The Reading Room

Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

It is hard to overstate the importance of Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity. The book set out to describe the ways in which the Church of England was distinctive--neither Catholic nor Calvinist--and wound up all but creating the Anglican church by means of that description. The "judicious Hooker" argued that the Church of England possessed its own unique doctrines, and resisted attempts to define the Church as a reaction against Catholicism or a less radical Calvinism. So, the modest cover of the 1662 edition of Hooker's Lawes in the Hamburger collection at Liberty Fund belies the books extraordinary influence.

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Will and Blame in Dante's Paradiso

In the Sphere of the Moon in Dante’s Paradiso, Dante meets two radiant former-nuns who at first seem like “reflections in a deep pool.” So faint are they to him that they are much like a vague thought or reflection one has not yet fleshed out. These two “sisters” are Piccarda Donati, sister to Forese whom we met in Purgatorio, and the empress Constance. Both of these sisters took vows to serve as handmaidens to God and brides to Christ (nuns are the brides of Christ as representatives of the feminine nature of the Church), but both were taken against their wills from their vows back into the secular world. For this reason, they are in the lowest heaven, the heaven or sphere of oath-breakers or those with unfulfilled vows. 

Doing Justice to John Wick

The John Wick franchise is better known for its award-winning stunts than its screenplays. The plots seem thin as a garotte, while the dialogue focuses on guns and Wick's ability to kill with a mere pencil. Yet the March release of John Wick: Chapter 4 is eagerly anticipated, as are two spinoff series: The Continental and Ballerina.   To understand why, I sat down with Adam Smith to watch Chapters 1-3. While Smith once referred to himself as a beau in nothing but his books, he admired Wick's assassin chic and, even more, the films' exploration of resentment and justice. In fact, Smith observed that the films function in the same way as the eighteenth-century plays he discusses in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS): to teach through sympathy.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe “Gets Religion”

After a frenetic and tirelessly productive career, including advocacy of religious liberty that landed him in prison, Daniel Defoe, age 59, began the writing that made him one of history’s unforgettable novelists--known to us all.

Translations from the Chinese: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Arthur Waley's early 20th century translations opened up the subtle beauties and nuances of classical Chinese poetry to a whole new audience. Still regarded as exceptionally well done, Waley's translations were accurate and erudite, but they were also poetic. Achieving all three at once is, as any translator will admit, a daunting and nearly impossible task. Goodrich's boxed edition of Waley's translations combines his first two books. 170 Chinese Poems  and More Translations from the Chinese into one charmingly designed volume.