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Yesterday’s post about Plough Monday looked at a post-Epiphany tradition revived in the Fens of Cambridgeshire.
Today’s post takes us to Cambridge, where a beloved institution celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2016: Heffers bookshop.
(Photo credit: Heritage Explorer, showing the children’s bookshop in the late 1960s.)
As most Cambridge University colleges are closed to the public, especially during term time, a visit to Heffers is often the closest people get to sharing a slice of the student academic experience. For book lovers and curious tourists, no visit to Cambridge is complete without a trip to Heffers.
The Michaelmas 2016 issue of CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine) had a fascinating feature on Heffers. The article, by William Ham Bevan, begins on page 20 of the PDF and continues through page 25. (Michaelmas is the feast of St Michael and All Angels, September 29. Cambridge maintains traditional term names that follow the Church year: Michaelmas, Lent and Easter.)
‘The bookshop known all over the world’
The bookshop is so much a part of town and university life, that author Julie E Bounford, also a tutor at the University of East Anglia, wrote a book about it called This Book Is About Heffers: The Bookshop That Is Known All Over The World. With the help of researcher Rob Webb:
The project is based in part on a fascinating personal collection of photographs, press cuttings and other ‘memorabilia’ of the firm’s activities gathered by the late Winifred Anstee (Julie’s great aunt). This covers staff outings, Heffers family occasions and other key events, dating back to 1913 …
Both Julie’s and Rob’s families have had a long association with Heffers. Julie’s great-grandfather, Frederick Anstee, worked for the company for forty-seven years (starting at the age of thirteen). On his death in 1944, E. W. Heffer wrote an obituary in The Bookseller trade journal. Her great aunt, Winifred Anstee, her grandmother, Lillian Saunders (nee Anstee) and her mother’s cousin, Bryan Anstee, also worked for the firm (as a secretary, shop assistant and printer, respectively).
Rob’s grandfather and father worked for the company during the 1910s and 1940s-70s, respectively. Rob also worked at Heffers during the 1970s.
Bounford, who grew up in Cambridge, has fond memories of the firm’s children’s bookshop, where she bought a paperback every week with her pocket money. Her website has an article about this time in her life, ‘Choosing books, living life’. This would have been around the time the photo at the top of this post was taken. Julie says (emphases mine):
Note the absence of the paraphernalia that you tend to get in children’s bookshops today. Like children’s diaries, the bookshops were less cluttered in those days. The focus was the books. Choosing was always a delight but never took long (it took more time to queue for our wares at Sainsbury’s meat and cheese counters afterwards) and I would be even more delighted if the need arose to use the oak library steps to reach a particular volume.
She included the announcement on the death of her great-grandfather, a loyal lifelong employee:
On his death in 1944, E. W. Heffer wrote in the trade journal,
‘We are grieved to announce the death suddenly, on Sunday June 18th, 1944, of Mr Frederick Anstee, of 27 Humberstone Road, Cambridge, aged 60 years. Mr Anstee entered our employment as a boy, forty-seven years ago, and by most faithful, conscientious and capable service he rose to be head of our science department. He was known, appreciated and respected by a great number of eminent scientists throughout the world.’ The Bookseller, 22nd June, 1944
Today’s readers will be surprised to learn that his father William Heffer, born in 1844, was the son of an agricultural labourer. He married a housemaid, Mary Crick, who later became a cook for a local doctor. At the time of their wedding, Heffer was 18. Mary was 14.
By 1871 the couple had six (of an eventual total of nine) children to support and Heffer was employed as a humble groom. There is some suggestion that he subsequently managed a public house, but it was apparently with the aid of a modest loan that he was enabled to set up in business as a stationer.
That would be unthinkable today.
Bounford told the CAM reporter that Heffer set up shop in 1876 (p. 24 of the PDF). Heffer started as a stationer, selling paper products and filing boxes to students and faculty. He sold his wares by walking to the colleges with bundles of merchandise. He was so well known that, when he died, the Vice-Chancellor [head] of Cambridge University attended his funeral.
When he started, Heffer’s workshop was at 104 Fitzroy Street. In 1899, he became a printer and publisher, with agreement from London publishers, to keep the cost of books affordable. He first printed Bibles and hymnals. They were such big sellers that he opened a bookshop in 1896 at 3-4 Petty Cury. He was also good at marketing the shop, using branded bookmarks and print advertising. The bookshop sold textbooks and became a regular destination for students.
Bookhunter tells us:
As the younger children grew up in the bookshop, surrounded by books, they naturally enough joined in. By 1901 five of them were employed in the rapidly growing concern – Kate Adelaide Heffer (1867-1940), Ernest William Heffer (1871-1948), Lucy Mary Heffer (1873-1951), Frank Heffer (1876-1933) and Sidney Heffer (1878-1959).
It was as the oldest son engaged in the bookshop that Ernest William Heffer, the sixth child, became first a partner and eventually head of the firm. On 7th September 1897 he married Louisa Marion Beak (1869-1939) at All Saints, Peckham. His new wife was the daughter of the late and rather splendidly named Worthey Beak, a Berkshire farmer. She had previously been working as a nurse at the Woolwich & Plumstead Cottage Hospital. Living first at 7 Mill Road and later at 24 Chesterton Road, Ernest William and his wife had three children of their own – Arthur Beak Heffer (1899-1931), Eleanor Mary Heffer (1903-1991) and Reuben George Heffer (1908-1995).
Reuben, a trained printer, took over the firm in 1948 and served as chairman between 1951 and 1975. Reuben’s son Nicholas became chairman in 1984.
Bookhunter says that by the end of the 1920s, Ernest William Heffer — the founder’s son — was selling notable second-hand books. He purchased important collections from private individuals. In 1933, he served as president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. His wife died in 1939. He died a week before Christmas in 1948, aged 77. Although he left a comfortable fortune:
He was buried at the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge (Plot: 1B1), his grave adorned by a simple wooden cross (Find A Grave Memorial# 34761969).
Heffers expanded during the 20th century. Their large stationery store was in Sidney Street, the Penguin paperback shop in Trumpington Street with the children’s bookshop in Trinity Street. I remember these various Heffers shops. Unfortunately, only the Trinity Street branch exists today. It houses everything for reasons which I will explain below.
Services to students
CAM detailed the story of how Heffers became such a local institution: marketing, branding and customer service.
In 1900, Heffers began issuing academic book catalogues to first year students at Cambridge University. Later, the firm printed branded diaries which it issued to undergraduates (p. 24).
At the beginning of term, Heffers cleared out the front of the main shop to stock it with textbooks. Staff were entirely at the beck and call of students; no publishers reps were allowed to call during that time (p. 24).
Students then and now became well acquainted with Heffers booksellers, particularly once they moved into specialist studies. Employees knew exactly what the student required and where it was located (p. 25).
Until credit cards became well established, Heffers offered credit themselves. A student had only to apply for an account. Payment was collected without fail. Anyone who owed the bookshop more than £20 found that Heffers sent his tutor a copy of the bill!
Heffers also printed calling cards for undergraduates (p. 25). By the 1930s, everyone had a set. Calling — visiting — cards with one’s name on them enabled someone to indicate they had stopped by to chat in the event no one was there. They were left at the door. By the 1950s, this old social custom was dying out and their production ceased.
Early in the 21st century, Heffers created a small café, which enabled students to relax with a book. With the consolidation of shops a few years later, however, the café disappeared, and children’s books replaced it.
Today, only the shop in Trinity Street exists. It houses everything from stationery to textbooks to paperbacks and children’s books.
In 1999, the Blackwell Group — booksellers based in Oxford but with branches around the country — bought Heffers, which still trades under the original name.
It is interesting to note that Benjamin Henry Blackwell (1849-1924) founded his company in Oxford in 1879, around the same time that Heffer established his. He and his parents were very religious and teetotal. They objected to the government collecting excise tax on alcohol. Like Heffer, Blackwell also served as president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association.
It seems that Blackwell, still a family-run firm, looked beyond Oxford to make various acquisitions in the 1990s. It is difficult to know whether Heffers could have done likewise. Perhaps the appetite for expansion just wasn’t there.
In any event, Heffers is definitely worth a visit. Everything is well organised. Not a book is out of place. Service is exceptional. Staff are on hand to find that elusive volume for you and do it with ineffable courtesy.
Heffers is a true English experience not to be missed.
In parts of England, mainly to the east and the north, the first Monday after Twelfth Night is known as Plough Monday.
This is an ancient day which probably came to England from the Nordic countries’ invasions. Later, it was associated with the Church and by the 18th century purely with secular folk traditions. It is so called because it was when field workers returned to their labour after the Christmas holiday to till the soil. Back then, they celebrated twelve days of Christmas. Because of the cold weather, it was impractical to till the soil to ready it for sowing.
