"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 7, Number 2, February 2004
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
After nearly sixteen and a half years in the same location--the longest by far (well more than double) that I have lived in one house in my entire life, we have decided to move south, but only by about 10 miles. Too much traffic, too much congestion, too little room to plant trees at the old place; in short, we needed some room to breath. Now we can enjoy the sound of meadowlarks singing, of a distant John Deere diesel, of bellowing bovines, of pristine uncivilization. And a better view of tornadoes.
We are now settling into our new house, complete with new address and new phone number.
The Address is:
Doug and Naomi Kutilek
11303 Springwater Dr., Rt. 3
Clearwater, Kansas 67026
The phone: (620) 545-8563
The e-ddress remains the same: DKutilek@juno.com
SAM HOUSTON: SINNER SAVED BY GRACE
Surely one of the most colorful people in American frontier history was Sam Houston (1793-1863). His military leadership in the Texas war for independence (1836) was crucial to its success. He is to date the only man to serve as governor of two different States. And he almost alone of prominent leaders in Texas vigorously opposed cessation and the break up of the Federal Union at the time of the American Civil War.
Houston, one of nine children, was born in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia of wealthy Scottish Presbyterian stock. As a youth he and the whole family attended a Presbyterian church scarcely a hundred yards from the family homestead, a church built in part through the efforts of his paternal grandfather. Among Houston’s ancestors and contemporary relatives were several Presbyterian preachers. His mother was a sincere and devout Christian and diligently sought to instill Christian teaching into her children.
After Sam’s father died, Sam moved with his widowed mother and siblings to near Marysville in east Tennessee, where a number of Houston relatives had settled some years earlier. Sam was 12 at the time. Unlike his many brothers, Sam had a strong dislike for the necessary matters of clearing land, plowing, planting and harvesting that were the mainstay of farming in the wilderness of the American frontier. He had much rather spend his time reading. Though having little formal schooling--he just wasn’t suited for the confinement that formal education required--he was well educated through extensive reading alone, and was a superb speller. At 16, he left home and lived for three years among the Cherokees of Tennessee, enjoying their much more leisurely and unstructured way of life, learning their customs, language, and point of view (he was thereafter always sympathetic toward the Indians in the repeated and always successful attempts of Whites to force the Indians off their lands with no adequate compensation or, in many cases, no compensation whatsoever). While among the Cherokees, Sam read and re-read and memorized much of Homer’s Iliad in Pope’s famous translation of that classic.
At 19, Sam returned from his sojourn with the Cherokees a hundred dollars in debt (a huge sum in those cash-poor times) and opened a school, which proved a financial success. After one term, Sam closed the school to become a member of the Tennessee militia (the War of 1812 was going on at the time). Houston served with Andrew Jackson, who became his protégé and counselor, in the Indian wars of the 1810s. Houston suffered three serious wounds at the hands of the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. His convalescence was long, and he suffered from these injuries the rest of his life. During his military service, he took a float trip down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. To while away the long days and hours of the journey, Sam took along a half dozen books, including a Bible given to him by his mother for the trip.
In his 20s, after 6 months’ study (rather than the usual 18 months), Houston passed the Tennessee state bar exam and became an attorney. Shortly thereafter, he became the attorney general in Lebanon, Tennessee, some thirty miles east of Nashville, an office which launched him on a meteoric political career. He served two terms in the U. S. Congress, then was elected Governor of Tennessee when just 34 years old. The bachelor governor met and soon married a woman of 18, but the marriage failed after just three months when his wife abandoned him and returned home (no legal divorce was sought or granted for a number of years, and no reason for the separation was ever given by either party, though it was generally suspected that Houston had unjustifiably charged his young bride with marital unfaithfulness). Houston resigned as governor and sought consolation in religion. He tried to join a Presbyterian church in Nashville, but was rejected, in part because the pastor feared repercussions, since Houston’s estranged wife’s family was wealthy and influential. Houston acknowledged that he was not at that time ‘in a regenerated condition, spiritually speaking.’
