Arthur to John, September 21, 1942
532 Arbor Rd
Sept 21, 1942
Thanks for the letter of Sept 12. I will try to answer some of its sub-heads counting from left to right in the order shown.
The move from (and back to) Cheltenham was dictated by the set-up of things. Betty and Johnny had encountered the housing problem in the expiration of the lease of their little house and their (at that time) lack of capital to buy. I had had to move away from the big old place you will recall having visited when last you came east. I was renting a comfortable but not too desirable a place which was frankly temporary pending my buying something permament. The Oak Lane Venture was frankly a money-saving arrangement. By pooling our incomes and expenses, both Johnny and I were able in less than two years to lay aside the wherewithal to buy the sort of homes we had in mind. My own establishment was bound to stabilize itself to a smaller size, with the departure of all three of my kids, and the termination of the many years of demands for house-room from temporarily homeless relatives, ie (at various and sundry times) Eleanor, Esther and George, Joe. We now see emerging the picture of self and wife, alone at last, living in a house appropriately small, modern, comfortable, where we can grow old gracefully as may be.
Arthur Jr is now overseas - somewhere in England. We hear from him. He is for the moment, safe, well, and comfortable.
As for my work, it fits the war picture quite well. I have had my application in for a commission in the Army Specialist Corps for many months. As I understand it, this here now Specialist Corps is defunct, having resigned its records and personnel to the US Army Technical Corps, which in turn feeds into the regular establishment as they wish to draw men having particular skills. I have had "nibbles" from the Ordnance Dept, the Air Corps, and the Chemical Warfare Service. To all of these I have submitted their filled out Application Blank - a great God-awful questionaire in each case. I shall go "when, as and if." In the meantime, as I am more of a metallurgist and materials engineer than I am a salesman, my job goes on with increased importance, 100% on war work, and no trouble with gas rationing or tires - they let me have all I require. I am holding out for a Major's commission - but I would settle for a Captaincy.
Joe's move from Du Pont had my blessing after I learned all the facts. Ballinger is no war-baby, but a first class old, established contractor who will be big and important after the war as they were before. Joe is primarily a construction man, and a little out of place in manufacturing. I am happy about his present status. He is the Joe of old, not the licked depression victim of late years.
The next portion of your letter is frankly provocative, as I can discern you intended it to be. I refuse to rise to the bait you so artfully cast, insofar as allowing you to goad me to defending my position and my choice of words. Nevertheless, in the interests of keeping this very enjoyable correspondence alive, I wlll throw out a few words of comment and elaboration.
Words like "radical', "heretical", screwey", are comparative terms. We are both tarred with the same stick, if we compare our ideas with those of our grand-parents. Just as you defend your "screwiness" as "frowning on insincerity", so also do I. The harbor into which I have steered my ship is simply that of a realization that the orthodox framework can be made to fit a most extrordinary lattitude and longitude. All self expression is conditioned by self-imposed limitations. Ordinary civilized intercourse is a fabric of these limitations. The musical composer deliberately limits his work to the frame-work of the instruments he intends to employ when his piece is played. The poet sets up limits of metre and rhyme. The sculptor, the architect, do the same thing. Within these self imposed metes and bounds, he erects his structure, giving play to a wide variation while staying within a pre-determined pattern. The amenities of our daily lives are a tissue of the same sort of limitations. For Instance, we shake hands, not (as was at first intended) to indicate to our vis-a-vis that our empty right hand contains no weapon wherewith to attack him, but merely as a prearranged and recognized symbol of cordiality. It is quite conceivable that instead of a hand shake we might salaam as do the orientals, or rub noses as do the Esquimaux. I could cite countless similar conventions, the raising of the hat to a woman, the little row of buttons on our coat-sleeve, the donning, when on formal pleasure bent, of a funereal black garment and a stiff white shirt, that "dreary and exacerbating habiliment" known as full evening dress, conventions, conventions, conventions. Freedom and independence of spirit can (and sometimes do) prompt us to rebel, and we succeed only in making ourselves a little conspicuous and ridiculous.
