire he desires to eat of the passover. 

He longs exceedingly for the time, he loves the table; but when he seeth the bread and wine, the waggons which the Lord Jesus hath sent for him, oh how his heart revives! 

When he seeth the sacraments, the body and blood of Christ in the elements, who can tell how soon he scents! how fast this true eagle flieth to the heavenly carcase.

c. He is heedful

In this section, Swinnock highlights two aspects of the godly man’s life: hearing and speaking. First, he heeds what he hears from the Word of God. Second, he speaks in such a way that others should do the same. To those who dishonor God, he corrects. But when he is counseling the one who willingly hears, he is gentle:

i) Listening:

At hearing he is heedful; he flieth to the salt-stone of the word with swiftness and care, as doves to their columbaries, Isa. 60:8. As the new-born babe, he desires the sincere milk of the word; and when he is attending on it, he doth not dally nor trifle, but as the bee the flower, and the child the breast, suck with all his might for some spiritual milk, Isa. 66:11Deut. 28:1; he hearkeneth diligently to the voice of the Lord his God; 

ii) Speaking:

let him be in company, taking notice of some abominable carriage, he will rebuke cuttingly, Tit. 1:13. If he gives his bitter pill in sweet syrup, you may see his exceeding anger against sin, whilst you behold his love to the sinner; he is, though a meek lamb when himself, yet a lion when God, is dishonoured; his anger waxeth hot when men affront the Most High, Exod. 32:19

If he be counselling his child or friend to mind God and godliness, how hard doth he woo to win the soul to Christ! how many baits doth he lay to catch the poor creature! you may perceive his bowels working by his very words: how fervent, how instant, how urgent, how earnest is he to persuade his relation or acquaintance to be happy! He ‘provokes them to love, and to good works.’

d. He is Zealous

Set him about what religious exercise you will, and he is, according to the apostle’s words, ‘zealous’ (or fiery fervent) ‘of good works;’ like spring water, he hath a living principle, and thence is warm in winter, or, like Debris in Cyrene,1is seething hot.

As Augustus said of the young Roman, Quicquid vult, valde vult[2]; whatsoever he goeth about that concerns the glory of his Saviour, and the good of his soul, he doth it to purpose. 

Whatever God requires, the godly man will do. 

In this next section, Swinnock makes his argument from the Greek word diōkō. The word is translated as “follow after,” in the KJV. The ESV has “pursue”. It is a very strong word, which as Swinnock notes, is elsewhere translated as persecute or hunt. The idea here is that Paul is chasing after something to catch it. He puts this image to good use when he refers to persecutors as “industrious”:

As Paul saith of himself, ‘I follow after, if that I may apprehend’ Phil. 3:12. The word in the original is emphatical, διώκω, I prosecute it with all my strength and power, that I may attain if it be possible. The word is either an allusion to persecutors, Mat. 5:10–12, for it is used of them frequently; so Piscator takes it. Or to hunters, according to Aretius; take either, and the sense is the same, and very full. 

As persecutors are industrious and incessant in searching up and down for poor Christians, and hauling them to prison; and as huntsmen are up betimes at their sport, follow it all day, and spare for no pains, even sweating and tiring themselves at this their pleasure; so eager and earnest, so indefatigable and industrious was Paul, and so ought every one of us to be (the command is delivered to us, in the same word, Heb. 12:14) about godliness.

The reference to Hebrews 12:14: Pursue [same word, diōkō] peace with all men and holiness without which no one will see the Lord. In short, godliness requires the zeal of a hunter seeking prey or a persecutor seeking to capture another.

e. He is careful

In this section, Swinnock changes the nature of the argument. Rather than speaking first of what this element requires, he begins with the negative image: What is it to not be careful? It is interesting, because such a man willingly presumes upon God and in so doing makes an idol out of God. The God of his imagination is quite similar to the modern default God who cares for me, helps when I need it, and never judges anything. I found this negative portrait quite effect, because it captures presumption. A merely positive statement on all points could have the effect of making the standard sound purely aspirational: we’d all like to be like this. By using the negative at points, Swinnock catches our sloth in its burrow:

A man that minds godliness only by the by, looks sometimes to the matter, seldom to the manner, of his performances. Opus operatum [work working], the work done is a full discharge for him, how slightly or slovenly however it be done. If he stumble sometimes upon a good word, yet it is not his walk; and when he is in that way, he cares not how many steps he treads awry. 

It may be said of him as of Jehu, ‘He takes no heed to walk in the way of the Lord God of Israel with his heart,’ 2 Kings 10:31

He makes an idol of the blessed God, (he prays to him, and hears from him, as if he had eyes and saw not, as if he had ears and heard not, as if he had hands and wrought not,) and anything will serve an idol. 

