19 February 2022

"O, she comes!!" [SPEED! corrected; and with a QUERY]

I regard the locus classicus in Christian apologetic with regard to Speed, as being the introduction of Lord Feverstone in Lewis's Hideous Strength. Deftly, Lewis insinuates the suspicion that Feverstone, as well as being a very poor driver, was also a very bad man. Perhaps he was descended from Toad?

The craze for Speed, as an emblem of Progress and Modernity, was expressed as early as 1903 by W E Henley (1849-1903) in his last poem, A Song of Speed. Henley deified power and arrogance: he was also the author of that misguided ditty Invictus which concludes with the much-quoted phrase "I am the captain of my soul". 

In Speed, Henley concludes this long and tedious poem with what surely must strike us today as risible bathos. Here is a taste of just a tiny bit of it:

"Hence the Mercedes! Look at her. Shapeless? Unhandsome? Unpaintable? Yes; but the strength of some seventy-five horses: seventy-five puissant, superb fellow-creatures: is summed and contained in her pipes and her cylinders ... handle her valves, her essentials, her secrets ... this marvellous Mercedes, this triumphing contrivance, comes to make other Man's life than she found it: ... thus the Mercedes comes, O, she comes, this astonishing device, this astonishing Mercedes, with Speed -- Speed in the Fear of the Lord. So, in the Eye of the Lord, under the Feet of the Lord, out of the measureless goodness and grace in the Hand of the Lord. Speed! Speed on the Knees, Speed in the Laugh, Speed by the Gift, Speed in the Trust of the Lord --"

In his whodunnit The Body in the Silo (1933), Mgr R A Knox entertains himself and us with the absurdities of all this. One of his characters is a Phyllis Morel, who loves cars ... and, especially, their speed ... and has even worked up for herself a lucrative automobile business. Have you ever seen the 1930 dust/wrapper of Waugh's Vile Bodies? (BTW, there floats into my mind that self-portrait [1929] by Tamara de Lempicka ... sitting in her Bugatti, "cold as ice, and all the more provocative ... arrogance ... freedom, speed, mobility, power and riches" [Ingried Brugger])

Knox's characters are discussing Speed; "I don't want speed to brace my nerves," observed Miss Morel. "I want it for its own sake."

"Speed, speed, speed in the knees of the Lord?" suggested Worsley. "I never could quite understand how Henley managed to lug theology into it."  

Indeed. But, if one has to be biblical, isn't the Tower of Babel the most suitable allusion?

H/t to Joshua.

Query: having perused Wikipedia, I remain a bit vague about which Mercedes on the roads in 1903 was 75 horsepower.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Civilta Cattolica, March 6, 1899:

The practical lesson to be drawn from the Apostolic Letter of Pope Leo XIII is that Catholic principles do not change - despite changing times, despite changes of country, despite new discoveries, nor do they change for the sake of practicality. They remain the same as taught by Christ, as defined by Popes and Councils, as kept by Saints and defended by the Doctors of the Church. Whosoever accepts them in their fullness and exactness is Catholic; whosoever hesitates, wavers, adapts them to his age, compromises them - this person can call himself what he will, but before God and the Church he is a rebel and a traitor!

I went to the Real Mass this morning which is The Roman Rite for real men.

The sixties synod resulted in the LIl' Licit Liturgy, which is a ecumenical rite for spiritual schismatics, solipsistic sissies and socialists.

Us Catholics are captives on a train to the Indifferentism exit in nowhere'sville in which everything and everyone is welcome - except those who hold fast to the faith once delivered- and our inertia into indifferentism is increasing in speed and intensity and still Invisibilium within the Hierarchy is that prelate whose possession of Tradition is such that it could be used as a force against this evil inertia.

Simply to keep the faith once delivered in the face of the new theology/modernism which controls the Church is the faithful's way of the cross.

Unknown said...

Here today--in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped--always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!

J Hanna said...

Bugatti. Not that it matters.

E sapelion said...

“Glorious, stirring sight! The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today—in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped—always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!”

PM said...

It has been the triumph of modernity to reduce people to machines: first with the Cartesian ghost lodged in them as a passenger, and more recently without even that. I really do pity the automobile fanatic who thinks his car defines him (and it usually is a man).

Joshua said...

The advent of the motor car (as opposed to horse-drawn conveyance) made possible the enjoyment by (rich) private individuals of the active pleasure of driving themselves at previously impossible speeds (faster than a galloping steed) - for, although steam engines had been ferrying folk about along railways for decades, the pleasure of fast travel on trains was purely passive.

Somewhere I found online an enjoyable account of the very first automobile to drive from Sydney to Melbourne in 1900 both on and off the scarcely-existent roads of the days (complete with transiting customs upon crossing the Murray from the colony of NSW to the colony of Victoria). I recall the trip took about three weeks...

Joshua said...

PS I oversimplified the story somewhat - it was a steam car, and having been driven to Bathurst from Sydney (no mean feat that, involving a crossing of the Blue Mountains), its owner and builder, with his cousin, drove from Bathurst to Melbourne in April 1900.

Details, including a photograph of the car itself (now in a museum), can be accessed at this link:


Joshua said...

PPS And the account of the trip may be accessed here:


Joshua said...

'We got under weigh [sic] as soon as possible and covered everything up to "Pretty Sally” Hill, climbing the slopes in good style. Over the top we cut off the motor, in the prospect of a good “coast,” and away we went like the wind. The motion of travelling at fully 40 miles an hour [64 km/h] was terribly exciting. One cannot imagine the tremendous excitement and pleasure of going at this terrific pace over the roads, with the car seemingly alive under us. It was glorious, it was sublime; [emphasis added] till, with a series of rapidly decreasing hisses, and increasing bumpings on the road, we realized that our back tyre had punctured, after carrying us over 470 miles of wretched country.'

– "The Pioneer Motor Car Trip of Australia" (1900), pp. 14-15.