Notes from Barzun's From Dawn To Decadence

Notes from Jacques Barzun's From Dawn To Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present.

Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on door of All Saints' church in Wittenburg on 31 October 1517. Surprised to find them printed in South Germany soon after. Printing enabled Luther's reforms to succeed where earlier ones had failed. (FDTD 4)

The power of the book. By 1601, 40,000 separate editions of all kinds of books had been printed. Roughly 9,000,000 volumes from 100+ presses. (FDTD 4)

1900 was the 1st yr in England in which religious works did not outnumber all other publications. (FDTD 10)

'When people accept futility and the absurb as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label. A decadent culture offers oppurtunities chiefly to the satirist …' (FDTD 11)

Erasmus was the 1st humanist to earn a living from his writings. (FDTD 12)

By the mid-16th century, religious peace was achieved in Germany. Each prince could choose Evangelical or Catholic, as could each town. However, the subjects had to abide by his choice as well. If you didn't accept it, you had to go into exile. (FDTD 20)

Revolutions begin by promising freedom & then turn puritanical. (FDTD 35)

Medieval sense of history merged time and space, intermingling fact and legend, the past & the present. (FDTD 47, 234)

Aldus Manutius (Venice, end of 15c), Estienne brothers (France), & Elzevirs (Holland), the 1st great printer-designers, are responsible for the following innovations: punctuation; accents in Romance languages; spacing between words, sentences, & paragraphs; capital letters. Also led the call for uniform spelling. Etienne Dolet burnt at the stake along with his books: 'a martyr of the Book'. (FDTD 61, 63)

Reading silently & alone was an innovation due to printing. Monk reading to brothers at mealtime only a memory. (FDTD 63)

From Renaissance (16c) to end of 18C painting was ranked as follows: religious (edification), then history (reminded), then portrait, then landscape (nature not interesting in itself alone, so always humanized with architecture & humans). (FDTD 71)

Catherine de' Medici was married to Henry, heir to the throne of France, at the age of 14 (he was 14 as well). The marriage was arranged by the Pope as part of a complex political scheme. To make it secure, it was imperative that Catherine produce a son ASAP. When Henry proved unable to achieve the goal, the pope told Catherine: 'A clever girl surely knows how to get pregnant somehow or other.' (FDTD 85)

Francis I of France, aware of the increasing number & mobility of his subjects, decreed that every person take or be given a surname. About the same time, Henry VIII did the same in England. Implications: * raises common man nearer lords & their distinguished family names * consequence of people increasingly cutting loose from native soil * shows growing importance of travel, exile, need for better tax collecting & religious conformity. Before this, people were known by their first names: Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo. If confusion with another of the same name was a problem, the place name was added: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael da Urbino. 4 main sources for surnames: 1 nickname (Bright, Stout) 2 dwelling place (woods, hill) 3 trade or office (Smith, Marshall) 4 paternity (John[son], MacShane). Which is why Mary Johnson makes no sense now, but we don't look at last names like that anymore. (FDTD 113)

Sir Thomas More invented the story about Richard III, the king whom the Tudor Henry VII overthrew, that he was deformed, evil, and murdered his nephews. Richard was the exact opposite. The phrase 'a man for all seasons', now applied to More as a compliment, originally meant an opportunist. (FDTD 122)

Legacy of the eutopians: social equality is more humane than hierarchy. Everybody must work and earn his living or his honors. Rulers should be chosen by the people. Marriage and divorce need to be liberalized; adultery is not the sole reason for divorce. The existing order is not fixed forever by divine fiat. Original sin does not doom human life; clear thought and strong wills can improve the lot of humanity.

Rabelais published Book III of Pantagruel, & because he praised King Francis I, he received a royal privilege (ie, copyright) for 10 years. A royal privilege was the exclusive right to print and sell a work. The author sold this right, and his text, to the publisher for a single flat sum. Milton sold Paradise Lost for 10 pounds. (FDTD 130, 146)

Every year the Doge of Venice (the head of the state) undertook a ceremony in which he threw his ring into the sea as a symbol of the wedding of Venice with the element that gave it life. (FDTD 170)

Paracelsus' real name: Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. (FDTD 197)

For Pascal, man is both miserable and great. He is puny: 'a drop of water can kill him; he is a feeble reed'. But he is 'a thinking reed'. The universe destroys him & his works, but he is conscious. Thought is master of that which does not know its own size and power. (FDTD 219)

The four humors: black bile (melancholic), yellow bile (choleric), phlegm (phlegmatic), blood (sanguine). (FDTD 223)

The term 'Middle Ages' wasn't really used until the late 17c. Desire to set off antiquity from modernity by separating themselves from centuries of ignorance. Over-emphasized the thousand years between 500 & 1500 as brutal, brutish, & superstitious. (FDTD 225)

William the Conqueror instituted trial by combat (duellum) for both civil and criminal cases. Professional could be hired for the day, & he fought with specified weapons, not deadly. If by nightfall one called 'craven', the losing party was declared a perjurer and fined. If a felony, he was hanged. 'Champion' was a recognized profession. Courts kept on retainer a qualified champion to defend itself against claimants. (FDTD 228)

