Episode #7 – Christian Politics, Witchcraft, and the History of Gambling in America
(Originally Recorded – December 8, 1981)
Russell Kirk – Promises and Perils of Christian Politics
Satan: The Early Christian Tradition – Jeffrey Burton Russell
Witchcraft in the Middle Ages – Jeffrey Burton Russell
Win or Lose: A Social History of Gambling in America – Stephen Longstreet
Clipper Ships – John Gould Fletcher
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Radio Announcer: The Reconstructionist Radio Podcast Network presents The Easy Chair with R.J. Rushdoony.
Speaker 2: The Easy Chair with R.J. Rushdoony is brought to you by the Chalcedon Foundation and the GCS Apprenticeship Program. For more information, visit Chalcedon.edu and GCSApprenticeship.com.
R.J. Rushdoony: This is R.J. Rushdoony with our Easy Chair Talk number seven, December 8, 1981. Chuck Wagoner has handed me the most recent Chalcedon tape ministry subscribers list. It’s a pleasure to look it over and see the many familiar names, and I would have to say it’s a rather distinguished group of names, so that I do feel honored to be talking to all of you, old friends, friends by mail but very dear all the same, and many people whose work in the country today is of very great importance.
Well, I’d like to start off by commenting on something that one of you sent in, John Lockton. It is a speech, which is to be published, given by Russell Kirk. The title is Promises and Perils of Christian Politics. Now, Russell Kirk is a very important thinker, highly intelligent, and whose influence, especially in the 1950s, has been most notable in this country. Russell Kirk had a great deal to do with the revival of conservative thought in the United States. I think his weakness since then has been that the movement has deepened its roots in biblical thought, and at this point, Russell Kirk has, I think, missed the boat somewhat. This talk certainly indicates that.
He begins by raising the question, “Is there such a thing as a Christian polity? Does Christian doctrine prescribe some especial form of politics and conformity by all communicans to that political model?” Now, this question is a very important one. I’m glad he has raised it, and I wish more people would raise it, but when you raise such a question, does Christian doctrine prescribe an especial form of politics, and is there such a thing as a Christian polity, then of necessity, you have to answer it in terms of scripture. After all, doctrine is derived from scripture. But this is the one thing that Kirk does not consider. As a matter of fact, he immediately attacks every attempt to set forth a biblical standard for political order as a fallacious endeavor to convert this world of ours into the terrestrial paradise instanter.
Now, I submit that is somewhat of a caricature. I do believe that he does the cause of Christian reconstruction an injustice, especially when he makes invidious comparisons to the minor aspects of utopian Christian thinking in history as the fifth monarchy men of the 17th century with their cry, “The second coming of Christ and the heads upon the gates.” Is Russell Kirk inferring that any and all of us who believe that there should be a Christian political order are going to put his head and other heads on the gates?
Now, I think the key, the heart of his problem, is this. His assumption that Christian dogmata is, and I’m quoting, “meant to order the soul”, unquote. His concept of Christianity is neo-platonic to the nth degree. He sees it as something that is meant to save souls and not to change the world as well as individuals. His thinking is in the line of the pietists who took over Christian thinking in Protestant and Catholic circles in the 17th century and whose thinking has led since then to the steady retreat of Christianity from any influence upon the world around us. He denies that there is a Christian program. Does he mean that only the devil has a program for the state? He rejects the notion of a Christian program for the social order and for the state, and thus he denies that there can be a mandate for Christians towards the establishment of God’s kingdom. He calls every such attempt, whether … And I’m quoting … “whether bloodless or bloody, an upheaval justified by the imminentizing of Christian symbols of salvation, defies the beatitudes, and devours its children.” Unquote.
Now, Kirk keeps company with a school of thinkers today who regard imminentizing anything as the ultimate offense. This is a way of saying that the religion of incarnation is wrong. It’s false. But our faith, Christian faith, is a belief in the incarnation of God, in Jesus Christ. Then, as we are renewed in Christ’s image, made a new creation in him, we are to incarnate God’s order, God’s law, God’s spirit, God’s love in every area of life, including the state.
