RCGS Review: The Tragedy of King Lewis The Sixteenth

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In their Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge state that they plan on bringing the language of poetry “near to the language of men.” While such a suggestion, in reaction to the perhaps too decadent formality of neoclassicism, seemed at the time a needed “rebooting” of the English language, with the absolute degeneration of not only contemporary Western languages, but Western culture as well, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s pronouncement takes an ominous tone. As any teacher of poetry knows even the “easier” poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge are considered too hard by many professors—let alone students—today. The precipitous decay in culture has been at least midwifed by the degeneration of language into what is now a constricted vocabulary of monosyllabic words that reflect a constricted, monosyllabic life.

What is odd about many 20th century reactionary artists is how “modern” and avant-garde their works are—Ezra Pound’s lyric works and even sections of his Cantos come to mind, and there is, of course, the deep irony of T.S. Eliot’s adulation of classical works in his prose paired with his imitation of deeply modern, Whitmanesque poetry. In the contemporary world, we lack a Virgil who stands at the height of the English language (or any other modern language for the matter) and who could craft our language into a platform for a revival of both faith and culture. Those who wish to write, live, and think elegantly must become knights errant or Ronin samurai who wonder the barren landscape of contemporary culture. David Lane, head of the Una Voce New York, has attempted just such a madcap quest in his Tragedy of King Lewis The Sixteenth (Mustang, OK: Tate, 2012).

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It is unbelievable that Mr. Lane wrote a tragedy of King Louis XVI. It is even more unbelievable that he wrote the play in blank verse, and it is overwhelmingly and delightfully shocking that he wrote the work in a mixture of archaic English drawing from words common across several hundred years of the language’s development. Mr. Lane’s play tells the story of Louis XVI from a decidedly theological and authentically Catholic vantage point, viewing it as a chastisement from Our Lord for Louis XIV’s failure to follow the divine command to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. This image of the French monarchy is unique. Americans generally view Louis XVI’s predecessors as decadent but relatively harmless effete European monarchs, and Louis himself, supporter of the American Revolution, as an unfortunate impediment to the march of progress. However, what is Mr. Lane is able to do is to capture the essence of Louis XVI, which is that of a man caught in the midst of a bigger narrative than the simply the vulgar Hegelian notion of a march of progress. Mr. Lane’s Louis is a man caught in a narrative that is not written by history, but by the author of history: Our Blessed Lord.

Admittedly, Mr. Lane’s language is difficult to wade through and makes a demand on the reader that most contemporary works written to be accessible do not. While these contemporary works generally “lower the bar” and present an essentially boring and pedestrian vision of human life, Mr. Lane’s attempt to craft a truly beautiful work is both ennobling of his subject as complimentary as it is challenging to his reader. Mr. Lane’s work is deeply and splendidly reactionary and written for the delight and edification of fellow reactionaries, but more importantly it is a tribute to a king, who, perhaps even more than the English Charles I, is a symbol of the death of an old order. As, like a sitcom that has gone on too long, liberal democracy degenerates into a caricature of itself, we can only hope and pray that Our Lord we deliver us from this evil.

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