Sunday 29 September 2013


2013-35  Inspirational Story: The Little Match Girl - Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen  [1805-1875] was a Danish author and poet. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels and poems, Andersen is best remembered for his fairy tales.

The Little Match Girl (Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne, in Danish, meaning "The little girl with the matchsticks") is a one of the most poignant short stories written by Hans Christian AndersenThe story is about a dying child's dreams and hope, and was first published in 1845. It has been adapted to various media including animated film, and a television musical.

Grandmother stood clear and shining, kind and lovely

It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. Evening came on, the last evening of the year. In the cold and gloom a poor little girl, bareheaded and barefoot, was walking through the streets.

Of course when she had left her house she'd had slippers on, but what good had they been? They were very big slippers, way too big for her, for they belonged to her mother. The little girl had lost them running across the road, where two carriages had rattled by terribly fast. One slipper she'd not been able to find again, and a boy had run off with the other, saying he could use it very well as a cradle some day when he had children of his own. And so the little girl walked on her naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried several packages of matches, and she held a box of them in her hand. No one had bought any from her all day long, and no one had given her a cent.

Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along, a picture of misery, poor little girl! The snowflakes fell on her long fair hair, which hung in pretty curls over her neck. In all the windows lights were shining, and there was a wonderful smell of roast goose, for it was New Year's eve. Yes, she thought of that!

In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected farther out into the street than the other, she sat down and drew up her little feet under her. She was getting colder and colder, but did not dare to go home, for she had sold no matches, nor earned a single cent, and her father would surely beat her. Besides, it was cold at home, for they had nothing over them but a roof through which the wind whistled even though the biggest cracks had been stuffed with straw and rags.
Her hands were almost dead with cold. Oh, how much one little match might warm her! If she could only take one from the box and rub it against the wall and warm her hands. She drew one out. R-r-ratch! How it sputtered and burned! It made a warm, bright flame, like a little candle, as she held her hands over it; but it gave a strange light! It really seemed to the little girl as if she were sitting before a great iron stove with shining brass knobs and a brass cover. How wonderfully the fire burned! How comfortable it was! The youngster stretched out her feet to warm them too; then the little flame went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the burnt match in her hand.

She struck another match against the wall. It burned brightly, and when the light fell upon the wall it became transparent like a thin veil, and she could see through it into a room. On the table a snow-white cloth was spread, and on it stood a shining dinner service. The roast goose steamed gloriously, stuffed with apples and prunes. And what was still better, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled along the floor with a knife and fork in its breast, right over to the little girl. Then the match went out, and she could see only the thick, cold wall. She lighted another match. Then she was sitting under the most beautiful Christmas tree. It was much larger and much more beautiful than the one she had seen last Christmas through the glass door at the rich merchant's home. Thousands of candles burned on the green branches, and colored pictures like those in the printshops looked down at her. The little girl reached both her hands toward them. Then the match went out. But the Christmas lights mounted higher. She saw them now as bright stars in the sky. One of them fell down, forming a long line of fire.

"Now someone is dying," thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star fell down a soul went up to God. She rubbed another match against the wall. It became bright again, and in the glow the old grandmother stood clear and shining, kind and lovely.

"Grandmother!" cried the child. "Oh, take me with you! I know you will disappear when the match is burned out. You will vanish like the warm stove, the wonderful roast goose and the beautiful big Christmas tree!"

And she quickly struck the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother with her. And the matches burned with such a glow that it became brighter than daylight. Grandmother had never been so grand and beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and both of them flew in brightness and joy above the earth, very, very high, and up there was neither cold, nor hunger, nor fear-they were with God.

But in the corner, leaning against the wall, sat the little girl with red cheeks and smiling mouth, frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The New Year's sun rose upon a little pathetic figure. The child sat there, stiff and cold, holding the matches, of which one bundle was almost burned.

"She wanted to warm herself," the people said. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, and how happily she had gone with her old grandmother into the bright New Year.

Watch Walt Disney’s mini classic “Little Match Girl” in Youtube by clicking here.

Jean Hersholt (1886-1956)  was an avid collector of Andersen editions, and among other things he translated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales and stories in the excellent edition The Complete Andersen (six volumes, New York 1949) - which you may now read on this web site:

Sunday 22 September 2013


2013-34  Appreciating Art : A Lonely Life [1873] - Hugh Cameron

[During the 1870s, Hugh Cameron [1837-1918] produced a number of paintings depicting Scottish country people engaged in hard farm tasks, or collecting and dragging firewood. Several of these compositions suggest the influence of Jean Fran├žois Millet's scenes of peasant life. First exhibited in 1873, this picture was painted for Cameron's friend, John McGavin who was also a discerning collector of Corot and Millet.]