In his continuing despondency, Sam moved to Oklahoma territory and took up residence with the Cherokees there (those he had lived among had already removed west of the Mississippi). He soon became a member of the Cherokee nation and took a second “wife” (though still legally married to the first wife) who was ¼ Cherokee; she was the aunt of the later famous frontiersman, Jesse Chisholm. This marriage ended after several years, terminated by a divorce in accordance with Cherokee custom.
For the first three decades of his adult life, Houston was plagued by alcohol abuse and drunkenness. He typically tried to “drown his sorrows” and sought escape from unpleasant realities in alcohol. This placed a huge strain on many of his personal relationships, and came close to wrecking his life completely. Long before he himself cast aside the bottle, he supported the cause of “temperance.”
After a couple of years with the Cherokees of Arkansas and Oklahoma (with numerous trips to Washington, D.C. as the representative of the Cherokees), Houston crossed over the Red River into East Texas (then a part of Mexico) and acquired land there in accordance with Mexican settlement policies. He joined the Catholic Church (one of the legal requirements for land ownership) but he had no sympathy with Catholicism. When war with Mexico was imminent, Houston, with his military experience and natural leadership qualities, was chosen as head of the Texas army (such as it was) in 1835.
Houston advised the withdrawal of the small Texas occupying force in San Antonio and the demolition of the Alamo mission, but his counsel was not heeded. When Texas declared independence on March 1, 1836, the Alamo with its small force of defenders (less than 200) was already under siege by 5,000 Mexicans led by General Santa Anna. On March 6, the Alamo fell, and all the defenders were killed, some after surrendering. Three weeks later, Santa Anna ordered 430 Texan POWs executed at Goliad. This outrage naturally stirred up the ire of all English-speaking residents of Texas.
Houston’s responsibility as general was to defeat the advancing Mexican army. His chosen means was a series of tactical withdrawals ever further east, until he had an advantageous battleground and disposition of troops near San Jacinto, due east of present-day Houston. There Houston’s force--less than half the size of the Mexican army, inflicted 630 deaths, took 730 POWs, and captured Santa Anna in the aftermath, while suffering just 2 (some say 6) killed and 23 wounded. The war was effectively ended by this one encounter.
Houston was twice elected President of the Texas Republic during its brief decade of existence (1836-1845), and was beset with unending problems, chiefly heavy indebtedness and lack of revenues, compounded by an uncooperative legislature. In his second non-consecutive term as President, Houston reduced government expenses by 90% over his predecessor, but the Republic’s continued existence was still very precarious.
After Texas was admitted to the Union, Houston was three times selected by the legislature to be one of the state’s U. S. Senators. As a senator, he labored strenuously to reduce sectional tensions over the issue of slavery, seeking compromises that would keep the Union together and avoid civil war. (Only Houston and Senator Bell of Tennessee among southerners voted against the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, which allowed for the extension of slavery to the Plains states). A decade before it occurred, Houston predicted the coming of civil war and correctly foretold the disastrous consequences for the South.
Houston had hoped to be the Democrat nominee for President in 1852, but was rejected in favor of dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce who defeated Mexican War hero Winfield Scott for the presidency. In 1857, Houston narrowly lost a bid to be governor of Texas. His 1859 race proved successful (his elective offices are amazing: U. S. Congressman, U. S. Senator, President of the Republic of Texas, and Governor of both Tennessee and Texas. There was even popular agitation for Houston to run for U. S. President in 1860).
