Category Archives: Tradition


‘You see, Don Pietrino, the “nobles”, as you call them, aren’t so easy to understand. They live in a world of their own, created not directly by God but by themselves during centuries of highly specialised experiences, of their own worries and joys; they have a very strong collective memory, and so they’re put out or pleased by things which wouldn’t matter at all to you and me, but which to them seem vitally connected with their heritage of memories, hopes, caste fears. Divine Providence has willed that I should become a humble member of the most glorious Order in an Eternal Church whose eventual victory has been assured; you are at the other end of the scale, by which I don’t mean the lowest but the most different. When you find a thick bush of marjoram or a well-filled nest of Spanish flies (you look for those too, Don Pietrino, I know) you are in direct communication with the natural world which the Lord created with undifferentiated possibilities of good and evil until man could exercise his own free will on it; and when you’re consulted by evil old women and eager young girls, you are plunging back into the dark abyss of centuries that preceded the light from Golgotha.’

The old man looked at him in amazement; he had wanted to know if the Prince of Salina was satisfied or not with the latest changes, and the other was talking to him about aphrodisiacs and light from Golgotha. ‘All that reading’s driven him off his head, poor man.’

‘But the “nobles” aren’t like that; all they live by has been handled by others. They find us ecclesiastics useful to reassure them about eternal life, just as you herbalists are here to procure them soothing or stimulating drinks. And by that I don’t mean  they’re bad people; quite the contrary. They’re just different; perhaps they appear so strange to us because they have reached a stage towards which all those who are not saints are moving, that of indifference to earthly goods through surfeit. Perhaps it’s because of that they take so little notice of things that are of great importance to us; those on mountains don’t worry about mosquitoes in plains, nor do the people in Egypt about, umbrellas. Yet the former fear landslides, the latter crocodiles, which are no worry to us. For them new fears have appeared of which we’re ignorant; I’ve seen Don Fabrizio get quite testy, wise and serious though he is, because of a badly ironed collar to his shirt; and I know for certain that the Prince of Lascari didn’t sleep for a whole night from rage because he was wrongly placed at one of the Viceroy’s dinners. Now don’t you think that a human being who is put out only by bad washing or protocol must be happy, and thus superior?’

Don Pietrino could understand nothing at all now: all this was getting more and more nonsensical, what with shirt collars and crocodiles. He was still upheld, though, by a basis of good rustic commonsense. ‘But if that’s what they’re like, Father, they’ll all go to Hell.’

‘Why? Some will be lost, others saved, according to how they’ve lived in that conditioned world of theirs. Salina himself, for instance, might just scrape through; he plays his own game decently, follows the rules, doesn’t cheat. God punishes those who voluntarily contravene the Divine Laws which they know and turn voluntarily down a bad road; one who goes his own way, so long as he doesn’t misbehave along it, is always all right. If you, Don Pietrino, sold hemlock instead of mint, knowingly, you’d be for it; but if you thought you’d picked the right one, old Zana would die the noble death of Socrates and you’d go straight to Heaven with a cassock and wings of purest white.’

The death of Socrates was too much for the herbalist; he had given up and was fast asleep. Father Pirrone noticed this and was pleased, for now he would be able to talk freely without fear of being misunderstood; and he felt a need of talking, so as to fix into a pattern of phrases some ideas obscurely milling in his head.

‘And they do a lot of good, too. If you knew, for instance, the families otherwise homeless that find shelter in those palaces! And the owners ask for no return, not even immunity from petty theft. They do it not from ostentation but from a sort of obscure atavistic instinct which prevents them doing anything else. Although it may not seem so, they are in fact less selfish than many others; the splendour of their homes, the pomp of their receptions, have something impersonal about them, something not unlike the grandeur of churches and of liturgy, something which is in fact ad maiorem gentis gloriam, and that redeems a great deal: for every glass of champagne drunk by themselves they offer fifty to others; when they treat someone badly, as they do sometimes, it is not so much their personality sinning as their class affirming itself. Fata crescunt. For instance, Don Fabrizio has protected and educated his nephew Tancredi and so saved a poor orphan who would have otherwise been lost. You say that he did it because the young man is a noble too, and that he wouldn’t have lifted a finger for anyone else. That’s true, but why should he lift a finger if sincerely, in the deep roots of his heart, he considers all “others” to be botched attempts, china figurines come misshapen from the potter’s hands and not worth putting to the test of fire.