Origins and traditions
It is thought that the tradition of dancing for Plough Monday originated with the Northern Goths and Swedes when they were still pagans.
The man to document this was the last Catholic Archbishop of Sweden, Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), who fled to Italy and became a historian once the King of Sweden, Gustav Wasa, adopted Lutheranism as the country’s Christian denomination.
In Italy, Magnus became a cartographer and historical researcher. Among his works was History of the Northern Nations, printed in Rome in 1555. Pope Julius II granted a ten-year copyright which saw the 22-volume work translated into Italian, English, Dutch, French and German. (Ironically, it was not translated into Swedish until the 20th century.)
Elaborate dances to music
Hymns and Carols of Christmas gives a summary of what Magnus wrote about the Sword Dance and accompanying music which must have become a custom after the Nordic peoples invaded England in the Dark Ages. Later it would become part of Plough Monday festivities, as the Revd John Brand (1744-1806), an antiquarian and Anglican clergyman, documented (emphases mine):
He [Magnus] says that the Northern Goths and Swedes have a sport wherein they exercise their youth, consisting of a Dance with Swords in the following manner. First, with swords sheathed and erect in their hands, they dance in a triple round : then with their drawn swords held erect as before: afterwards, extending them from band to hand, they lay hold of each other’s hilts and points, and, while they are wheeling more moderately round and changing their order, throw themselves into the figure of a hexagon, which they call a rose: but, presently raising and drawing back their swords, they undo that figure, in order to form with them a four-square rose, that they may rebound over the head of each other. Lastly, they dance rapidly backwards, and, vehemently rattling the sides of their swords together, conclude their sport. Pipes, or songs (sometimes both), direct the measure, which, at first, is slow, but, increasing afterwards, becomes a very quick one towards the conclusion. (Citing Brand) Olaus Magnus adds of this dance that “It is scarcely to be understood, but by those that look on, how gamely and decent it is, when at one word, or one commanding, the whole armed multitude is directed to fall to fight: and clergymen may exercise themselves, and mingle themselves amongst others at this sport, because it is all guided by most wise reason.” (“See also Strutt’s Sports 8vo. p. 214.”)
Olaus Magnus calls this a kind of Gymnastic rite, in which the ignorant were successively instructed by those who were skilled in it: and thus it must have been preserved and handed down to us- “I have been” says Mr. Brand “a frequent spectator of this dance, which is now, or was very lately, performed with few or no alterations in Northumberland and the adjoining counties: one difference however is observable in our Northern sword dancers, that, when the Swords are formed into a figure, they lay them down upon the ground and dance round them.”
Disguises and begging for money
By the Middle Ages, Plough Monday was the time when boys with ploughs were to return to working in the fields. However, because the socioeconomic system of that era was so oppressive, the ploughboys disguised themselves and went to the houses of wealthy landowners instead to extort money. The ploughboys received no pay when they were not working, and the gulf between rich and poor was so great that it was one way they could redress the balance.
These itinerant workers — also known as Plough Jacks, Plough Bullocks or Plough Stots — blackened their faces so that the landowners would not recognise them. This tradition continued for centuries afterwards. PloughMonday.co.uk says:
In the Cambridgeshire Fens children would collect money, often before school, this was known as Ploughwitching.
By the 1400s, Plough Monday was dedicated to raising funds for local parishes — boundaries of which were determined by church location. The church collected money to help the parish, comprised of a village or two and surrounding land. Groups of skilled ploughmen formed plough guilds which had a plough light in the local church, possibly as a way of asking for God’s blessings on the fields, in the same way we light a candle or votive light for a special intention today. A portion of the funds collected on Plough Monday helped to keep these lit throughout the year. Some priests also blessed ploughs on this day.
By 1538, when the Reformation took hold in England, plough lights were forbidden and plough guilds were disbanded. Anyone who conducted a drive for money on Plough Monday was fined.
Depending on the political and monarchical climate, Plough Monday waxed or waned until the early to mid-1600s.
17th century and after
Once Plough Monday revived in full, its ecclesiastical character disappeared.
By then, landowners ensured all their workers were well fed and watered throughout the twelve days of Christmas.
More farmworkers participated and used the day for personal gain by collecting money, joining in revelry and ending with a feast. Wikipedia describes a typical festival:
The customs observed on Plough Monday varied by region, but a common feature to a lesser or greater extent was for a plough to be hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money. They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy”, and a man in the role of the “fool“. ‘Plough Pudding’ is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions. It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.
The procession with the plough went like this, according to an old account:
Long ropes are attached to it, and thirty or forty men, stripped to their clean white shirts, but protected from the weather by waistecoats beneath, drag it along. Their arms and shoulders are decorated with gay-coloured ribbons, tied in large knots and bows, and their hats are smartened in the same way. They are usually accompanied by an old woman, or a boy dressed up to represent one; she is gaily bedizened, and called the Bessy. Sometimes the sport is assisted by a humorous countryman to represent a fool. He is covered with ribbons, and attired in skins, with a depending tail, and carries a box to collect money from the spectators. They are attended by music, and Morris-dancers when they can be got; but there is always a sportive dance with a few lasses in all their finery, and a superabundance of ribbons. When this merriment is well managed, it is very pleasing.
Although the day was one of revelry, farmworkers as well as farmhouse cooks and servants got up as early as they could to show willingness to work during the season ahead. According to the aforementioned account, a kitchen maid was given a cockerel for Shrovetide before Lent. However, Plough Monday determined whether she received it:
Then Plough Monday reminded them of their business, and on the morning of that day, the men and maids strove who should show their readiness to commence the labours of the years, by rising the earliest. If the plough-man could get his whip, his plough-staff, hatched, or any field implement, by the fireside, before the maid could get her kettle on, she lost her Shrove-tide cock to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On Plough Monday night the farmer gave them a good supper and strong ale. In some places, where the ploughman went to work on Plough Monday, if, on his return at night, he came with his whip to the kitchen-hatch, and cried “Cock on the dunghill,” he gained a cock for Shrove Tuesday.
The Revd Francis Blomefield was, like the aforementioned John Brand, an Anglican clergyman and antiquarian. He lived between 1705 and 1752. He documented the histories of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
In his History of Norfolk, he described the Plough Monday processions in that county. Although they were secular in nature then, men still collected for the ancient plough light, requesting ‘money for light’. However, instead of collecting for the church — as had been done in the 15th century — they were collecting money to be spent at the local alehouse.
Blomefield also wrote of the mummer play — folk play with local amateur actors — typically performed on that day, ‘The arraigning and indicting of Sir John Barleycorn’. It was a humorous sketch featuring characters from all walks of life: some admired, some despised. In the end, Sir John Barleycorn was always acquitted, but as Blomefield concluded:
From this facetious little narrative may be learned the folly of excess, and the injustice of charging a cheering beverage, with the evil consequences of a man taking a cup more of it than will do him good.
Plough Monday festivities died out in many places from the 19th through to the 20th centuries. However, some towns are reviving these old traditions.
Project Britain has a fascinating summary with recent pictures of Plough Monday where it has been revived.
An account from 1808, describing the custom in the North Riding of Yorkshire, says that any new tenant farmer received the labour of his neighbours as well as their ploughs on this day in order to prepare his land for sowing.
The account, written by Miss Hutton in her ‘Oakward Hall’, describes the great feast of homemade bread, dumplings, beef and Cheshire cheese at the end of the day.
In an area of the Huntingdonshire Fens (fens are lowlands):
a straw bear was led through the streets on Plough Monday. It is speculated that this may have grown out of a pagan ritual or just maybe an extension of disguising oneself using straw, inspired by dancing bears that used to tour the fenland villages.
Plough Monday traditions died out here in the 1950s but were revived in 2009:
Five hundred children from Ramsey Junior School and 14 other primary schools had been learning about Molly Dancing and other Plough Monday customs as part of the Heritage Lottery funded project “Cambridgeshire Roots”. The children from eight local schools came together to parade through the town of Ramsey and to dance on the Abbey Green. This was recorded by BBC Countryfile.
This custom has gone from strength to strength and the children now sing their own song as they process through the streets as taught to them by two ladies who went “ploughwitching” in the area 1950’s. It was thought that Plough Monday customs had largely died out in the Cambridgeshire Fens in the 1930’s until Gordon Phillips and Nicky Stockman met Anne Edwards and her husband during a performance by the children of Benwick Primary School. Anne told us about the antics of her peers who grew up in Ramsey Heights and visited local houses, dressed up with blackened faces to sing and beg for money. More local people who remembered the custom came forward during the intergenerational project “Ploughwitches and Bears”.