Here he closes out the portrait with sarcasm:

How aptly and justly may God say to him after his duties, as Cæsar to the citizen after dinner, (who, having invited the emperor to his table, made but slight preparation and slender provision for him,) I had thought that you and I had not been so familiar.

What it is to be careful. Here, Swinnock 

But he that exerciseth himself to godliness hath a more awful and serious carriage towards God. The twelve tribes served God ‘instantly day and night,’ Acts 26:7, fervently, vehemently, to the utmost of their power; the word implieth both extension and intension; the very heathen could say that the gods must be worshipped, ἢ ὅλως ἢ μὴ ὅλως, [everything or nothing] either to our utmost withal, or not at all.

1 “Beyond it is the desert, and then Talgæ, a city of the Garamantes, and Debris, at which place there is a spring, the waters of which, from noon to midnight, are at boiling heat, and then freeze for as many hours until the following noon;” Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, ed. John Bostock (Medford, MA: Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, 1855), 1399.

[2] This is a line from Augustine’s Confessions, “Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.” Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Vol. 2, ed. T. E. Page and W. H. D. Rouse, trans. William Watts, The Loeb Classical Library (New York; London: The Macmillan Co.; William Heinemann, 1912), 149.

Legal Proof that the Word “Filed” is Past-Tense


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Some lawyers are willing to say anything. Lest you think this an exaggeration, I submit to you a section from a brief I am filing today. The background is as follows: the parties are arguing over the application of a particular rule. At issue is the ordering of specific events: Is B supposed to happen after document A has been filed or at the same as A is filed? The verb is the rule is “filed”. We noted that the “filed” is the past-tense of “to file.” The opposing party argued in response, “the word ‘filed’ is present tense.” Below is our legal argument that “filed” is past tense:

On page 5, line 22 through page 6, line 11 of the Opposition, the Trustee advances the novel argument that “filed” is not a past tense of the verb “to file”. This argument is both bizarre and frankly illiterate. In fact, she actually writes this sentence, “the word ‘filed’ is present tense.” 

The Trustee is simply wrong. In English, the simple past is most often formed by the addition of the letters “-ed” to the end of the base form of the verb.[1] “The simple past. Generally, this tense refers to events, habitual activities, and states in the past.”  (“Tense,” in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1031.)

And just to make the point clear, the courts have weighed in and stated the obvious: the simple past of “to file” is “filed.” Petitioners cited two decisions in the moving papers[2]; but so that there is no doubt, here are a few additional cases from other jursidcitions: In re Lehman Bros. Securities & Erisa Litigation (S.D.N.Y. 2015) 131 F. Supp. 3d 241, 267 (“Note that “filed in” is a past-tense modifier”); Krys v. Sugrue (S.D.N.Y. 2012) 859 F. Supp. 2d 644, 653 (“Congress’ clear use of the present tense for “pending” cases and past tense for “filed” cases forecloses defendants’ argument.”); Pope v. Gordon (Ala. 2005) 922 So. 2d 893, 898 (“Additionally, the use of the past tense in the phrase “and filed in the circuit court” ”).

The Trustee’s “argument” is based upon the assertion that since the Rules of Court contain uses of the perfect tense (the addition of “have been” for English verbs), the past tense/preterite “filed” is not past tense: which makes absolutely no sense. The perfect and preterite involve different aktionsart of the verbs (the lexical aspect used to emphasize different aspects of the relationship of the present to the past): “The non-progressive perfect refers to an event in the past with current relevance: I’ve broken the window indicates that I broke [note: the preterite of to break] the window and that the window is probably still broken.” (“Tense,” in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1031.) 

[1] “[J]umped is the past tense of jump.” “Preterite,” in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd ed., ed. R.W. Burchfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 621. For the convenience all, here is a link to all of the various conjugations of the verb “to file”:

[2] In the moving papers, citation was made to a couple of cases which explained that “filed” is a past-tense use of the verb to file. In an inexplicable attempt to “distinguish” these cases, the Trustee notes that those cases did not involve a trust petition – which is irrelevant to the question of grammar. 

George Swinnock, The Godly Man’s Picture, 1.4b


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This is a continuation of working through George Swinnock’s The Godly Man’s Picture. The previous post on this may be found here. In this post I primarily look at the introductory exhortation to pursue godliness with industry. It is a remarkable rhetorical exercise, demonstrating a great mastery over language. It is the sort of language which would make someone from a far future culture wonder if this constitutes “poetry”, in that the language is so compressed and controlled. Not only do I find such control of language fascinating, I also think that a great deal of preaching and teaching in the church would be improved by a greater ability to express propositions not merely with theological accuracy, but also with a passion which matches the content and helps the listener both understand and apply the exhortation. When the expression of the truth contradicts the purpose and content of the truth, we actually make it harder for the turth to have the desired effect. Yes, God can use the most incompetent speaker; but there is no reason we should strive to maximize our incompetence.