Well, he calls any such reconstructionism revolutionary Christianity, and says that it has been popularized by professors of theology tenured at good salaries in American universities. He gives us one example of that, Harvey Cox at Harvard. Harvey Cox is not a theologian. He is in a divinity school, true, but he is not a theologian. He does not attempt to develop the implications of the word of God for every area of life. He is, as Kirk rightly states, a liberation theologian, and liberation theology is, as Kirk does note, a kind of Marxism. In fact, one would have to say a very flabby and watered down Marxism.
Well, what are we to think of Kirk’s perspective? He does give us an excellent critique as a Catholic communicant of sorts, of a Catholic bishop’s bicentennial meeting in October 1976. He quite rightly tears that apart as defective theologically, as sub-Christian in character, and as emphatically not representative of the mainstream of Catholic faith. But Kirk’s weakness is that he holds to the doctrine of separation of church and state in a very fallacious sense. He seems to believe that it means the separation of religion and the state. The separation of church and state does not mean the separation of religion from the state. In fact, because the state is a law order and all law is an establishment of morality, of a moral system, then every legal order is an establishment of religion, because moral order is an aspect of theological order. Moreover, the whole purpose of the separation of church and state was to free the church to speak to the state.
The War of Independence was a critical thing in this regard. Carl Bridenbaugh has pointed out in Mitre and Sceptre that one of the key factors in the War of Independence, one we rarely hear about, was the attempt as the colonists saw it of the mother country to force bishops on all the colonies, Anglican bishops. This brought home to them the danger of such a system. When the war was over, it was as Rutland in his book on the Bill of Rights has pointed out, the clergy that led in the demand that a Bill of Rights be added establishing very clearly that the federal government could not establish any church. What they had come to recognize very clearly out of their old world experience was this: That an established church is a silent church and very commonly a very corrupt church.
Some of the colonies did have an establishment, although always a precarious one, because it existed only by the sufferance of the Crown and with the tacit disapproval of the Crown. However, one thing that was a part of the American scene before and after the war was the election sermon. The separation of church and state was intended in this country to free the church from anything that would silence it. Its purpose was to give the church more freedom and more power to speak out plainly and unequivocally on all moral issues.
The sad fact is that Kirk is not reflecting anything basic to American history but rather basic to the liberal media’s current attack on the involvement of Christians, once again, in political action. What Kirk should have done in criticizing what the national council does and what this so called Catholic meeting did was that they were not Christian. They were speaking out of a neo-Marxism, not out of biblical thought. He should have instead encouraged them to recognize that they must speak out of scripture and have no right to speak out of anything else. But Kirk says the idea of turning the world into a terrestrial paradise is wrong. Well, the world began in paradise. It fell from that. Christ reestablished us into a new creation, and we are step by step to reestablish God’s kingdom and God’s sovereignty in every area of life.
We have a prescribed pattern of politics and much more in the bible. My book The Institutes of Biblical Law, volume one and volume two, which hopefully will be out early in 1982, deal with this, but people like Kirk attack the idea that there is any such notion without ever once glancing at the bible or ever once indicating that there is anything normative in the bible for them. Not once in this essay does Kirk come to grips with anything in scripture. All he does is to denounce past history, Catholic and Protestant, as though the church through the century has been nothing but a meddler and it should have learned its lesson by now.
He does say that Christian belief works upon the political order in at least three ways, sometimes effectually. These three ways are faith’s influence upon statesmen, faith’s influence upon the mass of mankind, and faith’s shaping of the norms of the social order. Well, where are those norms if they are not in the bible? As a matter of fact, Kirk is very emphatic about the classical source of norms. In other words, the Greco-Roman world that the Christians condemned, he looks to for norms. He never once in this essay says anything about looking to scripture for a single norm.
As a result, it is a sad commentary and it is revealing, too. I can understand now why in the ’60s, Kirk was so idolized on the campus and why his influence was so profound. In the ’60s, I found that Kirk, who was still a speaker on campuses, was listened to as one of the fathers of the conservative movement, and he was usually one of the featured ISI speakers but with increasing disrespect as one who is irrelevant, who saw no victory for any kind of real action on the part of the forces of righteousness.
Now Kirk is very harsh against those who have any kind of call to action, and he speaks of their proclaiming their own infallibility. Well, Kirk presumes equally to speak for God without ever citing scripture. Moreover, he is very clear that the church must make pronouncements in terms of principles, but he is unwilling ever to say that those principles must come from scripture, that Christian doctrine has a relevance to the whole of life.