These videos from 2016 give you a good idea of Plough Monday past and present with Molly (Morris) Dancers, a play, sooty faces and a straw bear:
Another Fenland town, Whittlesey, holds a Straw Bear Festival:
a direct descendant of the Plough Monday customs, and there are revivals with a variety of names, often performed by local morris dancers. Look out for Plough Jags, Stots, Witchers and Bullockers … and Old Glory (see Cutty Wren) also perform on Plough Monday.
In other areas, sometimes the Straw Bear was paraded through the streets in lieu of a decorated plough in the 19th century.
Isles of Scilly
locals would cross-dress and then visit their neighbours to joke about local occurrences. There would be guise dancing (folk-etymologically rendered as “goose dancing” by either the authors or those whom they observed) and considerable drinking and revelry.
I look forward to comments from anyone who has seen or participated in a Plough Monday event.
Sorry to be late to the party with this item, but it was in our two-week Christmas issue of the Radio Times, Britain’s foremost television (and radio) guide.
In the 17-30 December 2016 issue, the back page interview was with Prime Minister Theresa May, also the MP for Maidenhead. She answered a variety of questions from reporter Michael Hodges. Excerpts and a summary follow.
On Christmas Day, she and her husband Philip go to church. Afterwards, they meet up with friends for a drink, then it’s off to an ecumenical lunch for the elderly, where May takes time to talk with her constituents.
The Mays return home where the Prime Minister roasts a goose for Christmas dinner. They haven’t had turkey for several years. Although others consider goose to be extremely fatty, May points out:
if you keep the fat, it makes wonderful roast potatoes for quite a long time thereafter.
Absolutely. We also have goose at Christmas, partly for that reason, and for the unctuous stock from the wings.
May, a practising Anglican, lent the Radio Times a photo of herself as a girl with her late father, the Revd Hubert Brasier. She told Michael Hodges what Christmas past was like:
Throughout my life I have been going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and church on Christmas Day morning. As a child I had to wait until my father had finished his services before I could open my presents.
It felt like a very long wait. Others I knew would be able to open their presents first thing in the morning.
I’m an only child and my mother played the organ. So I would sit alongside her while my father was taking the service.
The interview did not mention that May’s parents died within a year of each other. Her father died just as she completed her studies at Oxford and her mother several months later. It can’t have been easy for her, especially with no siblings for support:
When you first lose your parents, Christmas is hugely, hugely important. Now I enjoy Christmas with my husband Philip and we keep up the tradition of going to church. But, of course, it does remind me of my parents.
During her childhood, she watched only the BBC, until:
one day, my mother managed to jiggle the aerial and we got ITV and I saw Robin Hood. That music and Richard Greene as Robin Hood really grabbed me.
This is the iconic theme to which May refers:
May’s other television favourites included early series of The Avengers with Diana Rigg, then Joanna Lumley, although:
I have never had a female role model — I’ve always just got on with doing what I am doing.
As an adult, she watched the ‘very evocative’ Das Boot. These days, she enjoys Scandinavian dramas Borgen and The Bridge. Christmas Day favourites include Doctor Who and David Suchet as Poirot.
She doesn’t take recommendations for television viewing:
My advisers don’t tell me what to watch on the television — I watch what I want to watch.
May ended the interview by saying she had no idea a year ago that she would be Prime Minister today.
What follows is her four-minute New Year’s message. If her father was as eloquent a speaker as his daughter is, he must have been a splendid vicar. May speaks of the change that Brexit will bring this year but also of the unity of the four nations of the United Kingdom and the shared values and experiences that make us one people:
This is very similar to the first speech she gave as Prime Minister outside No. 10.
She and Donald Trump will get on well. Of that, I have no doubt.
A while back I criticised the increase in Big Media closing their sites to readers’ comments.
On September 14, Damian Thompson — who worked at The Telegraph for many years and has been at The Spectator for the last few — posted an article ‘Comment threads are closing, thankfully – but the underpants brigade have won’.
It’s one of the laziest pieces of journalism I have read this year. He gives no indication as to why he is saying that comments are closing. No what, where or when, either: standard journalistic questions every article should answer.
I learned about that in primary school English class.
Yes, every year our books included a series of journalism lessons with in-class assignments where we had to write a short news, features or sports story. We had to compose them the way they would appear in a newspaper. The teacher would come around to grade them and the best were read out in class.
Not only did we learn something useful; we also began reading newspapers more frequently.
But I digress.
Several years ago, Thompson, a practising Catholic, got into a Telegraph comments row with a group of Catholic traditionalists. One weekend in May, he deleted all their comments from one of his blog posts. I remember it well, because I saw it happen in real time. They soon turned to WordPress, where they have been maintaining their sites since 2009. Sorry, I cannot remember their names, but maybe one of them will come on here to comment!
Bearing that in mind, it’s interesting that Thompson writes this (emphases mine):
For five years I was editor of Telegraph Blogs. Every day, from the moment we switched on our computers, we had to live with the drone of the ‘underpants brigade’, as one colleague called them.
To the casual reader, these Y-front warriors were obvious fruitcakes. But they had a sharp eye for the fragility of the journalistic ego.
Yes, they certainly did, Damian. And you lacked the professionalism to buck up and allow them to voice their opinions.
After he deleted the Catholic traditionalists’ posts, I never read another article by Thompson again until this particular one.
But enough about Damian Thompson and his paltry journalism. What did the readers say in response?
First, he received over 1,480 comments. Well played, readers!
Secondly, one reader offered an eloquent defence of comments:
Since the Telegraph turned off comments, I’ve largely stopped reading it. Funnily enough, Damian, I used to comment on your rather excitable pieces in that paper. I’m mostly on the Guardian now, but I don’t click on articles which don’t allow comments for the same reason I won’t on the Telegraph: most of the articles present a very slanted view of the world, with claims which don’t stand up – and are not above trotting out downright lies …
Comment threads aren’t welcomed by professional writers because they remove their privileged position: embarrassingly, they allow scrutiny of articles to be placed in situ. This doesn’t really affect careful writers who produce well-researched and analytical articles, at worst they’ll get a tide of childish bile from people unwilling to listen to their viewpoint; but for the many charlatans who’ve based their careers on spewing (previously unchallenged) polemic, there’s an almost inevitable payback below every trashy article they produce: comment after comment pulling apart their tawdry arguments. Consequently, comments are the best thing which has ever happened to news media.
Finally, another reader said that any media outlet that drops comments will lose readers:
Like many I stopped paying a sub to the Telegraph and now hardly visit even for the free articles. Other places will get the traffic of the excluded.
That’s definitely true. I, too, stopped reading The Telegraph after they dropped comments. I read a lot more Guardian articles now.
Me too! I didn’t contribute much in the comment sections, but they were the main reason I used and subscribed to the DT. I no longer subscribe and it isn’t even in my Favourites folder any longer. I stopped visiting the site altogether.
… it was the comments that entertained, not the articles!
Yes, I used to read the comments for useful responses and links rebutting or adding more to the articles.
The Catholic Herald article attempts to strike a regretful tone in announcing its new policy and ultimately sends readers to Facebook. What about readers who don’t want to be on Facebook yet would like to contribute?
… we are a small team. Our three full-time editorial staff (including me) work round the clock with a little army of part-timers to produce an up-to-the-minute news site and a weekly magazine (we made the change in 2014, after 127 years as a broadsheet).
Inevitably, time is scarce. And that is why we’ve decided to close comments on our articles (in common with many other Catholic websites).
The decision has been a difficult one. Readers have, over the years, offered insightful, funny and heartfelt responses to our articles. But moderating comments is a time-consuming daily task. We believe that time could be better spent on offering readers more news and analysis.
This does not mean the end of dialogue with our readers. We know that this bond is vital. When major issues arise we will post items that allow for comments. Meanwhile, our Facebook page is always open for discussions.
The Catholic site discussing this new policy has this:
Shame. The Catholic Herald had done so well for so long. It is so sad that it has finally capitulated to various pressures at such a crucial time in the Church’s life.
Whatever financial rewards come their way, I’m sure it won’t be through their print edition since whenever I go into a Church there are always a good few copies to spare.
Certain people, however, will be happy about this decision. This decision is a slap in the face to their readership. I won’t be reading it anymore. What a self-defeating decision. Their writers – talented as some of them are – are not the main attraction of blogs. The main attraction of blogs is that others can contribute to the issue being dealt with. I would have thought that to those interested in gaining an audience in the Catholic world today that this was self-evident.
But you know, what do I know?
Pray for blogs, pray for bloggers and pray for journalists and the Catholic Press. I guess you could say we’re all up against it in one way or another.
Every person hungry for the truth, whether it be religious or secular, laments every occasion when yet another major media site closes comments.
