A Perfect Recording?

Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor Solo, Horn, and Strings, Op 21; Les Illuminations for Tenor Solo and Strings, Op. 18.
Peter Pears, tenor; Dennis Brain, horn; The New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Goosens. London LL 994

Clearly, the use of the word "perfect" requires some justification and explanation. What I mean is that this is great music, performed and recorded in such a way that I can't really imagine it done better. If you don't care for Britten's music, or for these particular pieces, then obviously this can't be considered a perfect recording. But I do like the music, very much. And the performances seem to me to be perfect in the sense of being ideally suited to the music. And the sound is about as good as one could expect for 1944, when this LP was issued; moreover, it has a living quality which can be absent from more technically sophisticated recordings. (It's from the Fr. Dorrell trove, by the way, described in this post.)


Whenever I talk about classical music I feel obliged to note that I am no judge of performances. If it's devoid of obvious mistakes, I think it's ok. Still, I think this one is ideal, even though I suspect that someone really knowledgeable about singing might find some things to criticize in Pears's performance. I at any rate find his performance here very effective.

Is it great music, in the sense that, say, the Goldberg Variations are great music? Perhaps not. On second thought, in fact, I'll say no, I don't think it is. But I'll let critics of the future worry about Britten's place in the tradition. It's distinctly "modern," although not defiantly so; it demands no theoretical knowledge or an ear that's capable of tracking a twelve-tone motif (if that's the right word). What I mean is that it's accessible to me, and I think to anyone, in the sense that it isn't abstract--atonal and dissonant.

Les Illuminations is a set of prose poems (a dubious term, but never mind that for now) by Rimbaud. I was in a mild sort of way an enthusiast for his work in my youth. If I spoke French I might have been more enthusiastic, but at any rate I was drawn to his quasi- (or proto-) surrealist visions. Here's a sample, from "Cities," one of the pieces Britten sets:

Cities indeed! This is a people for whom those Alleghanies and Lebanons of dream were staged! Chalets of crystal and wood that move on invisible rails and pulleys. Old craters circled by colossi, and palm-trees of copper roaring melodiously in flames. Feasts of love resound, on canals that hang there behind the chalets. The hunt of chimes cries in the gorges. Guilds of gigantic singers flock among robes and oriflammes dazzling as the light on the summits.

Britten uses seven of these in his work, with a sort of refrain drawn from one of them, "Parade": "I alone hold the key to this savage parade." Fortunately I still have the New Directions translation that I bought when I was in college, and it includes the French. You really need something like that to fully enjoy the work, unless your French is good enough that you can understand the sung text. You can read the entire work in English at this useful site, Poetry In Translation

The other work, the Serenade, is also a setting of poems, this time in English and by several different poets. One of them, the poem of Tennyson which we know as "Blow, Bugle, Blow" is titled "Nocturne," but really the whole thing is a nocturne. The opening horn solo almost inevitably and irresistibly evokes sunset, and all the poems are related to evening and night. I haven't made up my mind yet which I like best (not that I need to), but I think most people would find the eerie "Lyke-Wake Dirge" among the most striking of the settings.

Thanks to YouTube, you can hear this work, and even hear this recording, so I don't need to try any harder to describe it.

(If you are reading this months or years after I posted it, you may well find that the video is gone. That's the way it is with YouTube.)

Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady

This was another one of those unplanned reading detours that I mentioned earlier. I went to the shelf intending to re-read Dostoevsky's Demons (the novel formerly known as The Possessed), maybe in the old Constance Garnett translation, since my previous reading was the newer one. I'd been thinking of re-reading it, although it hasn't been that long since the last time, because of its relevance to what's going on politically and culturally now.

But for reasons unknown I found myself hesitating and thinking instead of Henry James, and that I would really like to read one of his full-length novels; I've only read his shorter works, and most of those were many years ago. So I picked up The Portrait of a Lady, which I think someone recommended to me relatively recently.

I very much enjoyed it, but at the same time I found myself thinking fairly often that I could really see myself coming to dislike Henry James. More about that in a moment.

Daisy Miller was one of those shorter works that I read long ago, no doubt as a class assignment. I don't remember much about it except that it was described as the encounter of a lively and somewhat innocent or naive young American woman with the staid and perhaps even corrupt, or at least cynical, traditions of Europe. Actually I think there was sort of a hint of salaciousness in that description--perhaps it was on the cover of the book and was an attempt to deceive a bookstore customer into thinking that it was something racy, which I feel pretty confident in saying it is not.

