“The serious study of history is always teaching us either humility or pride. We can’t study the past for long without encountering individuals who did or said or believed things that we now hold to be immoral, even evil. And when that happens, our hearts and minds will lead us down one of two paths: towards self-exaltation–“God, I thank you that I am not like other people”–or toward a deeper awareness of our need for grace–“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Robert Tracy McKenzie, A Little Book for New Historians: Why and How to Study History. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019, p. 99.
‘I just go on about my business and don’t pay them no nevermind no way.’
Perhaps one comment is in order. He was the second-oldest of I think seven or eight children. He dropped out of grammar school after the 8th grade because there was much work to be done in order that the family might eat. And steadfast, hard work, sometimes filthy and rancid work, was the order of the day, every day, until he retired. He built a small plumbing business and ensured his young family never knew the hardships and poverty he experienced. Honest work, done right the first time, in a manner you can stand behind and on which you may stake your name and reputation…such was his way. He was not a lettered man, but neither was he a fool. Nor belligerent. He spoke his mind when he thought necessary, but don’t we all in our own way? In manner of life, he just went about his own business and let the chips fall where they may. As I age, I notice these words, in his voice, swirl around in my mind and memory. He, being dead, speaketh still.
What a charming little book. The binding is tan canvas buckram, black lettering on the spine and front cover. The black floral or ivy design is attractive and repetitive and is accented by a faint green background. The green complements the black lettering and cloth binding. The proportions are pleasing, and that it is squatty makes it even more so. It is perfectly palm-sized. The title page is also a work of art. Given the subject matter, I think it is a hoot that the book presents itself as a generally serious undertaking. The paper is on the thick side, ample margins, with type set in italics and capitals hither, thither, and yon. Newman’s illustrations suit the text to a T. Really a fine marriage of image and narrative. Ade’s verbal economy is staggering considering how forcefully he paints a picture and conjures a feeling and makes it hilarious at the same time.
This is the sort of book Geneva Henderson kept at the checkout desk at her shop on Bransford Avenue near 100 Oaks in Nashville. I visited that little cottage-turned-bookshop probably weekly, on average, all through college and the couple years following. She kept small books like this by the check-out desk. Maybe she hoped they would be impulse buys or because their size was such that the desktop was a handy place to keep them. It was a two bedroom house of either the late 30s or perhaps immediate postwar vintage. Small proportions all the way around. So naturally she filled each and every available space with shelves. She named it ‘Book Discoveries.’ Apt name. I anticipated discovering something new. But i came to appreciate even more her warm and cheerful spirit. She was always up for conversation in spite of clearly not feeling well, often I might add, from chemotherapy treatments. Some days she would not feel up to it. The young guy she hired to fill-in thought he knew books; perhaps he knew how to leverage the budding internet for online sales, perhaps, but his desk persona left a lot to be desired. I never chatted with him. Also, I never got the vibe from that dude that he was even really a bookish person at all. Geneva, however, had been a bookish person for 70 years or more. Sometimes she set aside a few new arrivals for me to see before she put them out for general browsing. Once among them were some owned by J. W. Shepherd. I will always remember that kindness. The dude just sat behind the side desk hunched over a monstrosity of a desktop computer. Ah well, this isn’t about him. He would make a good subject for George Ade and Clyde Newman, though. Be that as it may, Ade is exactly the kind of thing she would have liked, and exactly the kind of thing she would have pointed out to me, giggling as she recommended it. I guess that is why when I read it I think of her, and that shop.
I hope you enjoy this one. I might post another sometime. They are inspired.
The Fable of the Caddy Who Hurt His Head While Thinking.
One Day a Caddy sat in the Long Grass near the Ninth Hole and wondered if he had a Soul. His Number was 27, and he almost had forgotten his Real Name.
As he sat and Meditated, two Players passed him. They were going the Long Round, and the Frenzy was upon them.
They followed the Gutta Percha Balls with the intent swiftness of trained Bird Dogs, and each talked feverishly of Brassy Lies, and getting past the Bunker, and Lofting to the Green, and Slicing into the Bramble—each telling his own Game to the Ambient Air, and ignoring what the other Fellow had to say.
As they did the St. Andrews Full Swing for eighty Yards apiece and then Followed Through with the usual Explanations of how it Happened, the Caddy looked at them and Reflected that they were much inferior to his Father.
His Father was too Serious a Man to get out in Mardi Gras Clothes and hammer a Ball from one Red Flag to another.
His Father worked in a Lumber Yard.
He was an Earnest Citizen, who seldom Smiled, and he knew all about the Silver Question and how J. Pierpont Morgan done up a Free People on the Bond Issue.
The Caddy wondered why it was that his Father, a really Great Man, had to shove Lumber all day and could seldom get one Dollar to rub against another, while these superficial Johnnies who played Golf all the Time had Money to Throw at the Birds. The more he Thought the more his Head ached.
In the chapter bearing the title Poetic Potpourri of a Priestly Peripatetic, he has this under the heading ‘A Theological Mother Goose’:
Robert McAfee Brown, ed. The Collect’d Writings of St. Hereticus. Including manuscripts that have not previously appear’d in print to which are annex’d two appendices on theological gamesmanship & one on researchmanship. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 113.
In the chapter bearing the title Poetic Potpourri of a Priestly Peripatetic, he has this under the heading ‘A Revised Hymnary’:
Robert McAfee Brown, ed. The Collect’d Writings of St. Hereticus. Including manuscripts that have not previously appear’d in print to which are annex’d two appendices on theological gamesmanship & one on researchmanship. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 115-116.