Now, let me cite one point, just one alone, which indicates the fallacy of Kirk’s entire approach. Kirk never once comes to grips with the issue of sovereignty. Either God is sovereign, or he is not. If God is sovereign, then every Christian must speak against the claims by the modern state to sovereignty. Sovereignty is one and undivided. John Quincy Adams made it clear when he first heard talk of state sovereignty that this was an evil. He declared that it belongs only to the Lord God of hosts, and if the founders of the constitution were present, they would witness against that generation, that sovereignty is not in the state. The word sovereignty is left out of the constitution. Well, that fact alone indicates the gulf between Kirk and Christian thought.
It is interesting that the thinker once cited by Kirk but whose thinking informs Kirk’s paper is Voegelin, and Voegelin is neither a Christian nor a conservative, is very much in the tradition of Hegel, has no concept of any absolute truth. He sees the whole of history as a series of leaps in being with a successively new truth for each age. In other words, truth changes as the age changes, as it evolves into something more. Voegelin is highly regarded in the circles that Kirk moves in, and this is one reason why those circles are increasingly bankrupt. Kirk concludes his address by saying, and I quote, “I had as soon go to a bartender for medical advice as to a church secretary for political wisdom.” Unquote. Well, that’s a pretty strong statement. I will grant Kirk that many a church secretary, Catholic and Protestant, is clearly anathema, because they are not Christians, but I am sure he will find among all the church secretaries more Christians than he will doctors among bartenders. But so be it for Kirk.
Now to go on to something else but related. Just recently, a very interesting book entitled Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, by Jeffrey Burton Russell, a University of California historian. The book was published by Cornell University Press in Ithaca, New York. This is the second book that Russell has published on the devil. He is an excellent medievalist, by the way. Jeffrey Burton Russell has been doing some remarkable thinking and his life is something of a pilgrimage of thought since the beginning of the ’70s. Now his book published in ’72, again by Cornell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, is very interesting. Russell began with an assumption that witchcraft was nonsense, that the trials were evidences of the superstition, the gross abuse of human beings by the medieval church, and much, much more. In his study, however, he came to realize the radical paganism of the witchcraft movement, its total antinomianism, its close association with heresy, and much, much more. He found that the human sacrifices by these cults were very real as was cannibalism with hints of homosexuality and much, much more.
As a result, he came to believe very much in the reality of the medieval witchcraft cults and their fearful nature, the fact that they were a threat to civilization, and that men had to meet them as a radical and total onslaught on civilization. He concludes that earlier book, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, by saying, and I quote, “Now once again, institutions are failing, and men are being thrust back upon their own formulations of symbolic order. Once again, lacking the framework of a coherent rational system, we are increasingly subject to propaganda, nialism, and mindless violence. Dogmatic and unreasoning ideologists are preparing for us a new witch craze, couched now in secular rather than in transcendental terms. It is in this universal context that European witchcraft is best understood. Medieval witchcraft was in one sense only the first stage of a long period of witch delusion. In another sense, it was a manifestation of the innate and perennial darkness of the human soul.” Unquote.
He also expresses real concern over the fact that the same mindless violence, the same mindless evil that the witchcraft cult revealed, is again manifesting itself in a revival of the same kind of thinking.
Now, an interesting sidelight, which I touch upon, I believe, in The Institutes of Biblical Law, that most people forget about when they talk about the witchcraft movement and about the bible. The bible says very plainly, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” How shall we understand that? The best way is to understand what the word witch means. We have a good indication of what it means when we look at the Septuagint, because we have, then, two words, the Hebrew word and the Greek word for the same person, and this helps us interpret the meaning of the original, the Hebrew.
Well, the Greek word [Greek 00:25:11] is the same word we have in pharmacy. In other words, what the bible is saying when it says “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” was thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live. The association in antiquity in the medieval cults and in the modern occultist movement with drugs is very, very pronounced. The witch was someone who accomplished his or her goals through the use of poisons. It was this that led to the judgment of God, thou shalt not suffer a witch, a poisoner, to live.