B.        Pursue Godliness With Industry:

1.         He is laborious in his efforts

2.         He takes advantage of all opportunity to be godly.

Secondly, To make religion one’s business, containeth [includes the concept] to pursue it with industry in our conversations. 

He then follows this proposition up with an expansion of the concept. I have broken it down by clauses and grouping so that the overall structure of this exhortation can be seen clearly. I will note the rhetorical elements below

A man that makes his calling his business 

is not lazy, but laborious about it; 

what pains will he take! 

what strength will he spend! 

how will he toil and moil at it early and late! 

The tradesman, 

the husbandman, 

eat not the bread of idleness, 

when they make their callings their business; 

if they be good husbands, 

they are both provident to observe their seasons, 

and diligent to improve them for their advantage; 

they do often even dip their food in their sweat, 

and make it thereby the more sweet. 

Their industry appears in working hard in their callings, 

and in improving all opportunities for the furtherance of their callings.

The rhetoric. This passage is extremely well constructed. He uses a variety devices to make the exhortation stirring and interesting. He does not over use one device. As you will see, he doubles but does not triple. We will start at the first stanza:

A man that makes his calling his business 

is not lazy, but laborious about it; 

The first line: Alliteration: man … makes . It is also iambic a MAN that MAKES. 

There is then the repetition of the his in parallel phrase “his business his calling” 

The second line is structured like a line of Anglo-Saxon poetry: there is a major break in the line. One either side of the break there is a strong accent which is matched by an alliterative strong accent on the other side of the line: is not LAZY, but LABORIOUS. The line is further helped by the lack of an “is” before Laborious. A perfectly parallel line would read, “is not lazy, but is laborious”. By dropping the “is”, the line gains speed and power. There is then the near rhyme: laborious about it. If you drop the “l” is it aborious about it. There is finally the “b” which marks the two line end words: “business/about”

Second stanza:

what pains will he take! 

what strength will he spend! 

how will he toil and moil at it early and late! 

The first two lines are near repetitions:

WHAT pains WILL HE take

WHAT strength WILL HE spend. 

Note also that “p” “t” are both plosives. Thus, will note a strict alliteration, it does create a parallel sound.  In the second line we have an alliterative “s” with a reversal of the order of the plosives. Note the structure of the sounds in the words which were not duplicated:

P   – T


In the third line we read:

how will he toil and moil at it early and late! 

Moil is a now-archaic word, which means work or drudgery and was common in this stock phrase, “toil and moil”. Looking at the Google N-gram, the word was quite rare in 1800, being primary found in dictionaries. By 1820, the word seems to have disappeared altogether. 

This third line repeats and rephrases the previous two lines in concept: the laborer will work very hard. But here he balances the line by means two stock phrases “toil and moil/early and late”. By running out this longer line and adding in the stock phrases, he slows the entire movement of the passage down. It has the effect of giving the reader’s “ear” a rest. 

In the third stanza he creates an “if-then” structure:

if they be good husbands, 

they are both provident to observe their seasons, 

and diligent to improve them for their advantage; 

they do often even dip their food in their sweat, 

and make it thereby the more sweet. 

The “then” conclusions are each a pair of clauses, both of which are marked with a “they”: they are both/they do often. The “if” clause likewise pivots on the word “they” If they be.

they are both provident to observe their seasons, 

and diligent to improve them for their advantage; 

they do often even dip their food in their sweat, 

and make it thereby the more sweet. 

The first of these paired clauses are both three beat lines: provident-observe-seasons/diligent-improve-advantage. The opening beat: provident/diligent rhyme which further strengths the parallel.

The second then clause: What is most striking if the near-rhyme: sweat/sweet. I don’t know precisely how Swinnock would have pronounced these words, but it is possible there were even closer in sound when he spoke them. In the first line there is the repeated “d” including the addition of the unnecessary “do” they DO often even DIP their fooD.

The final stanza is not nearly so musical as the previous stanzas: the lines are longer the effects are less. These two lines are marked by concluding both lines with the same phrase “their callings” (I have not named all the various effects. This particular device is called “epistrophe”. The names and uses of these devices can be found at the excellent webpage:

Their industry appears in working hard in their callings, 

and in improving all opportunities for the furtherance of their callings.

Freud on the “Freudian Slip”


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The previous look at The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is found here.

            The “Freudian slip” is the most famous of all concepts from Freud. It occurs when someone reveals a hidden motivation by substituting the “wrong” word. As he begins this essay, Freud reviews the work done by Meringer and Mayor, and then the observations of Wundt. 