‘You, Don Pietrino, if you weren’t asleep at this moment, would be jumping up to tell me that the nobles are wrong to have this contempt of others, and that all of us, equally subject to the double slavery of love and death, are equal before the Creator; and I would have to agree with you. But I’d add that not only nobles are to be blamed for despising others, since that is quite a general vice. A university professor despises a parish schoolmaster even if he doesn’t show it, and since you’re asleep I can tell you without reticence that we clergy consider ourselves superior to the laity, we Jesuits superior to the other clergy, just as you herbalists despise tooth-pullers who in their turn deride you. Doctors on the other hand jeer at both tooth-pullers and herbalists, and are themselves treated as fools by their patients who expect to be kept alive with hearts or livers in a hopeless state; to magistrates lawyers are just bores who try to delay the course of law, and on the other hand literature is full of satires against the pomposity, indolence and often worse of those very judges. The only people who also despise themselves are labourers; when they’ve learnt to jeer at others the circle will be closed and we’ll start all over again.

‘Have you ever thought, Don Pietrino, how many names of jobs have become insults? From trooper and fishwife to reitre or pompier in French? People don’t think of the merits of troopers or fishwives; they just look at their marginal defects and call them all rough and profane; and as you can’t hear me, I may tell you that I’m perfectly aware of the exact current meaning of the word “Jesuit”.

‘Then these nobles put a good face on their own disasters: I’ve seen one who’d decided to kill himself next day, poor man, looking beaming and happy as a boy on the eve of his first Communion; while if you, Don Pietrino, had to drink one of your own herb drinks, you’d make the village ring with your laments. To rage and mock is gentlemanly; to grumble and whine is not. In fact I could give you a recipe: if you meet a “gentleman” who’s querulous, look up his family tree; you’ll soon find a dead branch.

‘It’s a class difficult to suppress because it’s in continual renewal and because if needs be it can die well, that is it can throw out a seed at the moment of death. Look at France; they let themselves be massacred with elegance there and now they’re back as before. I say as before, because it is differences of attitude, not estates and feudal rights, which make a noble.

‘They tell me that in Paris nowadays there are Polish counts who’ve been forced into exile and poverty by revolts and despotism; they drive cabs, but frown so at their middle-class customers that the poor things get into the cab, without knowing why, as humbly as dogs in church.

‘And I can tell you too, Don Pietrino, that if, as has often happened before, this class were to vanish, an equivalent one would be formed straight away with the same qualities and the same defects; it might not be based on blood any more, but possibly on … on, say, length of time in a place, or pretended knowledge of some text presumed sacred.’

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, 1958.


Frans Snyder

FAISANDAGE–The French term for red meat which is in the condition which, in England, is known as “high.” It is derived from faisan (pheasant).

When it is fresh, pheasant is tough and without much flavour. lt grows tender and its aroma develops after it has been hung for a longer or shorter time, depending upon the temperature. Nowadays, pheasant is no longer hung, as advocated by Montaigne, “until it develops a marked smell.”

In Brillat-Savarin’s time, pheasant was not considered fit for the gastronome’s table, except in a state of complete putrefaction. This authority recommends, in effect, that it should be kept, unplucked, until its breast turns green, so that it has to be held together for roasting on the spit by a slice of bread tied on with ribbon.

Grimod de La Reynière declared that it was ready when, being hung up by the tail, it fell down of its own accord. “Pheasant,” he says in a weighty phrase, “wishes to be waited for as a government pension is waited for by a man of letters who never learnt how to flatter anyone!” To make his meaning perfectly clear, he continues: “a pheasant killed on Shrove Tuesday will make perfect eating on Easter Day!”

Apart from a few sportsmen in love with tradition, most people have today abandoned these excesses. Winged game and ground game, when hung for a certain length of time, acquire a flavour similar to that of pheasant.

This habit of hanging meat until it is high, though approved of by a few connoisseurs, usually motivated by snobbery, is properly reprehended by those concerned with hygiene and also by the true gastronome.

Prosper Montagné, Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery, 1961


Caspar David Friedrich

Now, from a practical point of view, what has been the influence of symbolism on the soul?

And Durtal answered himself: the Middle Ages, which knew that everything on earth is a sign and a figure, that the visible is valuable only for what is invisibly concealed beneath it, the Middle Ages which, as a consequence, wasn’t duped as we are today by appearances, studied this science very closely, and made of it the procuress and the handmaid of mysticism.