Now imagine if The Spectator had closed comments on Damian Thompson’s article. Nearly everyone reading it would have wondered what he was talking about. He had no news at all to support his headline. We would have walked away none the wiser.
However, that one comment linking to the Catholic Herald policy adopted in August helped flesh out the matter.
That is, if that’s what Thompson was referring to.
David Cameron has once more thrown his toys out of the pram!
Summer recess is now over, Parliament is back in session and the former PR man — the self-styled ‘heir to Blair’ — cannot bear being on the back benches.
He announced yesterday — September 12 — that he will be standing down as MP for his beloved Witney constituency in Oxfordshire.
At least he gave us the referendum.
However, he’s still angry about the result: Brexit, baby, Brexit.
A commenter on the aforementioned link from The Spectator clearly explains Witney, Cameron and British society. This is so true (emphases mine):
That constituency is a definite Remain area. The people in the UK who voted Leave weren’t the upper-middle class, which is what Cameron is. That stratum of society are the ones who buy craft beer and shop at Waitrose. The ones who voted Leave were the aristocracy and the working class. Britain exists in them; the upper-middle and middle are too concerned with their status, being “cool” and their bank balances. As long as there is still an aristocracy and a working class, Britain will prevail. That is why Labour detests the aristocracy, and the working class, and seeks to annihilate them both through mass-immigration. Everybody (and I don’t mean individuals, I mean the groupings) outside those two classes is self-seeking and individualistic, with no real concern for Britain.
Readers who live in or near Witney are particularly welcome to comment.
Let’s look at the timeline. Cameron was re-elected as MP only in May 2015. Then he gave us the EU Referendum in June 2016. As soon as the results were made public he announced his resignation as Prime Minister! Now, after summer break, he is unwilling to continue serving as MP to Witney because Brexit is sticking in his craw. Sad!
What a poor loser.
Not only is he standing down as MP, but he is doing it with ‘immediate effect’:
Spectator columnist James Forsyth surmises that Theresa May’s brand of conservatism is too much of a departure for Cameron:
… I think one of the things that makes it difficult for him to stay on is the extent to which Theresa May is moving away from Cameronism. It’s not just like Brexit is the only issue on which it would be difficult for Cameron to express a view – there are now a whole host of issues because Theresa May has tried to open up clear blue water between herself and Cameron’s government on quite a few things …
Thank goodness for that.
However, Cameron’s resignation sets a bad example for the British public. The Spectator‘s editor Fraser Nelson — not someone with whom I agree a lot — rightly points out:
“Brits don’t quit,” he told us a few months ago: now he has quit, twice. After telling us several times that he’d stay, to fulfil a duty to parliament and his constituents.
Indeed. Such a lack of principle will ultimately reflect on him:
Cameron could have been known for so many achievements: record employment, schools revolution, lowering inequality, crime rates plunging, a majority won against the odds – how quickly all of that is forgotten, how quickly Cameron has been reduced to the bad guy whom Theresa May enjoys defining herself against. Blair’s behaviour after leaving No10 trashed the reputation of Blairism – and it seems the self-styled “heir to Blair” had one more tribute act left in him. Now there is pretty much no one to say that Cameron’s premiership wasn’t all bad. No one can be bothered to hang around and defend Cameron’s reputation. Not even Cameron.
Cameron has acted in a pathetic manner. He led the Conservatives for ten years and was Prime Minister for the last five. He could have gone down in history as a compassionate Conservative.
Soon — by his own actions — he will be forgotten. He brought it on himself.
On August 23, 2016, America’s NPR — National Public Radio — will no longer open its articles to readers’ comments.
In fact, all past comments will disappear. DCist tells us:
because they are run through Disqus, a third-party moderating system (that DCist also uses).
Reasons for censorship
On August 17, NPR’s Elizabeth Jensen explains that:
1/ The commenters do not represent NPR’s listeners —
In July, NPR.org recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, Montgomery said. That’s 0.06 percent of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.
2/ A small number of NPR users generated most of the comments —
Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67 percent of all NPR.org comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users.
3/ Disqus is too expensive to run, because the more comments, the higher the cost —
The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.
I am very pro-comment, because, without readers chiming in on various sites, I never would have found out about rented mules, about which I posted on August 16.
Going further into the NPR rationale, the management apparently did not like the nature of the comments they were receiving:
1/ The commenters do not represent the statistical NPR audience (another perspective) —
They overwhelmingly comment via the desktop (younger users tend to find NPR.org via mobile), and a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83 percent male, while overall NPR.org users were just 52 percent male …
2/ NPR received complaints —
When viewed purely from the perspective of whether the comments were fostering constructive conversations, the change should come as no surprise. The number of complaints to NPR about the current comment system has been growing—complaints that comments were censored by the outside moderators, and that commenters were behaving inappropriately and harassing other commenters.
NPR has listeners and readers who, apparently, are sensitive creatures. NPR, therefore, must protect their feelings.
A male regular from Phoenix emailed NPR’s Jensen:
“Have you considered doing away with the comments sections, or tighter moderation?” he wrote. “The comments have devolved into the Punch-and-Judy-Fest of moronic, un-illuminating observations and petty insults I’ve seen on other pretty much every other Internet site that allows comments.” He added, “This is not in keeping with NPR’s take-a-step-back, take-a-deep-breath reporting,” and noted, “Now, thread hijacking and personal insults are becoming the stock in trade. Frequent posters use the forums to duke it out with one another.”
A lady from North Carolina:
wrote to implore: “Remove the comments section from your articles. The rude, hateful, racist, judgmental comments far outweigh those who may want to engage in some intelligent sideline conversation about the actual subject of the article. I am appalled at the amount of ‘free hate’ that is found on a website that represents honest and unbiased reporting such as NPR. What are you really gaining from all of these rabid comments other than proof that a sad slice of humanity that preys on the weak while spreading their hate?”
Censorious readers have two options: a) don’t read the comments or b) filter out trollish users.
NPR now recommends using Facebook for discussion on their articles and programmes.
Facebook. Something I and millions of others will never use and try to avoid visiting where possible.
Why the New York Times can have comments
Jensen explained why other media sites, such as The New York Times, can maintain readers’ comments:
… they use heavy in-house human moderation that costs far more than NPR currently spends on its outsourced system, according to NPR executives who are familiar with the numbers. The Times also opens only 10 percent of its articles for comments (but is working to increase that percentage), and keeps the comment threads open for just one week. NPR currently allows comments on all articles for two weeks.
I, too, operate a limited comments policy: my threads are open for two weeks and that’s it. Last year, an arrogant left-wing drive-by bluntly told me to open the comments on a really old post so that he could vent. I refused. My site, my rules.
When NPR sang a different tune
In 2008, with the Democrats and Obama in the ascendant, life at NPR was so very different. On September 28, Dick Meyer announced:
Starting now, it will be easier for you to talk to us, for us to talk to you and for you all to talk to each other. We are making it possible for anyone who registers with us to comment on a story and to create a profile page where many interesting things can happen. We are providing a forum for infinite conversations on NPR.org. Our hopes are high. We hope the conversations will be smart and generous of spirit. We hope the adventure is exciting, fun, helpful and informative. This is important for the NPR community.
That last phrase — “important for the NPR community” — is not phony baloney corporate rhetoric, I promise.
A few days later, on October 1, Andy Carvin enthused:
As you probably have seen by now, we rolled out several new community tools on the NPR Web site this week, including user profiles and discussion threads for all of our stories. The feedback so far has been very positive …
Fast forward to 2016 and the national dialogue has changed. NPR and their regulars find it upsetting. We don’t like it, so it can’t be said: censorship.
Other sites which have stopped comments
Of course, NPR is not the first nor the only Big Media site to censor readers’ views by stopping their input altogether. Others couldn’t take the reader heat, either.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog on The Atlantic
Although The Atlantic largely allows readers to comment on their articles, Ta-Nehisi Coates closed his blog entries to comments.
He had good intentions from the time he launched his blog in 2008. It was open to comments from the start. In 2010, he reiterated his comments policy to ensure civility.
DCist points out that, by and large, some of his readers’ responses were so good that they spawned careers at the magazine’s online site:
The current Washington bureau chief, Yoni Appelbaum, was discovered by his posts in the section …
In 2008, Appelbaum commented as Cynic. He was a PhD student at Brandeis University at the time. Longreads tells us:
he started commenting during the 2008 election run-up. His comments were unfailingly thorough, thoughtful and respectful, and Coates often flagged his contributions in follow-up posts.