Freud underscores an element from Wundt – an element which Freud will enforce at the end of this essay: These slips of the tongue take place when there is a “suspension of the attention that it would inhibit it, the uninhibited flow of associations is activated and may be said, even more definitely, to do so through that suspension.” (60) As he says toward the end of the essay, “I do not think anyone would make a slip of the tongue [examples given], in short in all those cases where, as one may say, the mind is really concentrated on the matter in hand.” (96)

Freud rejects the argument that slips of the tongue are merely the result of confusing or substituting sounds of words. He does not deny that sounds of words can have an effect upon errors, and indeed may be the cause of some errors:

But they do not seem to me strong enough to impair correct speech by their own influence alone. In those cases that I have studied closely and of which I can claim some understanding, they merely represent an existing mechanism that can easily be used by a remote psychic motive without its binding itself to the sphere of influence of those connections. In a great many substitutions, a slip of the tongue occurs quite regardless of such laws of phonetics. (79)

Freud explains that he uses these slips to “resolve and track down neurotic symptoms.” (78) Patients “may try to conceal the subject, but cannot help revealing it unintentionally in many different ways.” 

He contends that his theory “will stand up to examination even in its minor details.” (95)

To support his contention, he notes dozens of instances where someone substitutes one word for another, and thereby discloses a secret they had hoped to conceal. 

I found most compelling the example he gave from the novel Egoist by George Meredith (I cannot agree with Freud that Meredith is the “greatest English novelist”). Without rehearsing the entire nature of the example, the proposition is that a woman in the novel, by a confusion of names reveals a secret hope and desire she tries to keep concealed – but cannot. Why I found this example compelling is that is an independent attestation by someone other than Freud (or a professional psychologist/psychiatrist) of the same idea.  Now, since Meredith was a rough contemporary of Freud, it is possible that such ideas “were in the air.” 

However, Freud provides an example from Shakespeare where Portia discloses herself by a slip.

Let’s take his concept seriously, that people sometimes say what they mean to conceal. I would think that best explained by the fact that a person is intently thinking about two things and is speaking with the hope of not saying something but the thoughts get the better of the tongue – we can’t concentrate on two things at once. For instance, Freud gives an example of where he is attempting to defend himself from a conflict with his wife and thus discloses something he did not wish to say.

But Freud has a rather different theory of what happens: He puts the emphasis on the unintended nature of the disclosure. In his theory, the concealed fact just finds a way out because sufficient control is not being brought to bear upon the speech so the unconscious makes a break for it. 

Yet, I think his examples could easily be re-read as not an unconscious escape but rather the conflict of multiple thoughts. 

For instance, he gives the example of where a soldier on trial for burglary used the word Diebstellung – position as thief – when he meant to use the word Dienstellung – military service.  The soldier made this blunder while testifying in Court. But it is in just such a circumstance that Freud said a slip would not occur, “in a speech made in defense of his name and honor before a sworn jury” (96). The soldier was trying to explain that he could not have committed the crime because he was still in the military: but he would at the same time be thinking of what he had been accused. 

If there are revealing substitutions, I don’t think he proves a subversive unconscious but rather a confusion of thoughts. 

Robert Browning, The Lost Mistress


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All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter 

As one at first believes? 

Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter 

About your cottage eaves! 

And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly, 

I noticed that, today; 

One day more bursts them open fully 

– You know the red turns grey. 

Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest? 

May I take your hand in mine? 

Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest 

Keep much that I resign: 

For each glance of the eye so bright and black, 

Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, – 

Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back, 

Though it stay in my soul for ever! – 

Yet I will but say what mere friends say, 

Or only a thought stronger; 

I will hold your hand but as long as all may, 

Or so very little longer! 

Summary: The poem itself is remarkably simple at one level. The poet is saying goodbye to a romantic relationship, not to the woman. As he parts from her home, their romance is over. Come the morning, they will be “friends.”  

What makes the poem striking is the manner in which Browning sketches this awkward, ambivalent moment. He works out the intricacy of the thoughts and emotions of the man who has lost the woman; revealing the shift in their relationship.

It is by turns delicate, melancholy, wicked, hopeful. This short piece is an absolute gem.

First Stanza 

All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter 

As one at first believes? 

Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter 

About your cottage eaves! 

Summary: There are three elements to this stanza: (1) the interjection; (2) the question; and (3) the seemingly irrelevant turn to the sparrows. He is saying a goodbye of sorts, and then he turns to the birds.


All’s over: 

The poem is in the voice of the poet to the mistress. We pick up the story in the middle. Something has just happened, but what did happen is unknown to the reader. We’ve walked onto the intimate of moments between two people. The only thing we know is that is definitively over.

By not telling us more than the end has come, Browning puts our focus wholly upon the moment. There is no possible negotiation; our attention thus solely upon the now of their relationship.

The rhythm accentuates the meaning. The poem begins with two consecutive accented syllables. 

Then: does truth sound bitter 

As one at first believes? 

Just as the poem abruptly begins with the end, we see in these lines the subtle turn which is taking place. At first, the truth was bitter. But here is negotiating with the truth and his relationship to it. By saying the bitterness was “at first believe[d]”, he implies that perhaps his original bitterness could be otherwise. He is negotiating with his situation. 