How Houston became a true believer in Christ is inextricably bound up with the marriage to his third wife. Badly wounded in the battle of San Jacinto, Houston was evacuated by boat to New Orleans for medical treatment. He arrived there in terrible shape, his dreadful appearance shocking the well-wishers gathered on the dock to welcome him. In the crowd that day was a 17-year old girl from Marion, Alabama named Margaret Lea. In her girlish naiveté, she soon began telling--almost prophesying--to family and friends that someday she would personally meet the great Sam Houston. That meeting took place more than three years later when Houston, having served one term as President of Texas, was in Mississippi buying horses. At a social gathering, he was introduced to Margaret, then all of 20, by her younger sister Emily. Business soon took Houston away but in a matter of months, he was back in Alabama and the couple became engaged, over her mother’s strenuous and understandable objections. In May 1840, they were married, he 47, she just 21. Together they would have 8 children.
Margaret set out to “reform” Sam Houston, and saw herself as God’s instrument in this. She was a devout Baptist (her late father had been a Baptist pastor, and she herself had been converted at a girl’s academy at age 19). Of course, strictly speaking, she had no Biblical grounds for marrying Houston--he was an unbeliever (to say nothing of his two divorces, neither of which seems to have been within Biblical guidelines). Sometimes God in His mercy over-rules our sinful follies (and sometimes He doesn’t--the two wives of Thomas Alvah Edison were both devout Christians, one the daughter of a Methodist bishop; both inadvisedly and unbiblically married Edison, a lifelong unbeliever, skeptic, and virtual atheist. He never came to Christ, though he might have, had they refused marriage out of Biblical convictions).
Margaret transformed Houston’s life, greatly restricting his alcohol use. For the first several years of marriage he was irreligious and disrespectful toward his wife’s faith, refusing to attend church at all, even at Christmas. But because of his wife’s Christian character and consistent testimony, Houston did finally begin attending church with her in 1846, and thereafter led family prayers at home when he wasn’t away on business or politics. Margaret set as her chief purpose in life the conversion of Sam Houston.
When Houston went to Washington, D. C. as senator from Texas, his wife and growing family remained behind. Out of respect for his wife’s faith, Houston regularly attended E Street Baptist Church where G. W. Samson was pastor. Samson befriended Houston and loaned him books on Christian apologetics.
The separation from his wife and family made Houston very introspective. Letters from home were precious; Margaret filled her letters with Bible verses aimed at his conversion. Each evening, he read from the New Testament. While in Washington, Houston took a temperance pledge.
Back in Texas, Houston and family moved to Independence, then home to Baylor College. In November 1854, Houston publicly professed faith in Christ (his actual conversion came some while before), and was immersed in a creek by Baylor president Rufus Burleson.
Thereafter, Houston was a transformed man--in habits, in language, in outlook. The evidence of both his subsequent life and his words prove that his conversion was genuine.
A diversity of factors led to Houston’s conversion. No doubt the early thorough Bible training he received as a child was crucial. So, too, were the prayers of his mother. The consistent Christian conduct of wife Margaret (in spite of her blameworthy act of marrying the unconverted Houston), was essential, as was the faithful preaching of the Gospel by various pastors, and also Houston’s own personal reading of the Bible. Houston, a sinner profane, drunken, immoral and blasphemous, yet gloriously and unquestionably converted--and transformed--at age 61, is testimony to the abundant mercy and grace of God. Charts and demographics about the odds of being converted at such-and-such an age are irrelevant. God does not save sinners by demographics; He saves them one at a time, whoever they are, whatever they are, when they come to Christ. We dare never presume that a particular sinner is too far gone in sin or age so as to be beyond the reach of the Gospel.
Houston’s last years were not those of a much admired, much venerated hero; rather, because he opposed secession, and later refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, he was considered a traitor, and was first refused a third term as senator in 1857, then removed from the governorship of Texas in March 1961 (he had been elected in 1859). He retired to his farm and watched with knowing eyes as the Union began to strangle, ultimately to crush, the Confederacy, bankrupting Texas, the ill-advised war leaving only ruin in its wake, as Houston foretold it would. Houston’s death in 1863 spared him from seeing the full extent of the ruin secession would bring.