Medieval universities studied seven arts, 4 + 3: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, & music; grammar, logic, & rhetoric. (FDTD 228)

The international language during the Middle Ages was not Latin, but Medieval Latin. Designed for exact expression, simplified syntax, & enriched vocabulary. Gave us the subject-verb-predicate form of sentence, & many of the abstract terms used in science, philosophy, government, business, & daily speech. (FDTD 230)

Use of small letters instead of just capital letters was due to a scribe contemporary with Charlemagne. (FDTD 231)

Encyclopedias were introduced with Isidore of Seville's in the 8C & reach the 15C with that of Bartholomeus Anglicus. (FDTD 231)

After 1066, the English never had a line of English kings! William the Conqueror (Norman), Plantagenets (French), Tudors (Welsh), Stuarts (Scots), Hanoverians (German). (FDTD 240)

Many matters can be settled in court. Dueling exists to settle matters that courts cannot settle or even acknowledge: insults, offenses against dignity, women, or family elders. (FDTD 242)

Rise of the bureaucracy. (FDTD 243)

The Leveller John Lilburne was evidently one of the most contentious men who ever lived. Harry Marten, a fellow Leveller & regicide, had this to say about him: 'If the world were emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne.' (FDTD 268-271)

Invention of the bureaucracy by Colbert under Louis XIV. (FDTD 292-93)

Queen Mary in 16c England had a female fool, Jane Cooper. (FDTD 302)

'So it is with monarchical pomp and the Baroque. Their common characteristic is profusion dignifying a central purpose.' (FDTD 333)

What is dull to us now in older works of art was not dull to them. Most art of a time contains bits and pieces of knowledge and feeling that are in everyone's mind at the time, plus past works of art. Such works of art are popular as long as that mental mosaic of the time persists. Proof: contemporaries see differences in works of art that seem indistinguishable to us. (FDTD 340)

The democratic mind argues that the death of a salesman is equivalent to the death of King Lear. Every fatal accident is tragic. (FDTD 343)

Prose is as artificial as verse. Ordinary speech is 'halting, comes in fragments, repeats, put qualifiers after the idea, and often leaves it half expressed', which prose 'aims at organized thought in complete units'. (FDTD 353)

King James version of the Bible is a composite of 300 yrs of various translations, resulting in a language that was never the vernacular of any period. (FDTD 354)

Science is the application of reason to all questions, no matter what tradition has handed down. (FDTD 359)

Pierre Bayle's Dictionary applied reason to religion, in essence encapsulating Deism, the idea that God created the universe, but no one knows how, and He set it up to run by means of rules, discoverable through science, that He will not violate or interfere with. To avoid censorship, Bayle wrote short entries the defined his subjects; the dangerous doctrines were in the appended notes, long & in small print, that encouraged censors to skip them. (FDTD 360) Another example: Georges Le Clerc, comte de Buffon, was a naturalist who had an inkling of evolution long before Darwin. To protect himself, he wrote his hypothesis using rhetoric that said, basically, were we not sure by God's revelation that no such biological interconnections were possible, we would be tempted to believe … (FDTD 376)

Sir Robert Filmer wrote a tract that derived monarchy from Adam's authority handed down by God, and thence handed to all rulers by divine decree. (FDTD 362)

Enlightenment political thought: divine right is a dogma without basis, government grew out of nature from reaonsable motives and for the good of the people, certain rights—such as property and the right of revolution—cannot be abolished. (FDTD 364-5)

A true novel focuses on character and social mileau. (FDTD 380)

Sentimentalism is feeling that shuts out action. It is self-centered and a type of make-believe. Wm James' example: she cries at the events on stage while her footman freezes outside. (FDTD 411)

Burke's Inquiry into the Causes of the Sublime and the Beautiful: beauty is smooth and harmonious and agreeable; the sublime is rugged, outsize, and terrifying. (FDTD 417)

To govern well requires 2 different kinds of ability: political skill and administrative skill. Both are rare, certainly separately and almost never in combination. Proposing good ideas is one thing, but the difficult part is formulating a method for achieving those results. (FDTD 426)

During the French Revolution, it was safest to look not like a nobleman, but like a workman, leading to trousers becoming the standard garment for men. (FDTD 434)

The ultimate unifying force for all ages is its predicaments: the urgent demands, the obstacles to peace or progress, the need for new art. The methods for achieving solutions may differ, but all focus on the same challenges. (FDTD 466-7)

Hegel in his Philosophy of History describes the 'world-historical character', the man who embodies the scattered volitions of his age and is empowered to carry them out. (FDTD 484)

The world sides with Napoleon, not Wellington; after all, Waterloo is a symbol of defeat, not victory. (FDTD 485)

Byronism: daring, rebelliousness, melancholy, self-reproach, and the imagination of disaster. (FDTD 485)

Friedrich Froebel invented what he first termed 'Kleinkinderbescha(umlaut)ftigungsanstalt' and later decided to call 'Kindergarten'. (FDTD 487)

The point of 'emancipation anywhere, at any time: it is not to give power to those who have earned the right to it, but to lift the helpless to a level where they are free to learn how to use it the right.' (FDTD 534)