This is not quite hopefulness for the relationship: he is not asking her to reconsider whatever has just taken place. But he is finding something here which will be new. Somehow the bitterness can be displaced.

This sets the agenda for the poem. The initial interjection closes the door on what has just happened. This pausing to think of bitterness opens the door to the movement through the remainder of the poem.

Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter 

About your cottage eaves! 

One misses the connection of these lines if the poem is considered as a straight logical argument. The sparrows from nothing directly to do with the proceeding events. But when we think of this as it would play out emotionally, we have a clue.

You are standing at the door of the woman whom you have loved, and now you must say goodbye to all that hope and desire and expectation. You were on the verge of being crushed and then there in the evening an idea begins to form. You have just been saved from bitterness. And in this moment of incipient joy or hope you notice the birds. The tiny sparrow twitter about her “cottage eaves” (which is much more becoming than “roofline”).

Finally, I can’t help but hearing Wordsworth’s Strange Fits of Passion in the background. I can’t prove it up, but somehow I think it’s lurking here.

Second Stanza

And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly, 

I noticed that, today; 

One day more bursts them open fully 

– You know the red turns grey. 

He then continues with this lingering observation of her home. Yes, here are the sparrows. I hadn’t noticed them just a moment ago, and look her are the flowers on the vine. 

He is telling her notice that flowers are about to burst open: it will happen tomorrow. By the way, he has a resolution for tomorrow himself. 

The last line is vicious. It is easy to miss the point here and think that Browning is raising the commonplace observation that nothing is permanent. That would be boring. 

Think more carefully: You have just been rejected, on some unknown basis. You were on the verge of being crushed (bitterness) and then you had a change in thoughts. You are not going to be destroyed. You note the lovely sparrows. You note the flowers ready to burst open.

And then he says to her: You know all those flowers will die. He doesn’t say it directly. The vague way he raises the point makes it sound as if he is merely thinking out loud. 

But he tells his “lost mistress,” you know those flowers will die. Yes, that is a retrospective evaluation of his relationship: but the dying flowers are in the future. The death is not what he has just suffered, but what she will soon face. Her flowers have reached their zenith.

Third Stanza

Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest? 

May I take your hand in mine? 

Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest 

Keep much that I resign: 

Here begins the negotiation. He has gone from rejection in the first words to having some control over the circumstance. He has already suffered whatever loss he will suffer; her flowers have yet to face.

The “dearest” at the end of the first line is loaded. Is it plaintive? Ironic?

The complication then comes in the lines: (1) may I take your hand; (2) we will be “mere” friends.  These lines are negotiating the nature of their new relationship. 

Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest 

The rhythm throws the accent on the first syllable. There are two pauses in one line. The chiasm: mere-friends-friends-mere drives the point home in an overkill:

MERE FRIENDS are we ….. well …. FRIENDS the MERest

The last line then introduces his “offer”

Stanza Four

Keep much that I resign: 

For each glance of the eye so bright and black, 

Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, – 

Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back, 

Though it stay in my soul for ever! – 

This stanza reminds of John Donne’s poem “The Message” which begins:

Send home my long stray’d eyes to me, 

Which O too long have dwelt on thee, 

Yet since there they have learn’d such ill, 

Such forc’d fashions, 

And false passions, 

That they be 

Made by thee 

Fit for no good sight, keep them still.

But the possible allusion to Donne is ironic. Donne is sending everything back, but Browning returns nothing though it is resigned to her. Note the use of the word “though” in the second and fourth lines of the stanza:

For each glance of the eye so bright and black, 

Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, – 

Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back, 

Though it stay in my soul for ever! – 

He offers back to her each glance she shared with him, and the sound of her voice. And yet, even if he returns it to her, it still remains in his heart and soul. She has already been communicated to him and this cannot be undone. 

So we have come to the place where she cannot obtain she apparently sought: a place where this had never taken place. She has already bestowed something upon him which she cannot retrieve. 

This trope of the lover turning over some secret token which cannot be retrieved and which has become a liability lurks in the background of these lines. 

This matter of love and loss has become significantly more dangerous. 

Which leads us to the conclusion

Fifth Stanza

Yet I will but say what mere friends say, 

Or only a thought stronger; 

I will hold your hand but as long as all may, 

Or so very little longer! 

He returns to the negotiated space of “mere friends” but now discloses what has happened. She has left the tokens with him, and since those tokens cannot be retrieved, even their position of “mere friends” is different.

He only raises the matters of speaking to her and holding her hand. But these matters were already raised above. He said things which mere friends would say, about sparrows and flowers – and yet what he has said is a “thought stronger.” There was more in his mentioning sparrows and flowers than would if someone else had spoken. 

When he touches her hand, it will be for no longer than anyone else. But she will know that something has happened here that has not happened among her other “mere friends.” 