Getting down to brass tacks, my thesis as regards religion and churchmanship is that in this field also there are time-tested and age-old conventions, modes of expression, traditional forms. It is quite true that in much of the intercourse in the churchly world, the validity of these forms is based primarily upon their antiquity, and attempts to rationalize about them will simply rationalize them in oblivion. But why do that? They serve their purpose, which is primarily to act as vehicles for the conveyance of some pretty precious merchandise.
I submit that "insincere conservative" is not at all the proper label. The reproach of insincerity was bandied back and forth during the controversies of the Fundamentalists and the Modernists of the first quarter of this century. The past decade has seen a subsidence of this quarrel, not that it was ever really settled, but simply because the lion and the lamb have lain down together, perhaps not in amity, but rather in an armed truce. I happen to remain a modernist, and the old conservative battle cry "you must say what you mean and mean what you say" still echoes in the distance while I privately interpret the Nicene Creed, tailoring it to fit my individual somewhat round-shouldered and shambling but still stalwart frame. It seems to me that the significant thing is that if they let me alone, I get along surprisingly well reciting the ancient formulae, howbeit the Nicean Fathers would doubtless have burnt me at the stake if they became cognizant of some of the private rationalizations to which I subject their sacred pronouncements.
But "insincere"? I bow not. No more insincere than I am when I stand up when they play the corny music and sing the third rate words of our National Anthem. The point is not the anthem, but the spirit of patriotism it is intended to express. Convention has decreed that the Star Spangled Banner is our particular vehicle. Sibelius's "Finlandia" is a vastly superior piece. Therein the Finns are fortunate, but not necessarily more patriotic.
"Freedom of thought" is not the exclusive property of the Unitarians. That they sanction and foster it is to their credit. That conservative Episcopalian activity tries to stifle it (quite in vain) is also, alas, too true. But there are plenty of liberal clergy and parishes, to one of which I am very close. This is to me a great blessing, because just as Schubert wrought magic with two violins, a viola and a cello in the "Death and the Maiden" Quartette, without calling in any saxophones or even a piano or a trombone; just as Rodin carved his "Thinker" from a simple block of marble, and did not think it needful to paint it, or to put a silk shirt on it, or to "wire it for sound"; just as Keats expressed beauty from another world in the "Ode to a Grecian Urn" without once failing to make his words rhyme and his metre to scan. -- Just so, in the austere, time hallowed frame work of the liturgy of the Catholic Church can be given expression the inexpressable, can be conveyed the unconveyable. Who the hell cares whether historic research shows that Arthur and Guenivere and Launcelot and Merlin never existed in actual history? "Morte d'Arthur" and the Idylls of the King" are still great poetry. Who the hell cares whether the Apostolic Succession of Holy Orders is a discredited vestige of medieval superstition? That the Sacraments are exploded magical incantations? That the Virginal Birth, the miracles, the death and resurrection of Jesus, are perhaps mythical, allegorical, folk-lore, fable, what have you? They are still part and parcel of the structure of the most marvellous framework ever contrived by the mind and heart of the human race. Within that structure and upon that frame work, expressed to be sure by conventions somewhat quaint and outmoded, I claim sanctuary. Strip me of that shelter, I could probably get along, in fact I am quite sure I could. I got such a good start before launching out into the rarer atmosphere of pure Ethical Culture or Unitarian Emersonism. But why the hell should I? "Will I expand further upon how to be insincere with a clear conscience?" That question is as unfair as the classic "Answer yes or no, have you left off beating your wife?"
Herewith is the Philadelphia Bureau of Vital Statistics certificate to the effect that you were never born.
I have written the present Rector of the now combined Parishes of Christ Church and St Michael's to see if he is in a position to furnish a copy of a Baptismal Record. He is one of our better known horse's asses, and may not be either able or willing to oblige, but I will let you know.
With very kindest regards, your long-winded brother. Arthur
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