In the chapter bearing the title above, he has this under the heading:
Robert McAfee Brown, ed. The Collect’d Writings of St. Hereticus. Including manuscripts that have not previously appear’d in print to which are annex’d two appendices on theological gamesmanship & one on researchmanship. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 108-109.
I’m reading Isaac Watts’ The Improvement of the Mind. His first chapter is titled ‘General Rules for the Improvement of Knowledge.’ He grounds improvement of the mind first in sober self-reflection. He urges his readers to first consider how much misery could have been avoided in their lives had they properly exercised their rationality and made sound judgments. The beginning of understanding is to face the chastening reality that some things could have been better for me had I paid closer attention. This indeed is sobering, but sometimes truth stings. He does not propose to solve the philosophical problem of the reality of evil or why some people suffer unjustly. This rule is only a few lines. He simply calls upon his readers to face facts that some bad things could have been avoided with sharper analytical skills, wider awareness, keener perception, and precise reasoning. In popular parlance, life is hard, but it’s harder when you’re stupid. Like I said, sometime truth stings. He’s not wrong, you know. His next rule is to consider the “weaknesses, frailties, and mistakes of human nature.” In other words, if life is hard, and if it’s harder when you’re stupid, think about much worse it is when everyone else is also stupid. Seriously, ponder this truth and consider how we have collectively made it much worse for ourselves. Watts does not offer a balm for the stupid, as if taking solace in a community of fools is much solace at all. Rather, he grounds any effort at improvement in a theological and ontological frame. We’d best begin at the reality of the fall. Not just you, it’s me, too. And not just me, but you also. Me, and you, and us. I should say that this book follows his Logick, albeit by many years, and that book is really the beginning point for this one. But I digress. Begin with a sober analysis of the fall.
Now that the ground is tilled, we are ready for the third rule, which is to “acquaint yourself with your own ignorance.” And what is coming here in a few lines is the paragraph that struck me. Watt’s begins with what is a familiar refrain: We don’t know what we don’t know. And this is the upshot of Watts’ book: to help us think through how to improve. No small wonder then that he begins by forcefully calling readers to grapple with ignorances, deficiencies, blind spots, prejudices, and errors. If you’re not willing to do that, stop kidding yourself with any attempt to improve and go back to whatever it is you were doing fifteen minutes ago. Now, he presents these rules in brief fashion, but I do not read him as presenting them casually or expecting you to tick them off like filling up the cart at the grocery store.
So then, under this heading he has some sub-points. The first is to urge readers to rehearse the wide, wide range of human inquiry: behold the breadth of the disciplines! How vast and wide! Next, consider the wide variety of questions and problems and intellectual real estate within the one area in which you are most expert. Watts is inching us along toward greater self-awareness. From the big picture of all the disciplines of learning, he moves us to our speciality, our focus, our majors, our own little area of training and expertise. This, of all branches of learning, ought to be where we are most familiar, and out of that familiarity we are perhaps in the best position to take stock of our limitations. His third sub-point presses this a bit further, taking an example from geometry.
“Spend a thoughts sometimes on the puzzling Enquiries concerning Vacuums and Atoms, the Doctrine of Infinites, Indivisibles and Incommensurables in Geometry, wherein there appear some insolvable Diffi-[p. 9] culties: Do this on Purpose to give you a more sensible Impression of the Poverty of your Understanding, and the Imperfection of your Knowledge. This will teach you what a vain Thing it is to fancy that you know all Things, and will instruct you to think modestly of your present Attainments, when every Dust of the Earth, and every Inch of empty Space, surmounts your Understanding, and tramples over your Presumption.”
I. Watts, The Improvement of the Mind… 4th London edition, 1761, pp. 8-9.
A few days ago I reblogged a post from the ACU Special Collections blog reviewing the growth of our print collection in 2021. I want to do the same for archival materials. The basic definition I use to distinguish print vs. archival is that print items (could be books, periodicals, tracts, leaflets, and the like) were generally mass-produced for consumption by the public. Albeit some could have had a small print run, but they are printed on a press in quantity aimed at mass-distribution and circulation. Archival materials on the other hand are unique. They are not intended for mass-distribution, often just the opposite, and almost always exist only in singular copies. Whether correspondence or diaries or photographs or manuscripts or other written or typed records, they were created in the course of doing something. Print items are cataloged (we use Dewey Decimal System) and shelved on the shelf (sometimes in boxes or filing cabinets). Archival materials remain in their discrete collection–collections are not intermingled–are numbered and shelved in folders in boxes. To facilitate access to archival materials, we creating Finding Aids. I could go on, but that is the gist of it.
So each or so month my colleague Amanda Dietz composes blog posts describing new or updated finding aids. She also creates posts which delve deeper into select collections. Follow the link and check out the ‘Foldered and Finished’ posts.
I said a few days ago I think it critical to keep our donors informed of the progress in building the collection. I know lists of titles and authors are not the most compelling reading, and the same goes for lists of archival collections, but first-class research-level collections do not happen. They do not drop from the heavens, they are built. In our case, they are built almost solely by donors and used by researchers whose work deserves to be sourced by the very best collection that can be assembled. They are built methodically, diligently, consistently, all for the purposes of preservation and use. So, I hope the lists are useful. For those interested in this slice of American religious history, this is our bread and butter. This is the raw material from which ‘history’ is wrought (and re-wrought).
In 2021 over 600 linear feet of new old archival material came our way and passed through the processing room. It is all now on the shelves and along the way Amanda created or revised 125 finding aids. That is a tremendous achievement and you can read more at the link below.