William Burroughs in 1965


Often there is a startling gap between the art and the artist. William Burroughs wrote some truly grotesque, strange fiction. I hardly know how to characterize his strange and vicious sarcasm. He was famously debauched; a junky; shot his wife in Mexico City, allegedly playing William Tell.

Digression: In law school, we read a case in criminal law of a man who shot his wife. He defended himself by claiming he was shooting beer cans off the TV and his wife came in and she was accidentally shot. By that point in my legal education I remember thinking, Okay, Not what I would would do, but who knows? Our professor snapping us back into reality asked to consider the matter with more sober judgment. As Thomas Brooks would say, You are wise and know how to apply it.

Back to Mr. Burroughs: proposed some very strange ideas:

“Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.”

And, “That’s Panama – Nitrous flesh swept out by your voice and end of receiving set – Brain eating birds patrol the low frequency brain waves – Post card waiting forgotten civilians ‘and they are all on jelly fish, Meester.'”

Burroughs was a remarkably strange, deranged man (and in saying so I do not doubt he would wholly concur). His milieu was madness. Now from this position, Burroughs was insightful in a way few could possibly be:

Junk is the ideal product…the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy…The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client. He pays his stuff in junk.

The face of “evil” is always the face of total need.

On that last quotation, Mr. Burroughs was profoundly Augustinian: evil is a desire for something else, it is always discontentment.

His critique of consumer culture in one novel is so obscene that I cannot repeat it. And yet, the obscenity is like a clarification of the sin of consumerism (we always privilege our own sins and find the sins of others inexplicable; sin is always irrational, and yet not all fish are caught with the same bait. I have caught a marlin while trolling a lure and a catfish with a still bait on the lake floor. All sin is obscene.). Sometimes he was bizarrely hysterical:

A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. A psychotic is a guy who’s just found out what’s going on.

Back to Burroughs: This description is from the Paris Review. One would think that such a monster, a murderer, a drug addict, possessed of a bizarre imagination; profane beyond all bounds of civilized society, would be a monster. And thus, to read this description from the Paris Review (if I had literary talent … alas) is both marvelous and comical:

At noon the next day he was ready for the interview. He wore a gray lightweight Brooks Brothers suit with a vest, a blue-striped shirt from Gibraltar cut in the English style, and a deep-blue tie with small white polka dots. His manner was not so much pedagogic as didactic or forensic. He might have been a senior partner in a private bank, charting the course of huge but anonymous fortunes. A friend of the interviewer, spotting Burroughs across the lobby, thought he was a British diplomat. At the age of fifty, he is trim; he performs a complex abdominal exercise daily and walks a good deal. His face carries no excess flesh. His expression is taut, and his features are intense and chiseled. He did not smile during the interview and laughed only once, but he gives the impression of being capable of much dry laughter under other circumstances. His voice is sonorous, its tone reasonable and patient; his accent is mid-Atlantic, the kind of regionless inflection Americans acquire after many years abroad. He speaks elliptically, in short, clear bursts.

George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, 1.4a


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What it is for a man to make religion his business, or to exercise himself to godliness

I proceed to the second particular promised, that is, To shew what it is for a man to exercise himself to godliness. It implieth these three things:

The outline

A. Precedence in all actions

B. Pursue it with “industry”

C. Persevere

A. Precedence in all actions

1. General Statement

2. Categories of Conduct

3. Response to Hinderances

4. Attendance to Worship

5. Exhortation/encouragement

6. Conclusion

First, To give it the precedency in all our actions. That which a man maketh his business, he will be sure to mind, whatsoever he omits. 

1. Swinnock first provides an example to make the standard comprehensible. He is also dealing with a potential objection by using something which he assumes would not entail the same objection. The illustration merely says, Give godliness the same level of attention you do work. But there is an implied argument: One might think, you can’t possibly expect me to devote my primary attention to this. Answer, you willingly devote yourself to your business pursuits. You won’t goof off before you got your work done. Implied argument: Godliness is more important than money. Conclusion: Therefore, you should give godliness this level of attention.

This argument and illustration would have greater force in a world without the excess resources available today in the West. When ruin and starvation were real threats for the reader, the force of you would work hard has a more emphatic effect.

A good husband will serve his shop before his sports, and will sometimes offer a handsome and warrantable kind of disrespect to his friends, that his calling may have his company; he will have some excuse or other to avoid diversions, and force his way to his trade through all opposition, and all because he makes it his business: he that makes religion his business, carrieth himself towards his general, as this man doth towards his particular, calling. 

Then he provides a summary statement. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them. 

In his whole life he walks with God, and is so mannerly and dutiful, as to give God the upper hand all the way. 

2. Categories: These points will be developed at much greater length in the remainder of the book. What Swinnock does here is to provide the specific categories of conduct: worship, family, work:

He knoweth that his God must be worshipped, that his family must be served, and that his calling must be followed, (for religion doth not nullify, only rectify his carriage towards his earthly vocation;) but each in their order,—that which is first in regard of excellency is first in regard of his industry. 