Then, as Appelbaum recalls it, Coates contacted him “because he had deduced that I was a historian,” and he had some questions that related to his own historical work. They began to keep in touch outside the comment section, and in June 2010, Coates asked Appelbaum to turn a long comment he’d posted about Ulysses S. Grant into a standalone blog post. That one post was followed by a guest-blogging stint for Appelbaum—still identified only as “Cynic.” Not too long after that, Appelbaum was recruited right out of the comment section, and given a steady role—and a proper byline—as an online contributor to The Atlantic.
“In March 2011, my phone rang. And it was Bob Cohn of The Atlantic,” Appelbaum says. “That’s not a phone call you can really turn away. So I started contributing regularly then.”
Coates’ regular commenters were known at The Horde. He enjoyed what they had to say and even started special threads for them covering Mad Men, books and readers’ plights, such as the death of a pet dog.
By 2014, Coates’s moderator, Sandy Young, was torn about banning comment from those who opposed the blogger’s views. He told Longreads:
I don’t want to be that guy who tries to fix the Internet, but people I know and care about are going to see this and be insulted or hurt by it. What should I do? I have this power—should I use it or not?
That year, Coates cut back on his Atlantic blogging. When he did blog long pieces on black Americans’ concerns, he attracted extra-Horde comments. By the time Longreads interviewed him in February 2015, he said:
To be honest, I can’t say how long this will go on for.
In September 2015, he stopped comments on his blog. However, he did pay tribute to The Horde.
Earlier this year — 2016 — the Telegraph stopped readers’ comments.
Private Eye had an article which said that the site’s advertisers were unnerved by the readers’ comments.
At that time, many comments concerned UKIP, migration to the Mediterranean, physical assaults on European women and the EU Referendum — all hot topics.
Since then, according to Private Eye, the Telegraph‘s online reader stats took a dive. The magazine has stopped writing about the Telegraph lately, so it is unclear what the current situation is.
However, vox pops are clearly worrying to online Big Media sites.
The Guardian‘s Stephen Pritchard issued this warning in March:
In January, I wrote about new efforts to keep the party polite online as comment numbers were ballooning up to 65,000 a day. Subjects such as race, immigration and Islam too often attracted toxic commentary, so henceforth they would only have comments open if a moderated, positive debate were deemed possible – one without racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse or trolling …
My claim that we were living in an “age of rage” attracted this reaction: “Surely one of the engines for the ‘age of rage’ is the systematic suppression of any comprehensive debate on race, immigration and Islam and it is that or the responses to any questioning of current shibboleths that drives people to extreme points of view” …
The Telegraph is in the process of ending commentary on its site. That’s not being proposed here, but editors need to think harder about when it would be wise to switch off the ability to comment if a subject is likely to attract so much rage that a mature conversation becomes impossible. It devalues our journalism and offends our readers.
Right-of-centre comments are scaring Big Media big time.
Their online site managers are happy when everything is left-of-centre, but once the arguments move to the other side of the spectrum, they perceive a problem.
Expect more reader censorship in time. The excuse might be stated as money-related, as in NPR’s case, but the truth will be somewhat closer to the bone. They just cannot tolerate any opinions that aren’t leftist.
What a week for interesting news going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln!
Here’s a selection of what was in the media. Emphases mine below.
Prolonged childhood problematic
Charlotte Gill, a young woman writing for The Spectator, deplores games such as Pokémon Go and Candy Crush as well as games franchises, e.g. Nintendo. These products distract too much from real life which young adults should be embracing:
… I genuinely believed that my generation would get over Pokémon – that there would be a collective ‘growing up’ – but I was wrong. Data shows that 49 percent of Pokémon Go users are 25 or over …
Such games are viewed as ‘a bit of fun’ – a nice distraction from the world. After all, who thinks about Isis when they’re searching for Pokémon? But I can see a wider issue about Generation Y and its obsessions; a huge denial about being adults. Frankly, it’s all a bit sad.
The trouble with all these baby hobbies is that they distract twentysomethings from doing something good with their lives. And, I know, we all deserve to have downtime and can even turn passions, like gaming, into a career. But for many young people, these enterprises become hugely absorbing, and steal the best years of their lives. The irony is that they will not know that this is happening; franchises with cute, sweet animals come across as harmless and nostalgic.
As a generation, we need to grow up. The world is becoming a more frightening, competitive place all the time; it has never been more important for young people to buck up, get some skills, even set up their own businesses, instead of indulging in the toys and franchises we should have left behind years ago …
The strange thing about all of these pursuits is that young people take pride in them. They think it’s funny to be trivial. It’s ironic, they say. In reality, it seems ignorant. Girlfriends complain to me about men who won’t commit in relationships; it’s no wonder, given that they live in a society that wants to immortalise childhood.
Such pastimes are bread and circuses on a small scale. We could be approaching Idiocracy sooner than we think.
London Tube: attempted murder – terrorism or state of mind?
In December 2015, Muhiddin Mire attempted to slit a man’s throat at Leytonstone Tube station in east London.
He was given a life sentence on Monday, August 1 and will have to serve a minimum of eight-and-a-half years.
Law enforcement, barristers and doctors disagreed as to whether the cause was extremism or his mental state. During the attack, he yelled:
This is for my Syrian brothers. I’m going to spill your blood.
Police said that, given some of the content on Mire’s phone, he could have been influenced by extremist propaganda. However, the court heard that he was also suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack. Was his state of mind exacerbated by the extremist material?
In any event, he will start his sentence at Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.
Over the past few weeks I have read several letters to the editor in the UK and in France from mental health workers on recent terrorist/extremist attacks. These people are asking for an investigation into any psychotropic medication that those carrying out the attacks might have taken in the weeks and months beforehand.
It is a legitimate question, one that needs further investigation, especially in light of the American lady who met with a tragic and terrible death in Russell Square the night of August 3. Although police are no longer considering terrorism as a motive:
The Met Police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations, Mark Rowley, said the investigation was increasingly pointing to the attack being “triggered by mental health issues”.
A 19-year-old is in police custody. Originally from Somalia, he lived in Norway before moving to the UK. Police say he is a Norwegian national.
Sky’s report proves what my late mother often said about London — it is the crossroads of the world. It’s worth reading to see the variety of names and nationalities.
Saturday night scare in London’s Camden Town
On Saturday, July 30, an alert member of the public contacted the Metropolitan Police about a suspicious vehicle in Camden Town, London’s nexus for young adults and hipsters.
At 10:50 p.m. police evacuated several pubs and clubs. The Mirror was one of two (that I can see) news outlets to carry the story. Their story pointed out:
It was a major operation on one of London’s busiest high streets at its peak time.
The Met sent in one of their police robots to investigate the car. The London Evening Standard story has a photo.
Fortunately, the car presented no threat. Police allowed night spots to reopen around midnight.
Well done to the quick reaction of the member of the public and the police.
Burger chain, bogus papers and bugs
The UK has several trendy burger chains, one of which is Byron. Its founders sold the business to an investment firm, Hutton Collins, for £100m in 2013.
On July 27, news emerged that immigration officials carried out a raid on several branches. That was on July 4. A Spanish newspaper in London, El Iberico, reported the story before MSM did. Over the past week, leftists bombarded certain branches of Byron with bugs and protests.
The Home Office had contacted Byron to say officials would be going in to their premises on July 4. Byron management sent notifications out to staff that health and safety training was going to take place that morning. As such, staff attendance was mandatory. The restaurant chain refused to comment on whether the health and safety training was set up under false pretence.
The Guardian published Byron’s statement on the incident:
It said: “We can confirm that several of Byron’s London restaurants were visited by representatives of the Home Office. These visits resulted in the removal of members of staff who are suspected by the Home Office of not having the right to work in the UK, and of possessing fraudulent personal and right to work documentation that is in breach of immigration and employment regulation.”
A Home Office source told the newspaper that 35 people were arrested in connection with the raid. They had come from Brazil, Nepal, Egypt and Albania.
The Left went into overdrive online and on the ground.
On Friday, July 29, two central London branches of the chain had to close. Activists smuggled in bags of insects into the Holborn and Shaftesbury Avenue sites. The Guardian reported:
In a joint statement published on Facebook, London Black Revs and Malcolm X Movement said the direct action was in response to the chain’s “despicable actions in the past weeks having entrapped waiters, back of house staff and chefs in collaboration with UK Border Agency”.
“Many thousands of live cockroaches, locusts and crickets [have been released] into these restaurants. We apologise to customers and staff for any irritation, however, we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment,” the statement said.
Obviously, these people do not believe in borders. No doubt, there are any number of anarchists among them.
The activists invited Huck‘s Michael Segalov along for the occasion:
On Thursday evening my phone vibrated, a number I’d never seen before had sent me a text.
“Dear Journalist, this is a tip-off”, it read, “info: 8000 locust, 2000 crickets, 4000 cockroaches. See you tomorrow night.”