You will probably agree that the title of this picture “A Lonely Life” describes it very aptly. Here we see an old Highland woman returning to her cottage at the end of the day. In one arm she carries a bundle of sticks which she has gathered on her way home, and which she will use for her evening fire.  She has set down her provision basket at her feet while she unlocks her door. There is no one to welcome her on her return-not even a dog or a cat to bark or purr when she appears in sight: truly “a lonely life.”

The arrangement or composition of the picture and its painting are as simple as the subject itself. Consider how little there is in the picture: a humble old woman and part of the outside of her poor cottage, with a little bit of sky and distant hill; and yet the painting tells its story fully and effectively.

The artist might have put many other appropriate things into his picture, such as a garden, or trees, or even other houses. Do you think that those things which might have been quite natural in such a scene would have helped him in telling his story of "a lonely life"?

The artist has put in only what was absolutely necessary, and this helps to create the feeling of loneliness, and to arouse our pity for the old woman, just as Andersen rouses our pity for the little match girl in the sad but beautiful story.

Let us notice carefully how he has treated the few items of his picture! Instead of making the different parts stand out clearly and separately from each other, he has blended them together in a wonderful way. Only the old woman's head and hands stand out clearly against the light colour of the cottage wall; all the rest of the picture is shadowy and indistinct except the distant hill crowned with a rosy cloud.

The upper part of the picture is mostly light, the lower part mostly dark. We can just see the lower part of the woman's figure, the basket, and the edge of the seat against the cottage wall, and we must imagine the road in front of the cottage, which disappears into the dark distance. See how soft and tender the painting of the picture is. There are no hard, sharp, precise outlines anywhere-everything is soft and mysterious.

There is a small window suggested at the right side of the cottage wall, and we cannot tell where the house ends and the landscape background begins. This is not carelessness on the part of the artist, but part of his plan. The painter has used only a very few colours in painting his picture - brown and grey of light and dark tones being the principal ones. He has, however, used a dull red for the woman's shawl, dull green for her skirt, and a brighter green for the cottage door.

This picture shows us that a true artist is not only a good painter, but also, like Andersen,a sympathetic story-teller.  He is not so much concerned to show us how clever he is with palette and brush, as to present before us the chosen incident in such a way as to rouse our interest and sympathy.  When we look at his picture we forget about the means which the artist employed to make it, and think only with deep sympathy of the poor old woman who lives such “a lonely life.” 

[from "Reading and Thinking Book IV p 90  by Richard Wilson, Thomas Nelson & Sons]

Watch a Slide Show of Hugh Cameron's Paintings [61] by clicking here.

Sunday 15 September 2013


2013-33  Appreciating Art :  The Sheepfold [1856] - Millet J F

J F Millet Self Portrait
Jean-Francois Millet  [1814-1875]  was a great French painter and one of the founder members  of the Barbizon school in rural France. He was an ardent exponent of Realism and NaturalismAlthough educated and trained in Paris, Millet was born into a peasant family from the Normandy region of northern France and he  drew on this background, specializing in scenes of peasant life. 

“The human side of art is what touches me most,” he said, "The gay side never shows itself to me. I don't know where it is. I have never seen it. The gayest thing I know is the calm, the silence, which is sweet, both in the forest and in the fields.  You will admit that it is always very dreamy, though often very delicious." 

The struggles and suffering that came to him only unfolded the great, tender,' loving spirit within him; thus while "singing the songs of the lowly" he was unconsciously developing his own nature and gaining for himself a name, an immortality that should mark an epoch in the evolution, not only of art, but of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

The Sheepfold_Moonlight

One of the most impressive pictures of Millet is “The Sheepfold” [1856-60]. 

"In the picture we have an effect of moonlight which we may have often seen, but which most of us would find it impossible to show on paper or canvas. If we examine the picture carefully we shall see that there is not very much drawing in it. Even the flock of sheep, which is the most important part of the picture, does not seem to have any very definite shape.  It is only when we begin to look at it very carefully that we see how the artist has created something very true and very real out of almost nothing. Things begin to take shape as we look more closely, just as they do at night.

If we took at the sky first, we will notice that the moon is not sharply and clearly defined, nor is it white. Next we notice that it is not round – in other words, it is not full moon.  We also see it has a halo round it, but it is so delicate and so faint that we can just see it and no more. Notice the patches of cloud in the sky; some are silver edged, and some without any light striking on them.
The hut, the sheep-pen, the man, the sheep and the dog, are all ghostly. We can see the moonlight streaming over the backs of the sheep, but we cannot see very clearly where their legs end or if they have any feet. The natural colors of grass, sheep's wool, and almost everything else have disappeared in moonlight. Only an artist like Millet could have painted such a picture and got such an effect as this."   