An illustration with an implied argument

Children > Cattle

Savior > World

He will fulfill the most necessary, even if it costs him elsewhere:

He is not so unnatural as to serve his cattle before his children, nor so atheistical as to serve his body and the world before his soul and his Saviour. He is so sensible of his infinite engagements to the blessed God, that he allotteth some time every day for his religious duties; and he will be sure to pay God home to the utmost of his ability, whosoever he compounds with, or pays short.

3. Hinderances

The use of a sea voyage as a metaphor for the difficulties of life was a commonplace during this time in England. And again, the metaphor involves an argument: Just as a mariner in a storm would not give place to distractions which would keep from coming to port, so a godly man will not allow distractions to keep him from heaven:

As he sails along through the tempestuous sea of this world towards his eternal haven of rest, he hath many temporal affairs in his company, but he is specially careful that they keep their distance, and strike sail through the whole voyage. 

If the other calls upon his time will not keep to their place, then they simply must go. The applicable story of Hagar is found in Genesis 21:

If his worldly businesses offer, like Hagar, to jostle or quarrel for pre-eminence with their superior, religion, he will, if possible, chide them into subjection, and cause them to submit; but rather cast them out than suffer them to usurp authority over their mistress.

That is a rather complicated series of clauses:

If his worldly businesses offer, 

                        like Hagar, 

            to jostle or quarrel for pre-eminence 

                        with their superior, 


he will, 

            if possible, 

chide them into subjection, 

and cause them to submit; 

but rather cast them out 

            than suffer them to usurp authority over their mistress.

He then enters into a counter argument, although this is not clearly explained. If someone follows in godliness, but does not really have a desire for it, will follow after distractions. The Gadarenes: In Matthew 8, Jesus, in the land of the Gadarenes, heals a man filled with demons. The demons move from the man into the swine. The people of the land are more upset by the death of the pigs, than they are pleased with the salvation of a man:

He that minds religion by the by, will, if other things intervene, put it back, and be glad of an excuse to waive that company, to which he hath no love; nay, he doth in the whole course of his life prefer his swine, as the Gadarenes, before his soul; set the servant on horseback and suffer the master to go on foot. 

He here uses three illustrations from Scripture. This was a common use of Scripture as illustration among the Puritans. But what needs to be noted is that the passages are not used as prooftexts or as exegesis: 

In the first, just as a hardhearted wealthy man ignores the life of the poor and speaks rudely to him. This images works well for his point. The second involves Jacob (Gen. 48) where he blesses the second-born over the first born, and so one who prioritizes anything over godliness has their priorities in the wrong order. The second image is not as successful, because Jacob’s decision was the correct one in his case. The third is an oblique reference to Esau

His voice to religion is like the Jews’ to the poor man in vile raiment, ‘Stand thou there, or sit thou here under my footstool;’ and his words to the world are like theirs to the man in goodly apparel, ‘Come up hither, or sit thou here in a good place,’ James 2:23.  

He doth, like Jacob, lay the right hand of his care and diligence upon the youngest son, the body, and the left hand upon the first-born, the soul. 

That which was Esau’s curse is esteemed by him as a blessing, that the elder serves the younger: 

Swinnock ends the three illustrations with a characterization of one who leaves off godliness. The first element is the stupidity of preferring the lesser before the greater; the last three elements all involve his rebellion against God:

he is 

[1]so unwise as to esteem lying vanities before real mercies; 

[2]often so unworthy as to forget God, 

            [a]whosoever he remembereth; 

[3]and so uncivil at best as to give God the world’s leavings, 

[4]and to let the almighty Creator dance attendance till he pleaseth to be at leisure. 

What this practice looks like:

If he be in the midst of his devotion, he makes an end upon the smallest occasion; and is like the patriarch, who ran from the altar, when he was about his office, to see a foal new fallen from his beloved mare.

4. Attendance to Worship

Here we have proposition (God first), example, (Abraham’s steward), application (godliness is an errand):

But every saint, like Solomon, first builds a house for God, and then for himself. Whoever be displeased, or whatever be neglected, he will take care that God be worshipped. 

Abraham’s steward, when sent to provide a wife for Isaac, though meat were set before him, refused to eat till he had done his errand, Gen. 24:33

Godliness is the errand about which man is sent into the world; now, as faithful servants, we must prefer our message before our meat, and serve our master before ourselves.

What this means to make godliness his chief errand.  In this instance, he states that godliness must be the element which begins the day:

He that makes godliness his business gives it the first of the day, and the first place all the day. He gives it the first of the day: 

Now he gives examples to prove the point:

Jesus Christ was at prayer ‘a great while before day,’ Mark 1:35.