A Word About Houston Biographies
One of the early works on Houston is the Life and Select Literary Remains of Sam Houston of Texas, by William Carey Crane (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1884), the author being a Southern Baptist pastor and a president of Baylor University. I have not seen this work.
The standard older work on Houston is The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston by Marquis James (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929). James had the co-operation of the then still-living children and grandchildren of Houston. This book received the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for biography and is still acknowledged by more recent writers as the best biography of Houston.
A more recent work on Houston in the larger context of American history is Sam Houston and the American Southwest by Randolph B. Campbell (New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993); reviewed in AISI 4:4. This was the first book on Houston I read. It says comparatively little about his religion.
An excellent work on Margaret Lea Houston is Sam Houston’s Wife by William Seale. Here most of the details of Houston’s third marriage and subsequent conversion are set forth.
LINCOLN IN THE TELEGRAPH OFFICE by David Homer Bates. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1995. Reprint of 1907 The Century Co. edition. 432 pp., paperback.
There are a number of classic books on the American Civil War penned by participants and eye-witnesses, and this is one of them. David Homer Bates was a very young telegrapher (like the telegraph itself, just 17 years old) at the start of the War. Because of the necessity of efficient and effective communication in the prosecution of the war effort, Bates and many other civilian telegraphers were “drafted” into government service. Bates ended up in the War Department telegraph office in Washington, D.C., where he served for the duration of the war.
The War Department was in close proximity to the White House, and because of the frequent urgency of messages to and from commanders in the field, President Lincoln was a regular guest in the telegraph office, either sending urgent messages to his generals, or awaiting the latest news from the war front. Bates claims, with complete credibility, that Lincoln spent more time in the telegraph office by far than any other single location during his time as President, only the White House itself excepted. In times of great crisis, Lincoln on several occasions spent whole nights, sometimes several days on end, awaiting the latest dispatches when great issues hung in the balance on the battlefield. Lincoln also found refuge in the telegraph office from the hoard of humanity that continually descended on the White House to pester the President for some government job, a political favor, a government contract and sundry other matters.
Because Bates saw the President almost daily for four years plus, in a relaxed, informal atmosphere, and had immediate first-hand knowledge of the most secret and sensitive communications between the President and the various military and government leaders, he was immediately privy to information of the most monumental sort, and is a primary source of information of the highest value. In his book, based in large part not on the treacheries of errant memory at a distance of 40 years, but upon personal war-time journals of events as they unfolded, we see the private Lincoln, telling stories, quoting Shakespeare, meeting with cabinet officials, anxiously looking over the telegraphers’ shoulders as the latest dispatch is received and deciphered (many communications were sent in a complex code, to prevent enemy decipherment if intercepted), even writing--Lincoln composed the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation over a period of a couple of weeks in the summer of 1862 while at the telegraph office.
It was Bates who discovered one night the fire in the White House stables which killed the beloved pony of Lincoln’s deceased son Willie.
The telegraph, invented in the 1840s, was the “internet” of its day--absolutely crucial to the co-ordination of the war effort. Some 1,500 telegraphers served the Union cause, some in Washington, but most scattered over various locations throughout the country, often in immediate proximity to fields of battle. In all, some 6.5 million telegraph communications were sent and received by Union telegraphers during the war.
Of the many books about the American Civil War which I have read, and particularly of those focused on Lincoln, this is among the best, with its immediacy and freshness, its first-hand information.
ARROGANCE: RESCUING AMERICA FROM THE MEDIA ELITE by Bernard Goldberg. New York: Warner Books, 2003. 310 pp., hardback; $26.95
Bernard Goldberg, 28 years an on-air reporter for CBS news, provoked the undying, eternal hatred of the TV news elites, especially Dan Rather, by publishing in 2001 his book Bias, an expose from an informed insider’s point of view of how the newsrooms and broadcast news reports of the major TV networks characteristically and pervasively slant the news in a pro-leftist, pro-liberal, anti-conservative way (that book was favorably reviewed in AISI 5:4).