Anyway, The Portrait of a Lady might get a similar one-sentence blurb. The lady of the title is a young American woman, Isabel Archer, who comes to England full of a desire to see and experience as much of life as she can. (That is not to be taken as it might in today's culture, as suggesting wild adventures with sex and drugs and so forth. I doubt that Henry James would treat it that way even if he were writing today.) And she becomes ensnared in the machinations of profoundly duplicitous people. But it is not Europe, or at least not Europe alone, that's to blame: those people are also Americans, though tenuously, having been born in America or of American parents in Europe, but having spent most of their lives in Europe. Maybe James intended some sort of point about the mixing of the cultures, I don't know.

Isabel is like some of the female protagonists in Austen and Eliot (George): an attractive young woman with a great seriousness of purpose and an intense consciousness of personal integrity, impatient with the conventional dishonesties and compromises of social life. And of course she has suitors, and the question of whom she will marry is a major component of the plot. She has a cousin, male, of somewhere around her own age who is enchanted with her at their first meeting (and thereafter), but apart from their kinship is not eligible as a suitor because he is dying slowly of tuberculosis. For those reasons he exercises real love--the desire for her good--in the only way he can, by wishing and doing for her what he can, which is considerable, to bring about the conditions for her flowering. The working out of his beneficent intention drives the crucial developments of the story.

The reader likewise wishes the best for her. Henry James is not known for his page-turner plots, and this one certainly moves slowly, but the sense of movement builds, and by the time I was within a hundred or so pages (out of nearly 600) of the end I didn't want to put the book down. And I'll leave my remarks about the story proper at that.

One of the vague impulses that made me think of Henry James when I was heading for Dostoevsky was a sudden desire for some really well-crafted, very highly polished, even ornate, prose. And of course I got that. But if there is such a thing as prose that is too well-crafted, there is a lot of it in Henry James. And that touches on my reasons for saying that I could imagine coming to dislike him.

The long and tortuously complex sentences can be annoying. They seem forever trying to get at the last, least, most subtle and evanescent nuance of meaning, in the service of detecting and extracting the last, least, most subtle and evanescent nuance of character and intention. I was occasionally defeated by this, and forced to admit that I really did not know exactly what had been communicated in a conversation (and the book is largely conversation). There were times when the characters have clearly understood some subtlety about which I was not at all clear, and that the exchange was in effect an act as decisive as a slap in the face, but which left me not entirely sure what the act had been--as if the slap had taken place offstage, and I could only infer it by the changed relationship, and even there the change was often quite subtle.

James has a penchant for compounding negatives which sometimes got on my nerves.

It is not to be supposed that he was unaware that he could not fail to deny that the intimation that her remark displeased him was not indelicate.

I made that one up, obviously, and I don't think James actually ever puts together more than three, or maybe four, negatives. And it's justifiable, as a means of suggesting a very slight nuance. But it is a habit that is occasionally annoying and/or amusing. If he talked in anything like the way he wrote, he must have been maddening sometimes. Sometimes his work seems like a huge complex flower grown on the moon, with a stem that can't support it in earthly gravity.

Another thing that bothered me, and one I'm a little embarrassed to confess: these people are for the most part the truly idle rich, and I guess there is enough little-d democrat in me that I now and then I found myself thinking along the lines suggested by snarky remarks about first world problems: "Get a job!"

Even the guy who is said to have "no money" seems never to have hit a lick at a snake, lives in "an ancient villa crowning an olive-muffled hill," and has an envied collection of the sort of expensive and exquisite bric-a-brac--china and such--that Henry James characters tend to have collections of, and of which I have no doubt that James himself was a connoisseur.

Connoisseurship, whatever its object, is something which we are likely to admire a little (at least) in ourselves but to disdain a little (at least) in others--effete and, we suspect, very likely affected, if not fraudulent. I had the latter reaction to the kind of exquisite, snobbish, and expensive tastes exercised by some of James's characters. But however much James himself may have had the same proclivity, he sees that to extend it to people and to become a connoisseur of human specimens, not in their fullness but insofar as they may be possessed and cause their owner to be admired as a man of wealth and taste, can be monstrous.