Well, to get to Jeffrey Burton Russell’s book on Satan. Like his earlier book on the devil, it is not satisfactory from a Christian perspective, one of orthodoxy, because his essential approach is historical and to a degree anthropological. He does not say, “Here is the biblical evidence. Now in terms of this, let’s look at the history.” Rather, he looks at the history, and then tries to square it with a non-biblical theology, which has some kind of association with Christianity. Given that fact, it is an important book, because as he says in the very beginning, when we deal with the devil, we’re dealing head on with the problem of evil. Why is evil done to us and why do we do evil to others?
He cites at the very beginning a horror story of the incredible savagery of a father to his 10-year-old daughter, then cites some cases of pirates who held 121 Vietnamese women and children captive on a deserted jungle island for seven days, raping them and hunting them down like animals. He says we do have a problem, a problem of evil. Modern thought is not capable of dealing with it, so he goes to the history of the devil, from the early church to the present, to try to understand the meaning of the devil. When I say to the present, he really does not go much beyond the early church except that he continually has the modern world in his sights as he deals with these facts. So in a sense, it does bring it up to the present in a very vivid way.
By way of conclusion, he says that there are a number of objections, seven main objections, to belief in the devil, which are common today. One of these is that only scientific knowledge is true knowledge. Another, that belief in the devil is not progressive or up to date. Another is that some theological traditions avoid such a belief. Another, that belief in the devil is supposedly inconsistent with a main line of Christian tradition, which he says, of course, is manifestly untrue. Another, that it is inconsistent with scripture, especially the new testament, but he says this is impossible to maintain without wrenching the new testament. A sixth, he says, is that a belief in the devil is inconsistent with experience. A seventh, that the whole concept of the demonic is inconsistent.
He disposes of all of these in varying degrees. In the process, he does some thinking good and some weak, but his conclusion is very interesting. The last paragraph, and I quote, “The corollary for the devil is as follows. The devil is not a principle. The devil does not limit God’s power. The devil is a creature. The devil is permitted by God to function. The devil has some purpose in the cosmos that we cannot grasp. The devil is God’s enemy and our enemy and must be resisted with all our strength. This is true whether the devil is an ontological entity or the personification of the demonic in humanity.” Unquote.
I think this is very interesting, very telling. Our very modern age is unable to cope with the fact of evil, evil in itself. Supposedly, we had gone beyond all such nonsense, and now modern man finds the devil staring at him in the mirror, lurking around the street corner and outside his house, and he is afraid. So we have an historian who’s spent about 10 years dealing with witchcraft and the devil, a very able historian. I submit that that is most revealing about what is happening in our time.
Well, to move on, I spoke about drinking last time and its connection with the idea of democracy. I might have touched on something else that also is related to democracy, and this is gambling. When we go back into earlier centuries, we find that royalty and nobility were the people they were because they were leaders. They had abilities. Granted, you had incompetence from time to time. Usually they didn’t last long. However, monarchy and nobility represented a form of government which functioned, which provided some kind of security for the social order, and in varying degrees, some form of justice. There was a rationale. There was a justification for monarchy and for the nobility. They destroyed themselves as a result of their own waywardness. Now, in part, this began in the court of Louis XIV. We can see a number of forces of disintegration at work in Louis XIV’s court.
First of all, Louis XIV married his cousin, and this in itself was a common practice from that time on with the royal families of Europe. What it did was it destroyed them. With the increased inbreeding, what they did was to produce all kinds of ailments, instabilities, and insanities, as in the case of George III. The first George married his cousin. The second George of England married a cousin, and George III did the same, and George III was mentally incapacitated a fair portion of his adult life. George IV was not much better. He was a very unstable person and showed clearly the effects of the inbreeding. Royalty by its preference for blue blood and its excessive inbreeding destroyed itself.
Well, Louis XIV came to the throne as a child with a background of civil war. One of the things he did was to bring the nobility to the court, to Versailles, to make it appealing for them to be there. All kinds of offices were created, including one highly coveted office of someone who came in in the morning and took care of the royal chamberpot. Not a very pleasant office, but of course, it gave him a closeness to Louis at a very informal and not structured moment so that an office like that was highly prized. You had an input to the king when nobody else was around, or very few, for that matter.