Abraham ‘rose up early in the morning to offer sacrifice,’ Gen. 22:1;

so did Job, chap. 1:5.

David crieth out, ‘O God, my God, early will I seek thee,’ Ps. 63:1. ‘In the morning will I direct my prayer to thee, and look up,’ Ps. 5:3.

The next two examples contain an implicit argument: If the pagan will rise early to worship a false god, then certainly you should rise early to worship the true:

The Philistines in the morning early offered to their god Dagon. The Persian magi worshipped the rising sun with their early hymns. 

He then repeats the original proposition together with a flourish. This sort of construction is quite common in Swinnock:




Proposition recap

The saint in the morning waits upon heaven’s Majesty. As soon as he awakes he is with God; one of his first works, when he riseth, is to ask his heavenly Father’s blessing. Like the lark, he is up early, singing sweetly the praise of his Maker; and often, with the nightingale, late up, at the same pleasant tune.

This final repetition and recap would do better if the first line were dropped. It seems out of place:

He finds the morning a greater friend to the Graces than it can be to the Muses. Naturalists tell us that the most orient pearls are generated of the morning dew. Sure I am, he hath sweet communion with God in morning duties.

5. Exhortation/encouragement

Reader, let me tell thee, if religion be thine occupation, thy business, God will hear from thee in the morning; one of the first things after thou art up will be to fall down and worship him. Thy mind will be most free in the morning, and thine affections most lively, (as those strong waters are fullest of spirits which are first drawn;) and surely thou canst not think but that God, who is the best and chiefest good, hath most right to them, and is most worthy of them.

Contemporary style in exegetical preaching is to put all the application or encouragement in a separate section at the end. I find that a fault, because it elevates a sense of structure over the reality of recipient. Swinnock has been pretty strict about the duty to be done. In the words of the catechism, this is to “Glorify God.” But this duty is not meant to be a drudge: the remainder of the catechism’s answer is to “enjoy Him forever.” Swinnock’s exhortation is not merely do because must; it is do, also, because it will be your joy. 

We fail in godliness often times because it seems joy rests elsewhere. The dour Puritanism of Hawthorne has nothing to Swinnock’s religion. Perhaps the way to square the two is that the one who does not know God cannot enjoy God; and such a one’s outward conduct can only be drudgery, because he must give up the (deceiving) joys of sin and gains nothing in return. I suppose a man would rather have a mirage of water than none at all.

He provides a second exhortation and encouragement, this time he basis upon the Christian’s nature: you were born to greater things than sin:

As a godly man gives religion the precedency of the day, so he gives it the precedency in the day. The Jews, some say, divide their day into prayer, labour, and repast, and they will not omit prayer either for their meat or labour. Grace (as well as nature) teacheth a godly man not to neglect either his family or body; but it teacheth him also to prefer his soul and his God before them both. Seneca, though a heathen, could say, I am greater, and born to greater things, than to be a drudge to, and the slave of, my body. A Christian’s character is, that he is not carnal, or for his body, but spiritual, or for his soul, Rom. 8. It was a great praise which Ambrose speaks of Valentinian, Never man was a better servant to his master, than Valentinian’s body was to his soul.

6. Summary

This is the godly man’s duty, to make heaven his throne, and the earth his footstool. 

This is an allusion to Isaiah 66:1

Thus says the Lord

Heaven is my throne

The earth is my footstool.

It is the exposition which one gives upon those words, ‘Subdue the earth,’ Gen. 1:28, that is, thy body, and all earthly things, to thy soul. 

This is an interesting exposition of the command from Genesis. In context, this plainly applies to giving order to the physical creation, making it a garden. This sort of application is not a “grammatical-historical-literary” exposition. This would be an “analogical” or “spiritual” level of exegesis. 

ANAGOGICAL. This is one of the four senses in which Scripture may be interpreted, viz. the literal, allegorical, anagogical, and tropological. The anagogical sense is given when the text is explained with regard to the end which Christians should have in view, that is, eternal life: for example, the rest of the Sabbath, in the anagogical sense, corresponds to the repose of everlasting blessedness.

Richard Watson, “Anagogical,” A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (New York: Lane & Scott, 1851), 52.

He ends with an argument for the precedence of godliness: the purpose of our life is where we are going. This teleological sense is interesting in how it plays out. There is an attitude that one may ignore this world, because there will be a New Heaven and New Earth; this life thus becomes unimportant. But note what Swinnock said above: godliness entails worship of God, care for our family, attention to our vocation. Godliness entails the manner of living here, but with an eye to the result of that work. It is not an abandonment of the world.

Our earthly callings must give way to our heavenly; we must say to them, as Christ to his disciples, ‘Tarry you here, while I go and pray yonder.’ 

And truly godliness must be first in our prayers—‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,’ before ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’ and first in all our practices—‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, and all other things shall be added to you,’ Mat. 6:33.