Here, Goldberg follows up that book with more of the same: proof positive of the reporting bias in the national media, and their utter blindness--willful blindness?--to their warped presentation of the news.
Goldberg, no radical conservative--he favors gay rights, and much else that the conservative right finds appalling--nevertheless points out that the national media can be predictably expected to misrepresent the facts when reporting on matters relating to abortion, guns, race, poverty, education, the family, and any military action undertaken by a Republican president--what was predicted, and then “reported” by the national networks regarding the 2003 war in Iraq was markedly different from what the American people could see with their own eyes from the reports of embedded reporters actually accompanying the troops in the field. No surprise that the ratings of the once “Big Three” networks ABC, NBC and CBS during the war (usually a media ratings bonanza) were either more or less flat or actually fell, while Fox News, which is assuredly not doctrinairely liberal in its news coverage, saw its ratings sky-rocket.
And then there was the recent New York Times fiasco in which Jayson Blair, a “rising star” black reporter/editor, for the Times was exposed as having utterly falsified the sum and substance of dozens of major articles published by that newspaper which arrogantly calls itself America’s newspaper of record. How does this fit in with the problem of bias in broadcast news? The average individual is unaware that the networks almost invariably take their cue on what is or is not newsworthy from the New York Times. If the Times reports it, it must be news, and it must be reported from the same point of view as the Times. This slavish aping of the Times explains why quite frequently the three network news broadcasts on any given night all lead with the same story, all report the same “facts,” and then have identical segments all through the remainder of their half-hour broadcasts, often in precisely the same order: they are broadcasting electronically what they have concluded must be true, because it was in the New York Times.
Which is why the exposure of repeated falsifications in the New York Times over many months was so embarrassing. The chief source for network news--notoriously, even radically liberal in its perspective--has been a purveyor of lies, lies repeated uncritically by the networks.
The networks ooze with disdain and contempt for the masses, who are (they imagine) so ignorant, so lemming-like, so gullible that they actually listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly or Dr. Laura and watch Fox News to find out the truth rather than submissively letting the networks tell them what to think about the issues of the day. “Condescending” is the only word that adequately describes their arrogant contempt for anyone living west of Manhattan.
Goldberg says that the bias of the national media, a thing which they vehemently deny even exists, is an unconscious act on the part of the media elite. Here, I think he is wrong. These people--and some of them will admit it, off the record, in moments of unguarded candor--simply must know that they are not reporting the news, but spinning the story to create an “alternate reality” more to their liking.
Goldberg proposes a “twelve step” program for the media elite to get over and through their bias and arrogance: “Hello. My name is Dan, and I’m a liberal.”
That they would actually take to heart his criticisms!
Some quotes from Arrogance--
“A top producer at 48 Hours, for instance, used to call the show’s audience, ‘white trash in a double-wide making $15,000 a year.’ “ (p. 37)
“There are few forces on Earth more powerful than white liberal guilt. It has no limits.” (p. 101)
“Deep down--and this is the darkest, dirtiest secret of them all--it is white liberals who think blacks are inferior, incapable of making it in society without the white man’s help.” (pp. 116-7)
“But my guess is that even if the network news divisions are indeed slouching toward oblivion, they and the other elites will not let any of the criticism aimed in their direction or in the direction of their liberal friends puncture their bubble, where they remain insulated and content and convinced of their own virtue.” (p. 236)
Quoting Dick Morris, some-time Clinton campaign consultant and now newspaper columnist: “This [the 2003 Iraq war] has been a rough war for tyrants and those who try to control the thoughts of their people. In Baghdad--but also in Manhattan, at the headquarters of the Times, NBC, CBS, and ABC.” (p. 236).
THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS: ARE THEY RELIABLE by F. F. Bruce. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1960. 5th edition. 128 pp., paperback.
