An appreciation of artists

What an artist creates and how he goes about it , in what choice of subject or medium, is not only his own business but his alone to judge.

Max Beckmann (1884- 1950) rejected abstract or non-representational painting, unlike so many of his contemporaries, and instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. ‘I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.’

Max Beckmann greatly admired Cézanne, but also Van Gogh, Blake, Rembrandt, Rubens and the Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance such as Bosch, or Bruegel. His style and method of composition are also rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Encompassing portraiture, landscape, still life, mythology and the fantastic, his work created a very personal, authentic version of modernism. Beckmann re-invented the triptych, and utilized this compositional form of medieval painting as a looking glass of contemporary humanity.

“Carnival” by Max Beckmann








From his beginnings as an artist until after World War II, Beckmann’s work reflects an era of radical change in both art and history. Many of Max Beckmann‘s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Persecuted by the Nazis, he was forced to flee his homeland and work in relative isolation while the war turned Europe upside down. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate.

Beckmann said “Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space.. If the canvas is filled only with a two-dimensional conception of space we shall have applied art, or ornament. Certainly this may give us pleasure, though I myself find it boring as it does not give me enough visual sensation. To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic, in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.”

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Charles Berlitz and the Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle (1974) Charles Berlitz

Rating: ★★★★☆

Charles Berlitz, 90, the eminent linguist who wrote the bestsellers ‘The Bermuda Triangle’, ‘The Lost continent of Atlantis‘ and ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’, died Dec. 18th 2003 at Tamarac, Florida.

Mr. Berlitz was the grandson of Maximilian Berlitz, who founded the language schools that bear the family name. Charles was born in New York in 1913 and grew up in a household where he was encouraged to learn a new language every year. By age 3, he spoke four languages and had created his own.

I didn’t realize my family were speaking different languages,” he told The Washington Post in a 1982 profile. “I thought every person had their own particular way of speaking. Since I’d hear my mother switch to German when she spoke to my grandfather, I thought everyone had to learn everyone else’s way of speaking to communicate. I wanted my own language, too.”

Berlitz spent 26 years of his life in the US Army, half of that on active duty, serving as an intelligence officer. He served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Over the years, he also did counter-intelligence and investigative work for the military.

The Washington Post reported that he married Valerie Seary Berlitz  in 1950, and he was also survived by a daughter, Lin Berlitz-Hilton; and two grandchildren. His daughter summed up the manner in which her father lived his quite extraordinary life, “He was the last of the real gentlemen. He taught me that every person you meet has the ability to teach you something interesting.”

He met his future wife when she was studying at a Berlitz school in Australia and asked for a refund. He said the encounter resulted in a marriage proposal but no money, explaining: “Hard company to get a refund from.”

During his life, he learned 30 languages from Arabic to Zulu. He wrote dozens of books about language, a subject he described as more than simply communication. Words also indicate how people of different cultures think, he said, citing as an example how the colour red in China symbolizes joy, celebration and marriage, while white is associated with death and mourning.

His book “Native Tongues” (1982) was a compendium of anecdotes about the development of language. He noted that the Italian greeting “ciao” came from the word for “slave,” schiavo, or “I am your slave..”

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William J Long 1866- 1952

William Joseph Long was an American writer, naturalist and minister. He lived and worked in Stamford, Connecticut.

Samuel Clemens

As a naturalist, he would leave Stamford every March, often with his two daughters Lois and Cesca, to travel to ‘the wilderness’ of Maine. William Long believed that the best way to experience the wild was to plant yourself and sit for hours on end to let the wild creatures “come to you; and they will!”

They would stay in the wilderness until the first snows of October, although sometimes he would stay all winter. In the 1920s, he began spending his summers in Nova Scotia, claiming “the wilderness is getting too crowded”.

He shared many of the same ideas of ‘wilderness America’ conserving and revitalizing the human spirit, as John Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, although as independent minded men, they were somewhat critical of each other.

He wrote of these wilderness experiences in the books Ways of Wood Folk (1899), Wilderness Ways (1900), Wood Folk at School (1903), Northern Trails (1905), Wood-folk Comedies (1920), and many others. His style was homely, individualistic, and compassionate, but perhaps lacking realism. Many of his early books were issued in school editions under the title of The Wood Folk Series.

He had a keen interest in the development of English and American Literature. Outlines of English and American Literature : An Introduction.. published in 1909, is written in such a charming style, I will devote the following Post to present its introductory material. It is freely available on the Internet.

Because of the increased interest in the natural world as a reaction to industrialization and urban life, many of his books were studied in the schools of the time. However, John Burroughs, adviser to President Roosevelt, accused William Long of gross exaggeration, if not outright lies, regarding his books and the reflections of nature therein. In March 1903, Burroughs published an article entitled “Real and Sham Natural History” in the Atlantic Monthly.