15 September 1830: 1st train between Manchester and Liverpool, 30 miles. Engineered by George Stephenson. Guests included Duke of Wellington & Wm. Huskisson, well-known economist & president of the Board of Trade. 33 cars, 8 trains. 20 miles per hour. Halfway, stop for water, and Huskisson was struck by a train & fatally injured. Humans have had to adjust themselves to the threats of moving objects. (FDTD 539-40)

During the 1840s in England there was 'railway mania': 'dozens of lines projected, too many built; hence failures, lawsuits, much countryside spoiled, towns angry at being passed by, the coal and iron trades booming, rival designers steadily improving engines, rails, ballast, cars, brakes, signals, and operations.' (FDTD 542)

The railroad introduced the concept of the ticket in 1838; artifical time due to the needs for railroad schedules; and whiskey, which was brought into England by the Irish brought in to dig the railways. (FDTD 544) Later, the railroad journey increased demand for the novel, so bookshops were installed on railway platforms. (FDTD 563)

Mechanism: the machine has changed us. Machines make us captive servants: to the rhythm, the convenience, the cost of stopping it, the drawbacks of not using it. We come to resemble the machine in our pace, rigidity, and uniformity. It always yields identical products. No happy accidents, no variations, no innovations. Machine-made things 'induce no subsequent reverie, no speculation, and no love'. (FDTD 554)

Thomas Cook invented the idea of the tourist and the guided tour and the travel agent. (FDTD 583)

Anthony Comstock, in 1873, founded the Society for the Suppression of Vice and convinced Congress to pass the Comstock Law, making it illegal to send through the mail info or devices about contraception. Drove Mme. Restell, a 'fashionable abortionist', from NYC and to suicide. His actions against sexuality lasted until WWI. (FDTD 592)

Henry George, in 'Progress and Poverty', pointed out that land values rise where business activity takes place, creating poverty among those who own nothing but their labor. (FDTD 594)

In 1891, electricity was installed in the White House. President Harrison's family was frightened of shock and would not touch the switches or press the buttons. Therefore, the current was turned off in the morning and turned on in the evening. (FDTD 600)

'Novels analyze individual characters and their social setting. Tales relate adventures that take for granted motives and settings.' (FDTD 739)

Existentialism: man is simply here. The universe is not hostile; it is strange and uncertain. Man has no purpose or mission; he must create those himself, knowing that the fulfillment of those has no external reward or justification. Madness, incapacity, futility. (FDTD 755)

The works of the Absurd created no rebellion against the absurdity of the Absurd; instead, it is accepted as inherent in life. (FDTD 757)

C. K. Ogden created 'Basic English', which was promoted by I. A. Richards. Reduced English to its essentials in order to help beginners. Disallowed common words in favor of harder phrases. 600 nouns and 18 verbs. Instead of potato, 'plant with thick brown cover that is bursting from the earth'. (FDTD 758-9)

Relativism does not preclude judgment. (FDTD 761)

Rebellions of the 1960s put authority on the defensive: 'all decisions must follow consultation'. (FDTD 766)

'Analysis … breaks wholes into parts for a better grasp of the qualities and behaviors of the object. This increase in understanding also depletes, since analysis omits the feature that makes the whole interesting or valuable. One tends to think that the clock and its parts are the same, but until assembled the parts are not a clock: they cannot be wound; they have been abstracted physically; they are scrap metal until properly reunited in space.' (FDTD 766-7)

Demise of the nation state & the trend towards hyper-independence. In the Indian Ocean, 300 miles east of Madagascar, are four islands known as the Comoros. Total area is 830 sq. miles; population was then 493,000. The French released them & they became the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros. For 12 years the people of the smallest island, the Anjouans, wanted to separate and finally did. A separation from a separation. (FDTD 775)

What makes a nation? Common historical memories. What worked in 19c was 'a common language, a core of historical memories with heroes and villains, compulsory public schooling and military service …' (FDTD 775)

'Business firms and airlines thanked their customers effusively, but civility between persons was scant, especially in cities.' (FDTD 782)

Self-torture in prior ages focused on the soul & one's purity of faith; modern self-doubts are 'diffused over every impulse to action'. (FDTD 786)

Fraud is the sport of capable minds who wish to rise above mere commerce and make-believe. It is 'creativity in a rich medium'. (FDTD 788)

Entertainment is our main goal, because work no longer satisfies the spirit. (FDTD 788)

'Pornography is a form of utopian literature' (FDTD 790)

Mithridates fed on poison so he could withstand poisoning. (FDTD 791)

'The resulting obstacles to good prose were: a vocabulary full of technical terms and their jargon imitations, an excess of voguish metaphors, and the preferences for long abstract words denoting general ideas, in place of short concrete ones pointing to acts and objects. An idiomatic writer sounded simpleminded.' (FDTD 793)

Schedel, a learned German, compiled & published the Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493. Announced that the 6th of the 7 ages of mankind was almost over. Schedel included some blank pages at the end for recording anything of interest that might happen during the final days. Note the year: soon afterwards was announced the opening of the New World. (FDTD 798)

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