At any rate, the nobility were separated from their domains, and instead of ruling them, they allowed managers to rule them for them. They spent their time at the court in gambling and in sexual affairs. It was the beginning of the end for the European nobility. The same pattern was copied throughout Europe, with little Versailles established in more than one place and with the nobility again showing the same absorption with being as drunk as a lord and with gambling. Gambling, let me say, vast amounts. The more they gambled, the less responsible they became in the handling of their own domain in the moral pressive.
Gambling clubs became the in thing, for example, in London. As a result, when the democratic movement began throughout Europe, it began in a spirit of envy, a spirit of hatred, and it began with a desire to have what the nobility and the royalty had, the same pleasures. So, of course, in post-revolutionary France, by the time of Napoleon III, the courtesan was very important in Paris. She dictated a great many social opinions. Her salon was a highly prized place, and of course, gambling was all important. In other words, sexual liaisons and gambling and drinking were the marks of the new royalty, the bourgeois. And of course the lower classes were eager to imitate them. Well, this happened in America with the War of Independence and then the breakdown of the Puritan mentality. By the second and third decade of the 19th century, gambling had become a mania in the United States, so that the tremendous alcoholism that arose in the last century and the tremendous gambling mania persisted.
By the way, let me add something. If you want to see the persistence of this, go to Las Vegas. When you go into the gambling casinos and the restaurants, the air of the palace is there. More than a few gambling places in Nevada that call themselves something or other palace. I know that, oh, about nine or 10 years ago, Dorothy and I took a trip to Death Valley and to some of the very attractive desert areas of the Southwest. Attractive to me, a little intimidating to Dorothy. We had dinner one evening in Las Vegas. I’ve forgotten the name of the hotel. One of the strip’s hotels. We went into the dining room at 6:00, and I understand since then, it isn’t quite as palatial, but the service we had was unbelievable. We had about three waiters waiting on us and bowing and scraping and so on. The idea, of course, is to treat people as royalty, to make them feel as bountiful as royalty so they spend like royalty, as though their pocketbook were a bottomless pit. We had a good dinner. That’s about all they got out of us, the cost of the meal.
Well, to get back to gambling in 19th century America. I have a number of books on the history of gambling, but here is one. Win or Lose, a rather popular one, by Steven Longstreet, published by the Bobs Merrill Company in Indianapolis and New York in 1977. He says, and I quote. “19th century visitors to America were shocked by the gambling and social manners among the natives. Frances Trollope and others were abashed by the table manners on steamboats, in railroad eating places and in boarding houses. They used the blade of the knife to convey all kind of food directly into the mouth. Chewing tobacco, too, was almost universal. Even high-toned gamblers chawed, and the hawking and spitting of amber jets into boxes of sawdust or brass receptacles called spittoons, also cuspidors and gaboons, disgusted many visitors. The heavy drinking of 90-proof corn pressings as bourbon, whiskey, and branch water or in the form of high-proof rye led some to think Americans had boiler room stomachs.
In some low room gambling places and liberty stables, there is a pail of whiskey and a tin dipper to refresh anyone in need of a tot. It was a serious gambling that impressed the visitors as they traveled toward the awesomely extensive horizon of the expanding nation. The betting on a dog fight in the street, the chance meeting of two horsemen on a pike wagering who could reach the next toll gate first. The various gambling halls for the lower segment of the population, from the notches under the hill to the ornate gambling palaces of New York, San Francisco, the sporting houses of New Orleans, were all popular forms of gambling. Wrote one visitor, ‘Betting and gambling were with drunkenness and a passion for doing and running up debts, the chief sins of the Carolina gentlemen.'”
Then an interesting quote by Devereux, a very interesting anthropologist. I quote. “Our society is moving more and more toward secularization, to rationalization, to the collapse of real commitment to public morality. Gambling fits into our whole machiavellian rationale, that anything goes if it works.” Unquote. Now, that’s in line with Dewey’s pragmatism, and in fact, there is a very close connection between gambling and a belief that there is no God, that the whole universe is ruled by chance. As a matter of fact, countries that have come to a radical pessimism with regard to reality and a total relativism, like old China, have been very strongly addicted to gambling. It goes hand in hand. If you do not believe there is a God, then luck is all that matters, chance. Then, gambling will be almost as it were your religion.