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Robert Louis Stevenson 1850- 1894

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother, Margaret Balfour Stevenson, was a minister’s daughter, and his father, Thomas Stevenson, was a civil engineer, and with his grandfather, a famed lighthouse builder.

Stevenson was a sickly child, born with a lung disorder, and spent much time in his bedroom drawing or painting, playing with toys, and making up wonderful stories of faraway lands and exciting adventures. He always yearned to go that “somewhere of the imagination where all the troubles are supposed to end”. His formal education started at the age of seven, but his studies were undertaken with great irregularity. What he loved most about school were the magazines he initiated: miscellaneous collections of ‘fact, fiction and fun’, titled Sunbeam Magazine and The Schoolboy Magazine. At his father’s insistence, he entered Edinburgh University to study Engineering. He then went on to study Law, although he was much more interested in Literature and writing.

In 1878, his first book, An Inland Voyage, was published, closely followed by Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879). This was a fascinating account of a romantic hike through the forests and hills of central France, with unforgettable scenes of Stevenson sleeping under the stars, with the strong-willed Modestine tethered by his side. His love of the people he encountered shines throughout. With such a strong visual sense, it is hardly surprising that Stevenson’s stories remain ever popular with successive generations of readers.

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John Milton 1608- 1674

John Milton was arguably one of the greatest writers in the English language. He also was a noted historian, scholar, pamphleteer, and civil servant.

Milton ranks along with William Shakespeare among English poets; his writings and his influence are an important part of the history of English literature, culture, and thought. He is best known for Paradise Lost, which is generally regarded, as he intended, the greatest epic poem in the English language. Milton’s prose works, however, deserve their place in modern histories of political and religious thought.

According to one biographer, Milton “was loved by many, hated by some, but ignored by few.” How did John Milton come to have such influence? What made his last work—On Christian Doctrine—so controversial that it remained unpublished for 150 years? (John Milton: A Biography)

John Milton was born into a financially secure London family in 1608. “My father destined me in early childhood for the study of literature, for which I had so keen an appetite that from my twelfth year scarcely ever did I leave my studies for my bed before the hour of midnight,” Milton recalled. He excelled scholastically and received a master’s degree at Cambridge in 1632. Thereafter, he continued to read history and classical literature. By his own account, his early enthusiasm for the sensual poetry of Ovid and other Roman writers gave way to an appreciation of the idealism of Dante, Petrarch, and Edmund Spenser. He then moved on to Platonic philosophy and finally came to hold the biblical Book of Revelation in the highest esteem. Milton’s scholarly and literary gifts had from childhood marked him out in the minds of his family and teachers for the ministry, however  Milton wanted to be a poet. England in his day was in the throes of revolution. Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, appointed a court that had King Charles I executed in 1649. Using persuasive prose, Milton defended this action and became a spokesman for the Cromwell government. In fact, before attaining fame as a poet, John Milton was already well-known for his tracts on politics and morals..

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Galileo Galilei 1564– 1642

Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo studied medicine at the university there. Showing little interest in that discipline, he abandoned it for the study of physics and mathematics. In 1585 he settled in Florence without obtaining any academic qualification. Yet, he gained the esteem of the greatest mathematicians of his day, credited with the discovery of certain principles of inertia, and winning the post of mathematics lecturer at the University of Pisa. After his father’s death, economic difficulties forced Galileo to move to Padua, where he was appointed to a more lucrative position, the chair of mathematics in that city’s university.

During his 18 years in Padua, three children were born to Galileo by his mistress, a young Venetian woman. In 1610 he returned to Florence, where he obtained a better economic situation enabling him to dedicate more time to research—but at the expense of the freedom he had enjoyed in the territory of the powerful Venetian Republic.  (The Library of Original Sources, Vol. VI, 1915)

A step leading to the confrontation between Galileo and the church occurred back in the 13th century, and involved Catholic authority Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Aquinas had a profound respect for Aristotle, whom he referred to as The Philosopher. Aquinas struggled for five years to fuse Aristotle’s philosophy with church teaching. By the time of Galileo, says Wade Rowland in his book Galileo’s Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation Between Galileo and the Church, “the hybridized Aristotle in the theology of Aquinas had become bedrock dogma of the Church of Rome.” In those days there was no scientific community as such. Education was largely in the hands of the church. The authority on religion and science was often one and the same.

The next step became the confrontation between the church and Galileo. Even before his involvement with astronomy, Galileo had written a treatise on motion. It challenged many assumptions made by the revered Aristotle. However, it was Galileo’s steadfast promotion of the heliocentric concept and his assertion that it harmonizes with Scripture that led to his trial by the Inquisition in 1633.

In his defence, Galileo affirmed his strong faith in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. He also argued that the Scriptures were written for ordinary people and that Biblical references to the apparent movement of the sun were not to be interpreted literally. His arguments were futile. Because Galileo rejected an interpretation of Scripture based on Greek philosophy, he stood condemned! Not until 1992 did the Catholic Church officially admit to error in its judgment of Galileo.