The field of study that seeks to defend the credibility of the Scriptures against various attacks on its veracity is called “apologetics,” from a Greek work meaning ‘a verbal defense.’ This small volume, the first of Professor Bruce’s many published books, is among the best brief “apologies” for the factual credibility of the New Testament.
Until shortly before writing this volume, Bruce had not been focused on the Bible, but had rather been teaching classical Greek (an excellent preparation for New Testament studies, by the way). So Bruce came to the subject at hand with a solid background in classical civilization and knowledge of historical sources and the evaluation of such sources as to their reliability.
Bruce begins by showing that the matter of the historical reliability of the NT is an important issue, and not just for theologians and historians--if the NT is not trustworthy where it can be tested (its historical claims, its geography, etc.), how can we trust it in those matters wherein it cannot be objectively tested (its theology)?
Bruce does offer the sage advice to his readers: “before going on to consider the trustworthiness of the New Testament writings, it would be a good idea to read them!” (p. 9)
Bruce shows that the NT documents are well attested and well preserved in very numerous and often quite ancient manuscripts (besides translations and quotations in ancient authors), and consequently there is rarely any doubt as to the exact original wording in the great majority of the NT. In this, the NT stands in stark contrast to almost every other work from the classical word, whether by Greek or Roman poets, playwrights, historians or philosophers, which are usually poorly attested and preserved in only a few medieval manuscripts, with much doubt as to their precise wording.
Further, Bruce shows that the collection of books now known as the New Testament was not given authority by some ecclesiastical body centuries after their composition, but rather, the churches merely recognized the authority that was inherent in the NT books. All 27 NT books were composed in the first century, the claims of radical critics notwithstanding (we would place the writing of the Gospels slightly earlier than Bruce does), and all are from within apostolic circles: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect.” (p. 27)
Addressing the “quest for the historical Jesus” engaged in by modernist scholars who reject the supernatural element in the Gospels, Bruce shows that no matter how far back they go back--beyond the written Gospels to “Q” (a hypothetical common source for Matthew and Luke) or to oral tradition, they never find a non-supernatural Jesus. And as written, the Gospels date to well within the lifetimes of the apostles and other eye-witnesses of Jesus, which only further enhances their credibility, to the utter confounding of the critics.
It is noteworthy, as Bruce points out, that “mere” classical scholars and historians have no problem with the historical reliability of the NT: their background in Greek and Roman civilization enables them to see that the NT is exactly what it claims to be: first-century, often first-hand accounts of events and people in the first century. In other words, the better you know the facts regarding the first-century Mediterranean world, the less reason you find to deny the historical trustworthiness of the NT.
On the other hand, it is the theologians, particularly those with an anti-supernatural bias, a presupposition of anti-supernaturalism, who find fault with the credibility of the NT, not on historical or evidential grounds, but because they have assumed beforehand that the supernatural--miracles, divine revelations, divine intervention in history, especially the incarnation--is impossible. In short (though Bruce doesn’t expressly say it), such folks have a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem.
Examined from a historical point of view, the NT documents hold up very well to the closest scrutiny. Their presentation of persons (Herod, Pilate, Agrippa, Festus, Gallio, etc.) is true to what is know about such people from extra-biblical sources; their accounts of geography and history are never shown to be in error, not even with regard to the use of the correct local title for diverse government officials (Luke’s precision and accuracy in this regard in Acts is utterly remarkable, compelling the honest conclusion that Luke was a mid-first century author and often eye-witness of what he reports--in short, you can implicitly accept as factually correct what he writes). Comparison of NT writers with contemporary or near-contemporary Jewish and pagan accounts of Jesus and Christianity further support the NT’s presentation of Christ and his earliest followers.
And the supernatural element in the NT--the miracles of Christ and the Apostles, the divine revelations, and the incarnation--imbedded in a demonstrably historically reliable literary matrix is freed from legitimate charges by NT critics of fantasy, fable or myth.