Now, apropos of absolutely nothing, I want to share this with you. In Memphis in December of 1973 during an investigation there, it was found that a young woman, a mother of one child, had had sexual relations with several hundred policemen. Under questioning, she stated that this … And I quote … “had something to do with my belief in law and order.” Unquote. I think that’s a prize. Then I liked this very much. It’s from Dennis Parsons of London. It’s Parson’s Rule. “At whatever stage you apologize to your spouse after an argument, the reply is constant. It’s too late now.” Very good.
Well, I’d like to share something with you now from an American poet who is somewhat neglected and forgotten now. He was a prominent poet in the teens and into the very early ’20s. He was born in 1886. I don’t know his death date. His name is John Gould Fletcher. This poem is quite a remarkable one, because it is polyphonic prose. It is a kind of poetry, and yet it is in a sense prose, but not prose. Fletcher was a master of this media. We all are excited by the sight and some of us treasure pictures of clipper ships. Certainly one of the most dramatic forms of seagoing vessels the world has ever known, but I don’t think anything that any painter has conveyed through his pictures equals the picture of a Clipper ships that John Gould Fletcher paints for us in words. So I’d like to read his Clipper Ships.
“Beautiful as a tiered cloud, skysails set and shrouds twanging, she emerges from the surges that keep running away before day on the low Pacific shore. With the roar of the wind blowing half a gale after she heels and lunges and buries her bows in the smother, lifting them swiftly and scattering the glistening spray-drops from her jibsails with laughter. Her spars are cracking, her royals are half splitting, her lower stunsail booms are bent aside, like bowstrings ready to loose, and the water is roaring into her scuppers, but she still staggers out under a full press of sail, her upper trucks enkindled by the sun into shafts of rosy flame.”
“Oh, the anchor is up and the sails they are set, and it’s ‘way, Rio; ’round Cape Stiff and up to Boston, 90 days hauling at the ropes. The decks slope and the stays creak as she lurches into it, sending her jib awash at every thrust, and a handful of dust and a thirst to make you weep are all we get for being two years away to sea.”
“Top gallant stunsail has carried away. Ease the spanker. The anchor is rusted on the deck. Men in short duck trousers, wide brim straw hats with brown mahogany faces, pace up and down spinning the worn out yarns they told a year ago. Some are coiling rope, some smoke. Chips is picking oakum near the boats. 10,000 miles away lies their last port. In the rigging climbs a hairy monkey, and a green parakeet screams at the masthead. In the dead calm of a boiling noonday near the line, she lifts her spread of shining canvas from heel to truck, from jib o’ jib to ringtail, from moonsails to watersails. Men have hung their washing in the stays so she can get more way on her. She ghosts along before an imperceptible breeze, the sails hanging limp in the cross-trees and clashing against the mast.”
“She is a proud white albatross skimming across the ocean, beautiful as a tiered cloud. Oh, a Yankee ship comes down the river. Blow, boys, blow. Her masts and yards they shine like silver. Blow, my bully boys, blow. She’s a crack ship, a dandy clipper, 900 miles from land. She’s a down-Easter from Massachusetts, and she’s bound to the Rio Grande.”
“Where are the men who put to sea in her on her first voyage? Some have piled their bones in California among the hides. Some died frozen off the Horn in snowstorms. Some slipped down between two graybacks when the yards were joggled suddenly. Still, she glistens beautifully, her decks snow-white with constant scrubbing as she sweeps into some empty sailless bay, which sleeps all day, where the wild deer skip away when she fires her 18-pounder, the sound reverberating about the empty hills. San Francisco? No. San Francisco will not be built for a dozen years to come. Meanwhile, she hires with the tumult of loading.”
“The mutineers even are let out of their irons and flogged and fed. Every day from when the dawn flares up red amid the hills to the hour it drops dead to westward, men walk gawkily, balancing on their heads the burden of heavy, stiff hides. Now the anchor is up and the sails, they are set, and it’s ‘way, Rio. Boston girls are pulling at the ropes. Only three months of trouble yet. Time for us to go.”
“Beautiful as a tiered cloud, she flies out seaward, and on her decks, loaf and stumble a luckless crowd, the filthy sweepings of the stews. In a week, in a day, they have spent a year’s wages, swilling it away and letting the waste of it run down among the gutters. How were these deadbeats bribed to go? Only the Ann Street runners know. Dagos, Dutchmen, Souwegians, niggers, crimp-captured greenhorns, they loaf up on the after deck, some of them already wrecks, so sick, they wish they had never been born.”