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Thomas Babington Macaulay 1800-1859

The History of England

What a marvellous name! The family of Macaulay belonged originally to the Scottish highlands. His mother was a brilliant woman of Quaker descent; his father was a business man who was very successful in trade, and appointed at one time governor of the Sierra Leone Colony in Africa, and he spent the whole of his fortune in helping to free the slaves. In consequence, when Macaulay left college he faced the immediate problem of supporting himself and his family.
We should take note of Macaulay’s personal qualities. He read everything from Plato to the cheapest novel, and after reading a book, could recall practically the whole of it after a lapse of twenty years. To this photographic memory we are indebted for the wealth of quotation, allusion and anecdote which brightens every page of his writings. Probably a few of his errors too!

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William Morgan and the Welsh Bible

William Morgan was born in 1545 at Ty Mawr Wybrnant, in the parish of Penmachno, near Betws-y-Coed, North Wales. He attended St John’s College, Cambridge where he studied a range of subjects including Philosophy, Mathematics and Greek.

The Welsh translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was completed by 1567. It was basically the work of two scholars, William Salesbury and Richard Davies, with Thomas Huet’s translation of the book of Revelation. William Morgan, a Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholar, later revised their translations, adding his rendering of the Hebrew Scriptures. The complete Bible was finally printed in 1588, and by means of it, the goal ‘that every Welshman could draw the truth of the Scriptures from the fountain-head in his own language’ was realized ( Wales: A History, by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, p.155). Why was royal consent given? For the political expediency of religious uniformity and discouraging Catholicism. The fledgling Anglican Church was committed to national sovereignty over England and Wales, and the disappearance of medieval Catholicism, meant replacing the Mass with scriptural exposition. The Act of 1563 actually stated: ‘that the Welsh people might better learn to love and fear God, to serve and obey their Prince (meaning, Elizabeth I), and to know their duties toward their neighbours’..

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William Tyndale c.1494- 1536

WILLIAM TYNDALE, born about 1494, near Gloucester, England, at a turbulent time, that of Henry VIII. He excelled in the study of Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In July 1515  he received a Master of Arts degree at Oxford University.

By 1521 he was an ordained Roman Catholic priest. At that time Catholicism in Germany was in turmoil because of Martin Luther’s activity, but England remained a Catholic country until Henry VIII finally broke with Rome in 1534, and in this respect, was a religious backwater.

About 1521 he came to the home of Sir John Walsh as a tutor for his children. Mealtimes around Walsh’s table often found the young Tyndale debating with the local clergy. Among them was John Stokesley, who had known Tyndale at Oxford. He later replaced Cuthbert Tunstall as bishop of London.

Tyndale matter-of-factly challenged their opinions by using the Bible. In time, the Walsh family became convinced of what Tyndale was saying, and the clergymen were invited less often and were received with less enthusiasm. Naturally, this embittered the clerics further against Tyndale and his beliefs. Tyndale grew convinced that the Bible alone should determine the practices and doctrines of the church and that every believer should be able to read the Bible in his own language..

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John Hales 1584- 1656

John Hales was a principled English protestant divine born at Bath in 1584. After an education at Oxford, he was elected fellow of Eton College, the capacity for which he is best known. By 1636, his liberal theological views had brought him into conflict with the masterful,autocratic William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, who however, was so charmed by his learning and conversation, that he appointed him as a canon of Windsor.

Hales was a man of learning, well read in many branches of literature, a man of sound common sense, well balanced and moderate in his views, disliked extremism, with a reputation as a peacemaker among his contemporaries. He taught a passion for unity, the value of study, a questioning of religious dogma, but also the necessity of faith.  He greatly admired the teachings of Faustus Socinus (see Post: The Socinians in Poland ), and Clarendon said of Hales, ‘he would often say that he would renounce the Church of England tomorrow if it obliged him to believe that any other Christians should be damned, and that nobody would conclude a man to be damned who did not wish him so.’

Hales was one of the earliest admirers of Shakespeare, Dryden saying of him, ‘there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but that he would produce it much better done in Shakespeare’. Like many scholars, Hales wrote little, and reluctantly. His miscellaneous writings were collected and published in 1659, under the title ‘Golden Remains of the Ever Memorable Mr. John Hales’

In 1649, Hales was turned out of his Eton fellowship, having refused to take the oath of ‘engagement’ to the Cromwellian regime. This oath took the form: “I do declare and promise, that I will be true and faithful to the Commonwealth of England, as it is now established, without a King or House of Lords.” He refused on the basis of neutrality. He spent the rest of his life in great want, which was relieved to some extent by the sale of his valuable collection of books. He died on 19 May 1656.

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