Still: underneath all the artifice, all the human virtues and vices are still there. The beast in the jungle, to borrow the title of another James work which I have not read, is very much alive in the mansions, palaces, and parlors of these highly privileged people who live a life of artifice such that we, or at least I, can hardly imagine being able to bear.

One final mild reservation: the story ends on what struck me as a slightly strange, decidedly modern, note of liberation, something at least hinting at the follow-your-heart liberationism that flowered (so to speak) in the 20th century. Well, it is modern, in the broad sense, so I shouldn't be surprised, but I didn't really expect it of Henry James.

The_Portrait_of_a_lady_coverCover of the first edition, from Wikipedia

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life

This was mentioned in a weekly Friday Reflection from Touchstone. I had no idea the search had begun so early: 

It began in concept as early as 1896 when Nikola Tesla suggested wireless electrical transmission to contact Martians. In 1899, he thought he had detected a signal from Mars—so he was listening. In 1924, an attempt to listen for Martians from the U. S. Naval Observatory was assisted by Admiral Eberle, chief of Naval Operations: a “National Radio Silence Day” was promoted with radios going silent for five minutes on the hour for 36 hours while a radio receiver in a dirigible floating 1.9 miles up listened for signals.

Personally I am of the opinion that if there are forms of life of a sort with which we could communicate, there is almost no possibility that we will ever know it. Everybody is familiar with the dogma asserted in favor of extraterrestrial life in general: that since there are [very very large number] of stars in the universe, it is so probable as to be all but certain that there will be life of the sort we would recognize as such, and that among those living things there will be some which we would recognize as being like us in having speech and intelligence. 

The proponents of this idea, who usually present it as obvious, and even scientific, don't always mention the materialist and evolutionist axiom that underlies it: that life and consciousness are the products of chance working on matter. If you make that assumption, then it's reasonable to say that given enough stars and enough time, enough planets will form and develop in ways that can support life that enough of these will actually somehow give birth to life, and that enough of these life forms will evolve into intelligent beings that we will probably encounter them. It is all but certain, in this view, that they are out there, and highly probable that they will eventually contact us, or vice versa (or, of course, that this has already happened).  

But if that axiom is not true, the conclusions are in doubt. If chance alone working on a whole heck of a lot of matter is not in fact the explanation for the existence of life and consciousness, then the only reasonable answer to the question "Does intelligent extraterrestrial life exist?" is "We do not know. And moreover we currently have no way of knowing." For my part, I'm firmly, even passionately, agnostic on the question--passionate because the materialist axiom is so little questioned, or even noticed.. 

If materialism as a philosophy is not the correct explanation of the world, then "scientific" pronouncements about extraterrestrial life are only speculation with no solid scientific value. I would argue further that the fact that the materialistic explanation of non-material phenomena such as human consciousness seems more plausible to most people in our time is a mere cultural prejudice. (I don't mean, of course, materialistic explanations for everyday material phenomena. If you're going to study the operations of the physical world, it would be unreasonable not to assume that material effects are produced by material causes. Simple experience and common sense tell us that that is the normal way of things.)

There's another big problem with the whole attempt to detect such life by any means we know. No one seems to believe that any nearby star systems have much potential for supporting life. And if there is life on a system 1,000 light years away, any evidence we receive would only tell us that there was life there 1,000 years ago. And our galaxy is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 light years across. We are not likely to have a very interesting relationship with life forms with whom the exchange Hello. How are you?We're fine. How are you? would take multiple thousands of years. 

And travel across those distances? Well, it's easy to say "warp drive" or "hyperspace" or the more currently favored "wormhole," but these are just words that play the role in science fiction that magic plays in folk tales. The Millenium Falcon and a magic carpet are two instances of the same class of thing. I think I'm correct in saying that even the theoretical possibility of faster-than-light travel is vague, and that no technology implementing it can really even be imagined now--imagined as an actual engineering project, I mean. 

Sure, all that could be proven mistaken and irrelevant tomorrow by some utterly unknown and unforeseen scientific breakthrough. But "you can't prove it will never be possible" is not a scientific position. I really don't have an opinion on whether there are other sentient material beings on other planets, but I do think it's unlikely that we'll ever meet them. 

Now, the possibility of an entirely new order of being in which the spaces and distances we know do not limit us in the way that they now do is another matter entirely. But no possible technology can ever get us there. 