[ from Reading and Thinking Book IV p195  Ed by Richard Wilson, Thomas Nelson & Sons] 

"Here you have silence painted, perhaps as never expressed before. In this little moonlight you have a simple flat plain and a pen or sheepfold, made of slender poles. Beside the gate stands the shepherd; beside him his faithful dogs. Moving around and toward the fold, is a herd of sheep huddled closely together, while just above the horizon hangs the waning moon.

Into this little picture there is painted such a great sense of vastness that you lose all thoughts of dimensions and feel the real depth and breadth of nature. The whole scene is pervaded with an air of repose, a stillness that is filled with mystery, heightened by the manner in which the sheep huddle together as if some awful sound should break the stillness. That they sense the feeling of solitude, you cannot help but feel.  As you look at the sky you are seeing into endless space.

The moon is so luminous and surrounded by such a wonderful light that you fall into the prevailing sentiment of the picture and are transported to the place to become a part of the scene. You feel the moon coming forward in full relief and then gradually sinking back into the far distance, so softly, so tenderly, so lovingly that you are entranced by its beauty.  

The tone of the picture is of a bluish, silvery, purplish hue. The outlines are very indefinitely, very tenderly, let into the background, yet everything has a firmness and solidity that could not be surpassed.  The light from the moon throws long, mysterious shadows across the ground indescribable in effect.

There is always something wonderful in the color of the little touches of shadow that you find in Millet's landscapes -- a mouldy purple, but a very subdued one. This, too, is a picture that speaks to the inner senses as well as to the material sight.

Millet saw and felt the beauty that existed unappreciated in the humble life about him. To him the humble life was full of the grand poetry of humanity. To paint this and compel the world to acknowledge it was his mission."

Click on boldface headings respectively for the Slide Show and Complete Works.

I invite your special attention to
The Angelus [Catholic sunset prayer at sound of bell].

Sunday 8 September 2013


2013-32  H W Longfellow: The Ladder of St Augustine

The Ladder of St. Augustine

Saint Augustine! well hast thou said,
      That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
      Beneath our feet each deed of shame!

All common things, each day's events,
      That with the hour begin and end,
Our pleasures and our discontents,
      Are rounds by which we may ascend.

The low desire, the base design,
      That makes another's virtues less;
The revel of the ruddy wine,
      And all occasions of excess;

The longing for ignoble things;
      The strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings
      Irreverence for the dreams of youth;

All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
      That have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
      The action of the nobler will; —

All these must first be trampled down
      Beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown
      The right of eminent domain.

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
      But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
      The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
      That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
      Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
      Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
      As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
      Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
      Were toiling upward in the night.

Standing on what too long we bore
      With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern — unseen before —
      A path to higher destinies,

Nor doom the irrevocable Past
      As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
      To something nobler we attain.


               "The Ladder of St Augustine" [Read by O'Bedlam] [Click on Pic or Here]

                             The Story of Longfellow H W [Video] [Click on Pic or Here]


Sunday 1 September 2013


2013-31 H W Longfellow: A Psalm of Life

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [1807-1882] was a commanding figure in the cultural life of nineteenth-century America. Born in Portland, Maine in 1807, he became a national literary figure by the 1850s, and a world-famous personality by the time of his death in 1882.

He was a traveler, a linguist, and a romantic who identified himself with the great traditions of European literature and thought. At the same time, he was rooted in American life and history, which charged his imagination with untried themes and made him unique.

He lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught at Harvard, married Fanny Appleton, became a father, and wrote many of his most enduring poems like The Song of Hiawatha, EvangelinePaul Revere's Ride, The Ladder of St Augustine and A Psalm ofLife.

A Psalm of Life

[What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.]

   Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
   For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

   Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
   Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

   Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
   But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

   Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
   Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

   In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
   Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

   Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
   Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

   Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
   And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

   Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
   A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

   Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
   Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

    Longfellow put this poem aside at first, unwilling to show it to anyone. For, he explained that it was a voice from his inmost heart, at a time when he was rallying from the deep depression caused by the death of his dear wife.

   But later, when he allowed it to be published, it went straight to the hearts of millions of people. No poem ever written became so well known so fast. It was taught in schools, recited on the stage, discussed from pulpit to lecture platform.

   Generations of school children grew up under the influence of Longfellow's "Psalm". Many prominent men later acknowledged that influence with gratitude. Psalm's  appeal is as vital and timely now, as it ever was. 

   The call to courage and action of a man emerging from a great sorrow, A Psalm of Life is one of the best-loved and most widely read poems in the world. Its lines are full of faith and hope, its message clear and unmistakable.

   "A Psalm of Life" has helped millions of the weary, unhappy and discouraged men and women, to be "up and doing, with a heart for any fate". No poem more richly deserves its place among the all-time inspirational classics of mankind.

    [Courtesy Light from Many Lamps - A Treasury of Inspiration by Lillian Eichler Watson  p.126]


                        A Psalm of Life [YouTube Video with Text] [Click Here]