I first read this excellent work 30 years ago in Bible college, and again twenty years later, then again just now. I have found it eminently satisfying--a fine, persuasive and authoritative work that should be read and ruminated by pastors and people in the pew alike, but especially by students whose faith is under assault in the secular college and government high school classroom. This indeed may be the first book to read on apologetics.
THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING: THE STORY OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Simon Winchester. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2003. 260 pp., hardback. $25.00
Previously in AISI, we favorably reviewed Winchester’s Krakatoa (AISI 6:8) and The Professor and the Madman (AISI 3:8), the latter being a specialized study of one aspect of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), viz., the part a criminally deranged American doctor, one W. C. Minor, had in the making of the OED (and he was by no means the only OED contributor with serious mental problems). Here, Winchester gives the “bigger picture,” covering the OED as a whole (which he did in a lesser way in the aforementioned volume) in an informative and interesting way.
The OED is the largest, greatest and most authoritative dictionary of any language. From conception (1857) to completion (1928, publication of the last volume of the first edition), some 71 years elapsed. It originally filled 12 tombstone-sized volumes (and is now published in 20 in the 2nd edition) with 178 miles of type in all, in dozens of type fonts and a babble of languages. It traces the development of every word in the English language, from etymology to usage, illustrating the various meanings with quotations from all periods of the language.
The dictionary was proposed by famous English churchman R. C. Trench. The work by turns progressed and foundered until the appointment of Scotsman James Murray, a largely self-taught multi-linguist (and genuine eccentric) as the third editor (in a line that continues to the present) who was responsible for the oversight of the lion’s share of the work. Editors, sub-editors, sub-sub-editors, clerks, type-setters--one Oxford University Press typesetter worked on the OED all the way from A to Z, a forty-plus year odyssey!--, proof-readers, printers and, especially, volunteer readers (who located and submitted more than five million quotations) numbered altogether in the thousands, and indeed this army was none too large, as the toil of corralling the whole of the English language in a single work was massive beyond anyone’s original estimations. Certain parts of the language proved immensely difficult to get a handle on--one sub-editor spent three full months trying to organize the article for the word “black” and its various derivatives.
Those who use and love English, and who have learned what an indispensable treasure the OED is will delight in this account.
(As an aside: at least twice the author points out that Bible sales by Oxford University Press, especially of the KJV, have generated millions of dollars in revenue for OUP, money used to subsidize the printing of scholarly works like OED--so much for the argument raised against modern Bible versions that their publishers are in it for the money. One of the chief publishers of the KJV seems to have the same motive).
“James Platt was . . . a polymath and ghost writer who knew scores of languages and once famously declared that the first twelve tongues were always the most difficult, but having mastered them, the following hundred should not pose too much of a problem.” (The Meaning of Everything, p. 211) Indeed.
POLITICIANS, PARTISANS AND PARASITES: MY ADVENTURES IN CABLE NEWS by Tucker Carlson. New York: Warner Books, 2003. 192 pp., hardback. $24.95
Tucker Carlson is the boyish-looking thirty-something, bow-tie-wearing talking head perhaps familiar from CNN’s Crossfire broadcast, who pledged to eat his shoe if Hilary Clinton’s “autobiography” sold over a certain number of copies (I forget how many--but it did; I don’t know if he in fact became a footwear gourmand).
Carlson, in the conservative/libertarian portion of the political spectrum, is a talented and likeable wordsmith, having labored chiefly in print media before taking to the airwaves. This chatty and often entertaining account of his life in pursuit of news stories, political campaigns (his favorite pol seems to be John McCain) and such, is marked by much humor, considerable behind-the-scenes insights (highly unflattering remarks about the off-camera Jesse Jackson, Bill Bradley, but also Jerry Falwell), and regrettably much base profanity and glorying in frequent drunkenness and debauchery among the press and politicians. In not a few things, Carlson reminds me of a young H. L. Mencken, which is to say, a decidedly mixed review--substantial abilities, mingled with too much that is seamy.