A Note On Dashiell Hammett's Novels

I feel like I should like Dashiell Hammett more than I do. Back in the '70s sometime I discovered Raymond Chandler and pretty much fell in love with the kind of detective story that he wrote: "hard-boiled," but with a vividly poetic streak. And I expected to like Dashiell Hammett just as much. I think I had already seen the famous movie of The Maltese Falcon, and one of the Nick and Nora Charles "Thin Man" movies. I suppose I was thinking that Hammett would be much like Chandler, and very much in the Humphrey Bogart, film noir style of The Maltese Falcon.

I consider Ross Macdonald the great master of this style, and I think it was before I had read Hammett that I came across something by Macdonald which seemed to say that Hammett's work was superior to Chandler's. (I put it that way--"seemed to say"--because it was a long time ago and I'm not certain where I read it.) So around that same time I read, if I remember correctly, The Thin Man and The Glass Key, and was somewhat disappointed. They were good stories but they didn't have the mood and color of Chandler, much less of Macdonald, and nothing close to the psychological depth of the latter. Considering my respect for Macdonald's opinion, I figured it was my problem, that I was missing something that he saw.

Some years later I acquired a one-volume collection of Hammett's novels (there are only five), and quite a few years later--within the last twenty years--I finally gave him another try and read Red Harvest. Again I was disappointed. It was a wild story, involving a sort of labor-related gang war in a Western town. But it didn't strike me as being anything very special from the literary point of view. I can read Chandler and Macdonald over and over again, but I've never reread Hammett.

A few weeks ago, having some kind of inclination to try again, and wanting to read something relatively undemanding, I read The Dain Curse, and once again failed to sense the genius that some apparently see in Hammett's work. In fact for somewhere around half of it I was mildly annoyed. It was written as a four-part magazine serial, and it shows. Each of the first two parts is a story that more or less stands alone. Crimes occur, and the detective--the nameless employee of the Continental Detective Agency, the "Continental op[erative]"--solves it instantly and to my mind not always plausibly on the basis of a few details.

It's a story of complicated evil deeds, and an interesting set of puzzles, but it didn't engage me much beyond the basic what-happens-next narrative pull. I've never cared much about the puzzle-solving element of detective fiction, and I didn't get very involved with the characters, or get any sense of, for lack of a better term, philosophical depth that I find in Macdonald and Chandler, though to a lesser degree in the latter.

So I remain unappreciative and unenthusiastic about Hammett. Next time I get the urge to read something of this sort I'll revisit one of those I read in the '70s--or The Maltese Falcon, which may or may not be a revisiting. I'm embarrassed to say that I honestly can't remember whether I've read it. I sort of think I have, but if I did the movie, which I've seen at least twice, has overwhelmed it in my mind.


This is not the edition I have. This is the Library of America edition. Maybe if I read this one I'd be more impressed.

Here Lays "Lie"

I'm actually not a grammar martinet, although it may sometimes seem that way. I've never paid a lot of attention to rules of grammar, not in the sense of being able to state them, and talk of verb tenses and such usually confuses me. It's just a matter of what sounds right or wrong, very much like hearing the right or wrong notes in music (leaving out the case where the "wrong" one is deliberately used, or the whole idea of wrongness is being subverted). Certain grammatical errors give me something like the pain of hearing a bad mistake in music.

One of these is the "lie-lay" distinction. I can't quote the rule that governs them, but I know that "I'm going to go lay down" hurts my ears. This is now so common that the incorrect use probably occurs more frequently than the correct. The trend has been in place for a long time now. There were always a fair number of people whose native usage, so to speak--what they had grown up hearing--was the incorrect one. Teachers tried to change them, but it didn't always work (to say the least). I remember when I was getting physical therapy for a back problem thirty years ago that the therapist would instruct me to "lay down" and do this or that exercise.

So I thought I was pretty much reconciled to the fact that this is a lost cause. But I had that realization driven home definitively a few weeks ago when I read a sentence written by someone with a PhD that went something like this: "Beneath this concern lays this other concern...". It was not a PhD in science or engineering where language is merely functional, but in theology, where words are hugely important. (I do know where I read it, and just checked again to make sure I wasn't misreading the text, but am not going to identify it, partly because I see no reason to expose the writer to ridicule for his grammar or myself to ridicule as a grammar martinet. Anyway, it's possible that it was only a typo.)

Anyway, I think that use of the word "lie" is actually passing out of use altogether, with only the other word, "lie" as in "speak falsely," remaining. Well, it's certainly a word to which we need to resort quite often.