The bug barrage went as planned. Customers scarpered. Those who were there might have left in panic, without paying. The rest of the night was one of lost income and massive clean-up. The manager of one of the branches was, quite rightly, angry. Segalov wrote:
I get it, sort of. This was his place of work, which was now a shambles, it wasn’t his fault that the raids had happened (he probably didn’t even know they were planned) and now his team were going to spend the night chasing crickets and picking cockroaches out the red-onion relish.
Outside, a female passerby reminded him that staff and the manager were going to have to deal with the mess, no one else. That said, this woman and Segalov think it was still worthwhile.
Why? The people arrested had forged paperwork. They entered the country illegally.
A huge protest of no-borders lefties took place on Monday, August 1 outside the Holborn branch. The Evening Standard reported that the branch was closed after they heard 1,300 protesters might attend. Police were on the scene. The Standard reported:
Byron said in a statement: “In response to the recent Home Office investigation, we would like to reiterate the following.
“Byron was unaware that any of our workers were in possession of counterfeit documentation until the Home Office brought it to our attention.
“We carry out rigorous ‘right to work’ checks, but sophisticated counterfeit documentation was used in order to pass these checks.
“We have cooperated fully and acted upon the Home Office’s requests and processes throughout the course of their investigations: it is our legal obligation to do so.
“We have also worked hard to ensure minimal impact on our customers while this operation was underway.”
Taking legitimate citizens’ jobs through forged papers is theft.
Jean-Claude Juncker’s little black book
The EU’s most disliked bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, told Belgium’s Le Soir that he has a little black book with all his enemies’ names in it.
The Guardian reported on the interview. Le Petit Maurice, as Juncker calls his notebook, serves as more of an aide-memoire than anything else. He thinks it is also a useful deterrent:
He would tell people attacking him: “Be careful. Little Maurice is waiting for you.”
On UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, Juncker:
claimed he respected the Ukip leader and found him “very funny” and erudite.
Yet, he said that he had not embraced Farage during the last European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg:
I whispered something in his ear that was not a compliment. The photos gave the impression that I embraced him.
Juncker has no plans to go anywhere. Juncker has no regard for European citizens. He wants an EU army to cope with the migration crisis, a perfect way to impose more control over us. He is upset that EU countries have not taken in more migrants and despises the reimposition of border controls in the Schengen Zone. I wrote at the end of May:
People like Jean-Claude Juncker are the reason why many Britons will vote for Brexit. Juncker and Co’s arrogance is unsurpassed.
On EU monetary policy
“I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious … I am for secret, dark debates”
On British calls for a referendum over Lisbon Treaty
“Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”
Jean-Claude Juncker: another reason to be happy Brexit won.
The Khan controversy
For my readers who do not live in the United States, an attorney by the name of Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week in Philadelphia, flanked by his wife in traditional dress.
The Khans came to the US from Afghanistan via the United Arab Emirates, where their son, Humayun, was born. The family became American citizens once they were eligible.
Humayun became a captain in the US Army and was killed in 2004 in Iraq when he was investigating a car fitted with an explosive device. Americans can be grateful for his honourable and courageous service.
At the DNC, Khizr Khan sharply took issue with Donald Trump’s policy on restricting or temporarily banning Muslim immigration until Homeland Security figures out what is going on.
Trump politely responded in television news interviews by saying the Khans would have been vetted — current policy — and admitted, were he in the Oval Office. However, the polemic continued from Democrats and Republicans, including Khan and Trump.
On July 31, Trump tweeted:
I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!
Charles Hurt defended Trump’s position in a July 31 article for The Hill. Hillary supporters should note the following:
Stop for a moment and ask yourself how exactly the Clinton campaign arrived at the decision to trot out the Khan family in the middle of their highly-choreographed, exhaustively produced convention?
Were they just looking to give voice to the parents of a soldier? That would be a first. Did they want parents of anyone who had died abroad in the defense of their country? Gee, why not pick the parents of one of the fallen warriors who died defending the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Oh, that’s right. They would have called Hillary Clinton a liar. Can’t have that.
No. Politicians like Hillary Clinton do not see people like Capt. Humayun Khan as a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign battlefield in defense of his country.
Politicians like Hillary Clinton see him only a demographic, a dispensable political pawn to be scooted around an electoral map, the way generals used to move armies across giant maps of the lands they were invading.
Here’s the kicker:
Perhaps a better testimony from Khizr Khan would have been for him to talk about how Hillary Clinton was in the U.S. Senate when she voted to invade Iraq. Years later, after that position became politically unpopular, she changed her mind and joined new political forces to vacate all the land across Iraq that so many great American patriots like Capt. Humayun Khan had died for.
It was her vote that sent Capt. Khan to his death. And then it was her decisions later to render that sacrifice worthless.
Of course, the media will run and run with this one, whilst continuing to deprecate Patricia Smith who spoke at the Republican National Convention about her son Sean who died during Benghazi. Mrs Smith is right in saying that Hillary Clinton must come out with the truth. Mrs Smith said she was not even allowed to talk to people at the State Department; they told her she was not ‘immediate family’!
Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his stepbrother
And finally, a fascinating letter from Abraham Lincoln to his stepbrother John Daniel Johnston appeared on Real Clear Life this week.
Lincoln’s stepbrother had asked him for $80 in 1850, the year the letter was written. $80 in today’s money is a sizeable $2,424.24!
Lincoln minced no words in refusing the request. He reminded Johnston this was not the first time he had given him money:
but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler … This habit of uselessly wasting time, is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break this habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it easier than they can get out after they are in.
A shorter version should be printed on billboards (hoardings, for my British readers) and posters. It should be displayed on public thoroughfares and in schools. We have way too much idleness today. Idleness brings trouble. Remember when our parents and grandparents used to say, ‘The devil makes work for idle hands’?
He went on to acknowledge Johnston’s kindness to him and proposed that, if Johnson worked over the next five months, Lincoln would match the sum of his earnings dollar for dollar.
Kindle owners can find a book of Lincoln’s letters on Amazon. Maybe that has a follow-up.
That’s all the news you might have missed over the past seven days.
Have a great weekend! May it be non-newsworthy except in the best possible way.
Tuesday’s excerpted his commentary and advice on Matthew 7:6 — casting pearls before swine.
Today’s post provides more information about the ministry of this pioneer of Anglican ‘evangelicalism’, often criticised by his congregation and Cambridge University students, among whom he ministered.
In 1979, to mark the bicentenary of Simeon’s conversion at King’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Max Warren — formerly General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and then a Residentiary Canon of Westminster Abbey — wrote a considered essay of this clergyman. Unfortunately, Warren died before he could read it to a group of Anglicans who were to draw conclusions about the lessons of Simeon’s ministry.
Warren’s great-grandfather knew Simeon. This ancestor wrote a memoir which included two letters Simeon had written to him. Warren’s great-grandmother, the man’s wife, kept a diary. She died in 1836, the same year Simeon left this mortal coil. Therefore, Simeon’s life and times no doubt touched him more personally than most.
The PDF of Warren’s paper is available here. A summary follows with page numbers cited.
We can learn much from the way Simeon ministered to people, not only in Cambridge but also around England.
Charles Simeon’s worldview was shaped in part by the French Revolution. He was ordained by the time it took place between 1789 and 1795. He was concerned about possible similar threats to Britain, namely the establishment, including the established Church of England.
He was also a lifelong conservative in his thinking.
He would have been aware that, when he was converted in 1779, that 7,358 out of 11,194 Anglican parishes in England had no clergyman (p. 1).
The nature of conversion
For Simeon, conversion was connected with commitment.
He insisted that that commitment increase over time, particularly for himself but also for others.
He deeply believed that no one could truly be regemerated unless he were experiencing ‘brokenness of heart’ brought about by the profound realisation — ‘self-loathing and abhorrence’ — of one’s own wretched sinful nature.
Only then could the sorrowful — and repentant — convert begin to appreciate the work of sanctifying grace from the most holy God (p. 9).
As I wrote on Monday, Simeon never married.
As he was ostracised for his enthusiastic, evangelical views and preaching, he was a lonely man for many years.
However, this solitude also made him more aware of what clergy faced when they were opposed. This is why he held ‘conversation parties’ with Cambridge students studying for ordination. He wanted them to know what and how to preach when. He also impressed upon these young men that the Bible was both an ‘establishing’ and a ‘converting’ book. Furthermore, they had to practise what they preached. They also had to understand that they were not doing the regenerative work upon their congregation, it was the Holy Spirit. (p. 5)
Even those who ended up not being ordained and who were assigned to far reaches of the British Empire benefited from Simeon’s advice on how to communicate with people. (p. 8)
Solitude also gave him the idea of including clergy wives in lectures for their husbands. (p. 6) The more they knew and understood their husbands’ work, the better they could discuss it with them and support them emotionally.
Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge
Simeon was the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 54 years. That was his one and only assignment.
His outlook on ministry was to maintain a balance between being a pastor and an evangelist. He also held to Martin Luther’s dictum of knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (p. 3)
Holy Trinity — then and now — was a congregation of students but also townspeople who will speak their minds about church. It was also — even in Warren’s time as its vicar — the largest in the Diocese of Ely. (p. 3)
Holy Trinity might not have liked Simeon’s sermons and, when they weren’t angry with him, tune them out but they could not easily tune out the way he delivered the liturgy. He actually prayed — not read — the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. This was new. Most clergy muttered the prayers.
Warren wrote that it was the actual praying of the liturgy which eventually won over his cantankerous and, sometimes violent, congregation. (p. 3)
Outside of church
Simeon also started informal groups, hosting them outside of church. He sometimes hired a room in another parish to accommodate them.
He did this so he could get to know his congregation and also so that they would not see him as being ‘ten feet above contradiction’.
He was also careful to assemble a group of 12 stewards who would manage the parish’s finances and assess the need for charity and relief.
He was a pioneer in involving laity. His Visiting Society volunteers paid visits on poorer townspeople, giving them spiritual instruction as well as food to eat.
He, too, was known for his visits to ill and dying parishoners.
He took the food donation idea further during the bread famine of 1788 and 1789, when he contributed a subscription so that bread could be fairly distributed to the poor in villages around Cambridge. He was known for making his rounds on horseback and stopping in at village bakeries. (p. 4)
Travel in England
Simeon made it his mission to travel to towns and cities around England to spread the Gospel.
If he was rejected by his own congregation, the rest of the country received him warmly. Remember that he had to get around by horse and carriage on long, bumpy rides. There was no railway network in place.
In 1798, he recorded that he gave 75 addresses between May 18 and August 19. He spoke to a total of 87,310 people.
The only other evangelist likely to have spoken to more on a tour was Dwight L Moody — 75 years later. (p. 11)
Simeon was very concerned about the growth of the Anglican church in the Empire.
His missionary initiatives helped to expand the Church in India, New Zealand and Australia.
Charles Simeon was a man who bucked the trend in style and substance. Although discouraged and lonely, he pressed on with the Lord’s work. He encouraged seminarians and young clergymen to do so, too.
He pioneered the way for an evangelical strand in the Anglican Church. It still exists, but less so.
Perhaps it is time for Anglican clergy and seminaries to stop worrying about social justice and put more effort into winning souls for Christ and the life beyond.
Yesterday’s post concerned separating the sacred from the secular in light of Matthew 7:6, casting pearls before swine.
Tomorrow’s post will look at Charles Simeon’s exposition of that verse.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
However, it will have more meaning if we find out who this English clergyman was.
Simeon was born in 1759 into an aristocratic family in Reading, Berkshire, in the Home Counties. At that time, London was probably several hours away by carriage. Today, it takes under an hour to reach Reading by train.
The Simeons were Anglicans but of the modernised Church of England in the decades that followed the non-violent Glorious Revolution of 1688. Clergy were no longer firebrands, perhaps necessary to avoid the impression that they wanted to continue religious persecution that had reigned in previous centuries. Moderation was the order of the day in pulpit preaching and spiritual guidance.
Simeon went to Eton, not far from Reading. In his spare time, he absorbed himself in sport, horses and fashion, typical for a young man of means.
In 1779, he went up to Cambridge to study at King’s College. As was the rule in nearly all the established denominations, receiving Communion was mandatory on Easter Day in order for churchgoers to remain in good standing. Cambridge and Oxford stipulated that students — all men at that time — had to receive Communion at least three times before they were able to graduate. Easter Sunday was likewise mandatory. We can see that Communion was still an infrequent practice, not as it is today.
When Simeon arrived at King’s College in January, he was told he would have to receive Communion within three weeks’ time. Most students of that era did not care. They went and received the Sacrament as if it were fulfilling a requirement, not as a means of grace.
Simeon, on the other hand, felt he had to prepare for receiving the Sacrament. He considered himself unfit:
Satan himself was as fit to attend [the sacrament] as I.
Without a moment’s loss of time, I bought the old Whole Duty of Man, (the only religious book that I had ever heard of) and began to read it with great diligence; at the same time calling my ways to remembrance, and crying to God for mercy; and so earnest was I in these exercises, that within the three weeks I made myself quite ill with reading, fasting, and prayer…
After that Communion service, Simeon still felt unfit to receive the Sacrament and set about preparing for Easter Sunday. He read more books in tandem with studying the Bible. By the middle of Holy Week, divine grace and the Holy Spirit enabled him to understand Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice and the need for repentance. An insatiable hope welled up in him. He devoted four hours daily to prayer, rising at 4 a.m. to meet this commitment.
This was highly unusual in Anglicans of the time. Members and clergy of the Church of England were suspicious of the enthusiasm of the Wesley brothers’ missions, which led to the subsequent formation of the Methodist Church, and the Great Awakening which peaked in 1740. Even before Simeon went up to Cambridge, one professor complained of:
certain Enthusiasts in that Society, who talked of regeneration, inspiration, and drawing nigh unto God.
Simeon decided to read Theology at King’s College. He was made a fellow of College and was ordained in 1782, aged 23. Meanwhile, his brothers, John and Edward, entered law (later politics) and finance, respectively.
Charles Simeon was an early ‘evangelical’ low church Anglican clergyman. It is important to be aware of the fact that he was not an independent Evangelical in the way we understand the term today. He was still part of the Church of England. In our time, N T Wright is another clergyman who fits the same description. He is not an independent Evangelical but an Anglican.
Simeon was assigned to Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge. His enthusiasm soon put him at odds with his churchwardens and church members. They had wanted another priest — their assistant curate Mr Hammond — and made that abundantly clear from the moment he arrived.
The congregation bristled at Simeon’s evangelical preaching. Some stopped attending Holy Trinity, leaving the church half empty on Sundays, alarming at the time. Simeon tendered his resignation to the Bishop of Peterborough, but he refused it.
The churchwardens tried desperately to stop Simeon. Simeon’s struggle continued for 12 years. The churchwardens and trustees locked the church to which he had no key. Once he had a key, they locked the box pews, so that anyone attending had to stand. Simeon rented chairs, but they were removed. Other men were brought in to give Sunday afternoon lectures, without Simeon’s permission. College students attended services only to attack him verbally when he was preaching. Some threw bricks through the church windows when he was preaching. On the streets of Cambridge, they harassed him with false rumours about his reputation.
The Simeon Trust site explains the situation:
like most church congregations at the time, they wanted a preacher who would entertain, instead of one who issued serious exhortations to repent and believe, as Simeon did.
Church at this time was a little different than today: the job of priest/curate/rector was often a patronage position, given as a political or social favor, and the churchwardens or vestry really controlled the church.
One day, a student from Clare College walked with Simeon for a quarter of an hour, which surprised him such that he recorded it in his journal.
Simeon carved a Gospel verse into the pulpit. It was visible only to him and subsequent preachers:
the words a group of Greeks spoke to Philip when he and the other disciples were with Christ in Jerusalem before His death:”Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21)
Amazingly, even though his time at Holy Trinity was dogged by trials, he stayed on for over 50 years.
Eventually, he began to gather his flock by persevering in his work. Those attending his services were not only members of his congregation but also students. He also introduced a Sunday evening service, unheard of at the time.
He also attracted Theology students, future pastors, by giving classes in constructing good sermons. He felt encouraged to do this once he read An Essay on the Composition of a Sermon by the French Reformed minister Jean Claude. His methods were the same as Claude’s.
Through those classes — ‘conversation parties’ — which he held at his home on Friday and Sunday evenings, a group of evangelical young men began to grow. They were known as ‘Simeonites’, or ‘Sims’.
By the time Simeon died, one-third of Anglican clergy active at the time, had studied under him.
Even then, Simeon still faced opposition. When he was 71 and someone asked how he persevered, he said:
My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.
He preached his last sermon two weeks before his death on November 1836, aged 77. He never married. He had a brief, final conversation with friends at his bedside:
… he said, “Do you know the text that greatly comforts me just now?” Friends asked him which. He replied, “I find infinite consolation in the fact that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth!” That surprised them until he explained, “Why, if, out of nothing God can bring all the wonder of the world, He may yet make something out of me!”
After he died, half of Cambridge University paid their respects to him.
Simeon left a considerable spiritual legacy. Would that we had one today in the Church of England.
