Nathaniel Martin sailed with his friend and fellow-naturalist Stephen Maturin on two long sea voyages in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, first as the ship's chaplain and later as Maturin's assistant surgeon. Never much of a fist at sermonizing, Martin took to writing and publishing impolitic tracts that offended the Royal Navy Board and prevented him from returning as a chaplain.
Martin lost an eye to an owl, and, as long as Martin's eye was single, O'Brian let him rival Captain Jack Aubrey for Maturin's time and friendship. Martin married between voyages, however, and his newfound obsession with providing for his family began to make him tedious company for Maturin. (Banality is the worst symptom a character can present with in these novels.) Martin's overheated conscience led him to an end straight out of Hawthorne, with whom he shared his first name.
These are the sermons he never wrote.
A return to the Bible’s, the Constitution’s, or any poem’s text, then, isn’t a call to humorless literalism or to a strict constructionism that can’t distinguish between letter and spirit. It’s the slow and repeated enjoyment of a text that won’t be squeezed for, and then discarded in favor of, some dogma or other envenoming essence. It’s an emphasis on story and language and oral expression that might have us, like the Lord, speaking not in theories but in parables, and grounding ourselves in the serious play of prosody.
I discovered the work on my mother’s devotional shelf when I visited my parents over Christmas. One page I randomly turned to spoke to me in my discouragement about my writing. The discouragement felt vaguely productive. It had the feel of a winter field with the hoe and the scythe stored somewhere in the shed. It felt like a Twachtman painting, or at least of the one I enjoy at the Phillips. It’s as if Twachtman in all that snow couldn’t farm; all he could do was paint.
Two recent books argue the King James Version’s enduring popularity stems from the literalness of its translation and not from the beauty of its language. I’ve always suspected this was the case, and it has been strangely gratifying to find the argument in print, even years after I benched my KJV in favor of a […]
We’d climb on old gondolas and tugs and dugout canoes illuminated only by a translucent, fiberglass ceiling. We could see the pine needles and dirt accumulating in rows along the corrugated roof from inside the building. We played underneath a white, fallow field blessed by inattention and sunlight.
A sign in the aisles said not to climb on the boats, sure, but no one was ever in the room with us: no docent, guard, member, or guest. Only birds.