Oh, never mind (graphic from Grammarly.com)


Martin Phipps: From the Soundtrack of The Crown

When I watched the series I was so struck by this segment that I went looking for the soundtrack. It's called "New Queen," with apparently semi-ironic intent, since it occurs at the end of Series 3, Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee.

I absolutely love that piece. I just wish it went on longer. There are other good things in the soundtrack but nothing grabbed me as much as this.

Here's the whole scene. I take it for granted that the series gives a picture in some ways false, but whatever might be said along that line, Olivia Colman's performance as Elizabeth is outstanding:

Penelope Fitzgerald: The Knox Brothers

My attempts to impose some kind of order and method on my reading never last, and the reason is usually that some stray impulse seizes me and I pick up a book that was not in line to be read, sometimes not even toward the end of that line but rather in the "someday" or even the "maybe someday" category. This book was one of those. I don't even remember why I picked it up, except that it was lying conspicuosly on the shelf out of place and on top of a stack. Probably I was looking for another book when this one caught my eye.

Anyway I didn't need to read very much before deciding to continue.

I didn't know that there were four Knox brothers and that they were all remarkably gifted. I think I had heard that Ronald had a brother who was an Anglican clergyman, but that was all. They were, from oldest to youngest, Edmund, Dillwyn, Wilfred, and Ronald. Edmund was a writer, chiefly satirical I think, and was associated for much of his life with Punch, including a stint as editor. Dillwyn was a classicist and, during the 20th century wars, a cryptographer. Wilfred was an Anglo-Catholic with a very strong commitment to the social justice efforts of the Church, a fairly rare combination I suspect, at least in that he didn't just talk social justice but also acted vigorously for it.

And Ronald--well, any Catholic who has an interest in that very rich vein of English Christianity that flowered from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th knows who Ronald is. He, as I implied, was the reason I had any interest in this book at all, but the other three proved to be as interesting as he, in their general capacity as human beings rather than as a result of their fame.

But the reason I didn't put the book back on the shelf after browsing it for a bit had at least as much to do with the quality of the writing as with my interest in the Knoxes. It's a very well-crafted piece of literature in itself. I was vaguely aware that there is an English novelist named Penelope Fitzgerald, but had never read anything by her, and certainly had no idea that she was the niece of Ronald Knox: Edmund Knox was her father. She was a late bloomer as a writer--published in 1977 when she was 60, this was only her second book, and the novels came later.

I can't tell what Fitzgerald's own religious views are, but she is certainly both knowledgeable about and sympathetic toward those of her two committed uncles. The other uncle seems to have been agnostic if not atheist, and if there is any mention in the book of her father's religion it's not much emphasized. Their father was also an Anglican clergyman, eventually a bishop, but of very Evangelical convictions, and the Catholic sympathies of two of his sons were a great disappointment to him.

While they were growing up these two brothers had been about as close as age permitted, and Ronald's "going over" to Rome was as big a disappointment to his Anglo-Catholic brother as to their father. It meant not just a theological divergence but a rupture in the family, and was very painful to both. I admit that I previously had almost no sense of what Ronald Knox was like as a person, and the effect of this and many other aspects of his life naturally shed light on his work.

Fitzgerald is straightforward in her affection for all four brothers, and the book is a warm tribute. She keeps herself out of it as a character--apart from the foreword, I'm not sure that the word "I" occurs in the narrative. Only if you happened to notice that Edmund was the only one of the brothers to have a daughter would you realize that when it is related that Ronald said this or that "to his niece" it was said to the author of the book you're reading. Yet the whole thing is suffused with a personal warmth, as promised in the preface:

In this book I have done my best to tell the story of my father and his three brothers. All four of them were characteristically reticent about themselves, but, at the same time, most unwilling to let any moment pass without question. I have tried to take into account both their modesty and their love of truth, and to arrive at the kind of biography of which they would have approved.

When I was very young I took my uncles for granted, and it never occurred to me that everyone else in the world was not like them. Later on I found that this was not so, and eventually I began to want to make some kind of record of their distinctive attitude to life, which made it seem as though, in spite of their differences, they shared one sense of humour and one mind.

We, as well as they, are well served by her book. Recommended enthusiastically as a completely fascinating picture of a fascinating family, as well as the now-vanished culture they inhabited.

