December 24, 2015

Our 2015 Garland

Here is our annual reading from Master Beerbohm's wonderful A Christmas Garland (online here), an excerpt from "Out of Harm's Way" by A.C. B*ns*n, toward the end of which, I believe, parody approaches poetry:
Percy had heard that in London nowadays there was a class of people who sate down to their Christmas dinners in public hotels. He did not condemn this practice. He never condemned a thing, but wondered, rather, whether it were right, and could not help feeling that somehow it was not. In the course of his rare visits to London he had more than once been inside of one of the large new hotels that had sprung up—these "great caravanseries," as he described them in a letter to an old school-fellow who had been engaged for many years in Chinese mission work. And it seemed to him that the true spirit of Christmas could hardly be acclimatised in such places, but found its proper resting-place in quiet, detached homes, where were gathered together only those connected with one another by ties of kinship, or of long and tested friendship. 

He sometimes blamed himself for having tended more and more, as the quiet, peaceful, tranquil years went by, to absent himself from even those small domestic gatherings. And yet, might it not be that his instinct for solitude at this season was a right instinct, at least for him, and that to run counter to it would be in some degree unacceptable to the Power that fashioned us? Thus he allowed himself to go, as it were, his own way. After morning service, he sate down to his Christmas fare alone, and then, when the simple meal was over, would sit and think in his accustomed chair, falling perhaps into one of those quiet dozes from which, because they seemed to be so natural a result, so seemly a consummation, of his thoughts, he did not regularly abstain. Later, he sallied forth, with a sense of refreshment, for a brisk walk among the fens, the sedges, the hedgerows, the reed-fringed pools, the pollard willows that would in due course be putting forth their tender shoots of palest green. And then, once more in his rooms, with the curtains drawn and the candles lit, he would turn to his book-shelves and choose from among them some old book that he knew and loved, or maybe some quite new book by that writer whose works were most dear to him because in them he seemed always to know so precisely what the author would say next, and because he found in their fine-spun repetitions a singular repose, a sense of security, an earnest of calm and continuity, as though he were reading over again one of those wise copy-books that he had so loved in boyhood, or were listening to the sounds made on a piano by some modest, very conscientious young girl with a pale red pig-tail, practising her scales, very gently, hour after hour, next door.

I first heard of this book in Roberson Davies' Enthusiasms, and I wish there were more of it.  Sadly, that's the deal with Beerbohm - there's only a little, but it is so good.  Updike says:  "the filigree is fine, but of the purest gold."

Past garlands
2014 - "Of Christmas" by H*ll**re B*ll*c
2013 - "A Straight Talk" by G**rge B*rn*rd Sh*w"
2012 - "Dickens" by G**rg* M**re
2011 - "Shakespeare and Christmas" by Fr*nk N*rris
2010 - "Endeavour" by J*hn G*lsw*rthy"
2007 -  Belloc substituted
2006 - "The Mote in the Middle Distance" by H*nry J*m*s
2005 - "Some Damnable Errors About Christmas" by G.K. Ch*st*rt*n, and "P.C., X, 36" by R*dy*rd K*pl*ng 


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