He published the lessons from his ‘conversation parties’ and sermon outlines as Horae Homileticae to help future pastors with their preaching.
In 1827, a devout ‘Sim’, William Leeke, and his fellow students from Queen’s College established a Sunday School in Jesus Lane for the children living in the vicinity. On its first Sunday, 220 children showed up.
Another Sim, Henry Martyn, became a well known missionary and Bible translator.
Simeon helped to appoint evangelical chaplains to India, even when the East India Company forbade them.
In 1817, he received an inheritance with which he immediately created the Simeon Trust — which still exists today — which helps to purchase the right to appoint the priest-in-charge of certain Anglican parishes. St Peter’s in Colchester, Essex, is one of them. This was to do away with the patronage system:
Simeon realized that, while there was no shortage of solid Evangelical priests, the patronage system of parish appointments not only made it difficult for Evangelicals to secure parish appointments, but meant that continuity was not guaranteed: a congregation with a good preacher that left would not necessarily receive a good replacement.
Simeon helped to found the Church Missionary Society in 1799 and the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ) in 1809.
Today, despite the opposition to Simeon when he was vicar there, Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge continues to be a beacon for Anglican evangelicalism.
The Simeon Trust no longer appears to be active in Britain. It is mainly in the United States these days with different locations overseas. It offers workshops throughout the year, which are hosted by Protestant churches of various denominations.
Tomorrow: Charles Simeon’s exposition of Matthew 7:6
One of my readers, Boetie (‘Brother’), asked for my view of the future of UKIP and Nigel Farage in light of Brexit.
The following will make it clear why many people in Britain had little time for UKIP, although they do acknowledge that if it hadn’t been for Nigel Farage, David Cameron would never have given us the EU Referendum nor would we have the Brexit result today. Therefore, Farage has delivered.
UKIP supporters make Farage out to be a national hero. Yes, he is very interesting and well informed. I have seen him speak in person. He graciously answered the questions I had about his party’s direction. And, yes, it was great seeing him on the hustings with a cigarette and a pint.
However, let’s not forget that, in 2009, Farage was called to account about his MEP expenses. The Observer (The Guardian‘s sister Sunday paper) has a good article from May 2009 which provides much detail. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
The leader of the UK Independence party (Ukip), which wants to lead Britain out of the EU, has taken £2m of taxpayers’ money in expenses and allowances as a member of the European Parliament, on top of his £64,000 a year salary.
Nigel Farage, who is calling on voters to punish “greedy Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs” at the European elections on 4 June, boasted of his personal expenses haul at a meeting with foreign journalists in London last week …
During a debate about Europe at the Foreign Press Association – which was discreetly taped by the hosts – Farage was asked by former Europe minister Denis MacShane what he had received in non-salary expenses and allowances since becoming an MEP in 1999.
“It is a vast sum,” Farage said. “I don’t know what the total amount is but – oh lor – it must be pushing £2 million.” Taken aback, MacShane then joked: “Is it too late to become an MEP?”
Farage insisted that he had not “pocketed” the money but had used the “very large sum of European taxpayers’ money” to help promote Ukip’s message that the UK should get out of the EU.
That is the main reason why I could never go gaga over Farage or UKIP.
Here is another. The Observer helpfully summarises what happened after the 2004 European elections and UKIP’s success. This was two years before Farage became party leader, incidentally:
… one of the dozen, Ashley Mote, was expelled from the party – and later jailed – for benefit fraud. Another, Tom Wise, is now facing prosecution for alleged false accounting and money laundering relating to his EU expenses. He denies the charges. Television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk, who won the East Midlands for Ukip, later left to form another eurosceptic outfit, Veritas.
Kilroy-Silk, a former Labour MP prior to presenting his erstwhile morning current events show, did the right thing by leaving UKIP. He left Veritas in 2009, and the party was absorbed into the English Democrats in 2015.
Money aside — perhaps it is no coincidence the £ sign appears in the party logo — one then needs to look at what UKIP MEPs and councillors have said. Thejournal.ie has a round-up of some of their statements from 2004 to 2015. Several follow.
Godfrey Bloom (MEP who has since left the party) said in 2004 that a small business owner would have have to be a ‘lunatic’ to employ a woman of child-bearing age.
David Silvester (councillor, expelled from the party) said in January 2014 that the disastrous flooding in England was caused by the Coalition government’s decision to bring in same-sex marriage. He had also written to No. 10:
I wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same-sex marriage bill.
Janice Atkinson (MEP) described a self-employed UKIP-supporting Thai lady with British citizenship as a ‘ting-tong from somewhere’ in August 2014. ‘Ting-tong’ not only sounds bad, but in Thai it is a derogatory term denoting madness. Not surprisingly, the lady and her husband withdrew their UKIP membership.
Bill Etheridge (MEP) praised Hitler for his ‘forceful’ manner of oration. That was at a talk in November 2014 in the north of England.
Rozanne Duncan (councillor) said in a Channel 4 documentary in 2015 that she did not like ‘negroes’. She talked about it for three minutes.
During the general election campaign of 2015, UKIP supporters trolled in comments sections everywhere, most notably those of The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Spectator.
Those sites were deluged with the same cut-and-paste messages — many of them lengthy — from the same people day after day after day. Those people should have been banned, not for what they were saying but for the nauseating spamming of those sites.
While the overwhelming majority of UKIP voters and supporters are responsible, well-meaning people who are rightly concerned about the changes they have seen in their local areas over the past 15 years, there is a kernel of support from a handful of extremist-sympathisers. I have read many comments over the years from this tiny faction of UKIP supporters discussing their attendance at fringe/extremist marches.
Farage attempted to change party image
So far, there is something to be said for David Cameron’s referring to UKIP as ‘loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists’.
He said that in 2006 and again in the run-up to the 2015 election.
Fellow Conservative Michael Howard, Cameron’s predecessor, also labelled UKIP as ‘cranks and gadflies’ during his time as party leader.
Farage, who is married to a German, did his best to cleanse that image but with his MEPs and councillors saying silly and stupid things, the tarnish remained.
However, UKIP have gained strength in parts of the South East and the North in recent years among voters who have legitimate concerns.
Farage stood down as party leader within days of Brexit.
Leave voters thought he would stay on to police the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome. However, that was not to be, for whatever reason.
The ironic thing about his abrupt resignation was that, just hours before he made the announcement, UKIP supporters were writing at length anticipating that Farage would not be getting a seat at the Brexit table. In summary (sarcasm alert): ‘Waaaah! The mean, nasty Tories will ignore our Nigel!’
Maybe that’s because Nigel didn’t want to play anymore.
He will, however, continue as an MEP in Brussels. Perhaps his attendance will improve. He shouldn’t forget who’s paying his salary: the taxpayers.
The future — a new party?
Personally, I really do hope UKIP sink like a stone.
The party was weird to begin with and never changed.
Businessman and entrepreneur Arron Banks has given much money and time to UKIP. He also gave £5.6 million to Leave.EU during the referendum campaign.
Banks told The Guardian that UKIP might be pruned back, but he seems to favour a brand new party in a Brexit era. Infinitely preferable, in my humble opinion.
“Ukip grew so rapidly it had problems with personnel and all sorts of issues and I believe that could be better tackled with a new party,” he said …
“I think we have a good shot at taking over from Labour as the opposition because Labour are imploding and Labour voters for the first time ever have defied their party, voting for leave,” Banks said on Wednesday.
But he hinted Farage might not be his choice of leader for any new party, saying: “He may have had enough. And by the way, going out at the top is a good way in politics.”
Indeed. Banks should start afresh. He understands what is needed:
Banks has been credited with professionalising Ukip’s referendum push through the Leave.EU campaign. He deployed senior executives and staff from his insurance companies and hired the Washington DC political campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster on a multimillion-pound fee to sharpen its message.
“It was taking an American-style media approach,” said Banks. “What they said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”
I wish Arron Banks the best of luck in putting his project together.
2016 is a year of huge change. The spate of obituaries during the first three months of this year in the US, UK and France signalled the end of an era. More recently, we saw more change with Brexit. We now have a new, no-nonsense Prime Minister. We might well see a Trump victory in November.
Before the year is out, we might also see a new political party in Britain capturing the hearts and minds of many, particularly in England: a new party for a new era.
UPDATE — SEPTEMBER 16: Diane James is the new UKIP leader. The Spectator has details. James won by approximately 4,000 votes over her nearest rival Lisa Duffy. Three others also vied for the post. The Spectator complains that she is very much a representative of southern England and the middle class. Hmm. The same is also true of Nigel Farage. She looks respectable and interviews well, so there should be no problem with credibility. I wish her all the best!
Boetie, I hope this responds adequately to your request. If not, please feel free to let me know.