The Knox children lost their mother early, when Ronald was four. In discussing their father's need to remarry and the kind of woman whom he could marry, Fitzgerald notes that "She would have to be vicarage born and bred." A whole way of life, now presumably unknown to anyone living, is implied in that.

Addendum: I had totally forgotten and had to be reminded by Janet that Marianne had contributed a piece on Penelope Fitzgerald to the 52 Authors thing we did in 2015. It's really good. Click here.

A New Kind of Crazy

From a comment at Rod Dreher's blog: "Throughout human history....people have gone stark raven mad or crazy."

I like that. I had a post about that kind of thing not so very long ago--not craziness, I mean, but the phenomenon where someone substitutes for a word that was really part of a saying or idiom another that sounds like it, as in "tow the line." Though this one may just be an erroneous auto-correct that slipped by. Anyway, it's a rather striking image. 

Remembering 9/11--Or Not

I don't really have anything interesting to add to the reminiscences that are appearing everywhere. I wrote about the event fifteen years ago, in a Sunday Night Journal post called "Eventually, Like Napoleon: My 9/11 Column." On re-reading it, I see a sentiment that would get me labelled as a xenophobe now, and probably would have then if the people who like to use the word had happened to read the piece: I proposed as one possible response that we (the country) could begin being really, really careful about immigration from mostly or officially Muslim countries.

But on this anniversary I'm aware of one element of some of these reminiscences that I don't recall seeing before: prefatory remarks along the lines of "For those old enough to remember..." That was startling to me. Can it really have been long enough since September 2001 that there are people young enough not to remember it?

Well, yes, of course, it can and it is. Most people under twenty-five or so will have little or no memory, and since we persist, in spite of evidence to the contrary, in treating anyone over twenty-one as an adult, this comes to a fair number of adults. And what memory they do have will be those of a child who had no idea what was really going on. And many of those under thirty won't have a great deal more than that. 

This reminds me of a similarly startling realization that hit me some thirty years ago. At work one day several of us were standing around talking, the way people do in offices (unless someone prevents them), and the question came up, as it sometimes does among people old enough to remember it: where were you when you heard that JFK had been shot? A couple of people gave their answers (I was in 10th grade biology class). Then one young woman, having heard these, piped up: "I don't have any idea where I was because I was only two years old." And yet there she was, one of us, the grown-up people doing grown-up jobs. I think the rest of us were a bit stunned; I know I was. How could there be a functioning adult who did not remember the Kennedy assassination? (The first one, I mean. The second one never had the same effect.)

I just can't get used to this time thing. 

Henry James On Rich Progressives

I'm reading The Portrait of a Lady (for the first time, and have no idea what is going to become of the heroine, so please don't put spoilers in the comments) and very much enjoying it. This passage has a striking contemporary relevance. Isabel Archer, the lady of the title, has come from America to visit her uncle, Mr. Touchett, an American who has spent much of his life acquiring a fortune in England. Since Mr. Touchett is portrayed as a pretty wise old fellow, I don't think it's too much to suppose that James agrees with him here. He's speaking to Isabel about the professed radical political views of a local aristocrat, Lord Warburton, and others like him.

"You see, when you come to the point it wouldn’t suit them to be taken at their word.”

“Of whom are you speaking?”

“Well, I mean Lord Warburton and his friends—the radicals of the upper class. Of course I only know the way it strikes me. They talk about the changes, but I don’t think they quite realise. You and I, you know, we know what it is to have lived under democratic institutions: I always thought them very comfortable, but I was used to them from the first. And then I ain’t a lord; you’re a lady, my dear, but I ain’t a lord. Now over here I don’t think it quite comes home to them. It’s a matter of every day and every hour, and I don’t think many of them would find it as pleasant as what they’ve got. Of course if they want to try, it’s their own business; but I expect they won’t try very hard.”

“Don’t you think they’re sincere?” Isabel asked.

“Well, they want to feel earnest,” Mr. Touchett allowed; “but it seems as if they took it out in theories mostly. Their radical views are a kind of amusement; they’ve got to have some amusement, and they might have coarser tastes than that. You see they’re very luxurious, and these progressive ideas are about their biggest luxury. They make them feel moral and yet don’t damage their position. They think a great deal of their position; don’t let one of them ever persuade you he doesn’t, for if you were to proceed on that basis you’d be pulled up very short.”