Convinced that the only aim that was important for man to follow, that the only goal that was necessary here below, was to enter into direct communication with heaven and to outstrip death by merging himself, by unifying himself as much as possible with God, it carried souls away, subjected them to the sobering diet of the cloister, pruned them of their earthly preoccupations, their carnal ambitions, always pointing them back to the same thoughts of renunciation and repentance, the same ideas of justice and love, and then, in order to hold them, to preserve them from themselves, it enclosed them with a fence, placed God always around them, under every form and under very aspect.

Jesus cropped up everywhere, attested to himself in the flora, in the fauna, in the structure of buildings, in decorations, in colours; whichever way man turned, he saw him.

And he saw also, as if in a mirror reflecting it, his own soul; he could discern, in certain plants, the qualities he had to acquire, the vices against which he had to defend himself.

And he had other examples before his eyes, because the symbolists didn’t limit themselves to turning treatises on botany, mineralogy, natural history, and other sciences into a course of catechism; some, Saint Melito among them, ended by applying their interpretative procedure to every object that came their way; to them, a zither turned into the chest of a devout man; the members of the human body metamorphosed into emblems: so the head signified Christ; the hairs were the saints; the nose, discretion; the nostrils, the spirit of faith; the eyes, contemplation; the mouth, temptation; the saliva, the sweetness of the inner life; the ears, obedience; the arms, the love of Jesus; the hands, good works; the knees, the sacrament of penance; the legs, the apostles; the shoulders, the yoke of Christ; the breasts, evangelical doctrine; the belly, avarice; the bowels, the mysterious precepts of Our Lord; the trunk and the loins, thoughts of lust; the bones, hardness of heart; the marrow, compunction; the cartilage, the feeble followers of Antichrist … and these writers extended this method of exegesis to the commonest objects of daily use, even to the tools and utensils that were within reach of everyone.

It was an uninterrupted succession of pious lessons. Ivo of Chartres tells us that priests instructed the people in symbolism, and Dom Pitra‘s research shows that in the Middle Ages Saint Melito’s treatise was popular and known to all. So the peasant knew that his plough was an image of the cross, that the furrows it made were like the freshly tilled hearts of the saints; he was not unaware that sheaves of corn signalled the fruit of repentance, that flour was the multitude of the faithful, the granary, the kingdom of heaven; and it was the same for many other professions; in short, this method of analogy was a constant invitation to everyone to observe more carefully and to pray better.

Used like this, symbolism served as a brake, bringing the forward march of sin to a grinding halt, and as a set of points, shifting souls and helping them pass through the stops of the mystical life. No doubt this science, translated into so many languages, was only intelligible in broad outline to the masses, and at times, when it was extruded through intricate minds such as that of the worthy Durand of Mende, it appeared overwrought, full of contradictions and accidental meanings. Then it seemed as if the symbolists took pleasure in splitting hairs with embroidery scissors; but in spite of these exaggerations, which it tolerated with a smile, the Church succeeded nevertheless through this tactic of repetition in saving souls, in carrying out the work of the saints on a large scale.

Then came the Renaissance, and symbolism foundered at the same time as church architecture.

J.-K Huysmans, The Cathedral, 1898

The Sentimentality of Science

Jacques-Louis David

It is ‘common sense’ that sees only the world of the senses as real, and that admits of no knowledge other than the one that comes from the senses; moreover, it ascribes value to this narrow form of knowledge only insofar as it offers a possibility of satisfying either material needs or a certain sentimentalism, for in reality sentiment—and this must be frankly stated at the risk of shocking contemporary moralism—lies quite close to matter. In all this there remains no place for intelligence, or at most only insofar as intelligence may consent to serve for the attainment of practical ends, and to become a mere instrument subordinated to the requirements of the lowest and most corporeal part of the human individual—”a tool for making tools”, to quote a significant expression of Bergson: it is an utter indifference to truth that begets pragmatism in all its forms.

Under such conditions, industry is no longer merely an application of science, an application from which science should, in itself, remain completely independent; it has become the reason for, and justification of, science to such an extent that here too the normal relations between things have been reversed. What the modern world has striven after with all its strength, even when it has claimed in its own way to pursue science, is really nothing other than the development of industry and machinery; and in thus seeking to dominate matter and bend it to their service, men have only succeeded, as we said at the beginning of this book, in becoming its slaves. Not only have they limited their intellectual ambition—if such a term can still be used in the present state of things—to inventing and constructing machines, but they have ended by becoming in fact machines themselves.

René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World, 1927

Open Mind, No Mind

Raoul Hausmann

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

G.K. Chesterton, Heretics