“Before them all, the old man calls for a bucket of saltwater to wash off his shore, face. While he is at it telling them how he will haze them til they are dead if they try soldiering, but it will be good grub and easy work if they hand, reef, and steer and heave the lead. His officers are below rummaging through the men’s dunnage, pulling out heavers, prickers, rum bottles, sheath knives, and pistols. On each grizzled half-cowed face appears something between a sheepish grin, a smirk of fear, a threat of treachery, and the dogged resignation of a brute.”
“But the mate, Bucko Douglas is his name, is the very same that booted three men off the masthead when they were shortening sail in the teeth of a Cape Horn snorter. Two of them fell into the sea and the third was tossed, still groaning, into the water. Only last night, the captain stuck his cigar butt into one poor swabber’s face for not minding the compass and gave Jim Baines a taste of ratline hash for coming up on deck with dirty hands. Meanwhile, under a grand spread of canvas, 100 feet from side to side, the ship rides up the parallels. From aloft through the blue stillness of a tropic night crammed with stars with thunder brewing in the horizon, a mournful echo rises and swells. ‘Oh, my name is hanging Johnny, hooray, hooray. Oh, my name is hanging Johnny, so hang, boys, hang.'”
“The Great Republic, launched before 30,000 people, her main truck overlooking the highest steeple of the town, the eagle at her bows and colors flying, now in her first and last port, is slowly dying. She is a charred hulk, with toppling masts, scarred gilding, and blistered sides. The Alert no more slides pertly through the bergs of the Horn. The desolate barrens of Staten Island, where no man was ever born, holds her bones. The Black Baller Lightning, that took $80,000 worth of cargo around the world in one quick trip, was hurled and ripped to pieces on some unchartered reef or other.”
“The Dreadnought disappeared in a hurricane’s smother of foam. The Sovereign of the Seas, that never furled her topsails for 10 years, was sheared clean amidships by the bows of an iron steamer as she left her last port. The slaver, Bald Eagle, cut an unlucky career short when she parted with her anchor and piled up on the Paracels where the pirate junks are waiting for every ship that swells out over the horizon. The Antelope was caught Off The Grande Ladtone in the northeast monsoon. She’s gone. The Flying Cloud, proud as she was of beating every ship that carried the Stars and Stripes or the St. George’s flag could not race faster than a thunderbolt that fell one day on deck and turned her to a cloud of flame. Everything burned away but her fame. No more will California hear the little Pilgrims parting cheer. The crew took to an open boat when their ship was scuttled by a privateer. So they die out year after year.”
“Sometimes the lookout on a great steamer wallowing and threshing through the heavy seas by night sees far off on its lee quarter something, like a lofty swinging light. Beautiful as a tiered cloud, a ghostly Clipper ship emerges from the surges that keep running away before a day on the low Pacific shore. Her upper works are enkindled by the sun into shafts of rosy flame. Swimming like a duck, steering like a fish, easy yet dry, lively yet stiff, she lifts cloud on cloud of crowded stainless sail. She creeps abeam within hail. She dips, she chases. She outpaces like a meddlesome racer the lumbering teakettle that keeps her company. Before she fades into the weather quarter, the lookout cries, ‘Holy, jiggers. Are you The Flying Dutchman that you go to knots to our one?’ Hoarsely comes back this answer from the sail. ‘Challenge is our name. America our nation. Bully Waterman our master. We can beat creation, and it’s ‘way, Rio. Way, hey, hey, Rio. Oh, fare you well, my pretty girl, for we’re bound to the Rio Grande.'”
Well, I like that poem. I think it’s a masterly work, and I think it’s a pity that John Gould Fletcher is not better remembered in our day. There is so much in our heritage that is really a treasure house of wealth.
Well, our time is up. I’ve enjoyed this hour with you. I am looking forward to the next and already have in mind a number of things that I can hardly wait to share with you. I do enjoy speaking, and I have a lot of you in mind as I do, because it gives me a delight to know that you’re on a mailing list and that you enjoy these sessions together. Thank you again for listening. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.
Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to The Easy Chair with R.J. Rushdoony. Please visit Chalcedon.edu for more materials by R.J. Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Foundation.
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