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One human heart: Wordsworth’s old Cumberland beggar and the sweetness of being human

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By Anthony Esolen

June 5, 2012 ( - I am persuaded that the movement to demand that physicians corrupt themselves at the heart by assisting in the suicides of the superannuated is but a reaction of terror before a perceived inhumanity. We who have become the tools of our tools shudder at the last insult to our human nature, that we should be invaded by all the complicated paraphernalia of delay, to breathe our last in a dull white room, with the pitted panels of the drop-ceiling overhead (reckon up the chaos, O man, and count how many marks there are in one square), while the calls to the nurses come and go, and a television blares out the last few minutes of an inane comedy that was never once touched by youth or mirth or the milk of human kindness.

If I, old and dying, mean nothing at all, then let me mean nothing on my own terms. If I am to be swept out of consciousness, then let me ply the broom! But this is no argument. It is a cry of despair.

Such despair is inevitable, if we accept the notion that our humanity depends upon what we can do, rather than upon what we are. For the knees will creak, and the hands tremble, and the mind wander; and, whether for but a moment or for a year, we will be as helpless (though not as beautiful) as a newborn child, that most useless of creatures, who can do nothing but search for nourishment and love.

Then let us not try to fight unmeaning with unmeaning. Let us look again at the special beauty of being human, a beauty that is especially poignant in the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying.

One day the young poet William Wordsworth looked out upon the road and saw a figure from his childhood, a certain old man who trudged along the Cumberland roads, to beg from the villagers in their modest cottages. He stopped at a ledge at the bottom of a steep hill, placed there to help men remount their horses, and, taking his treasures from his bag,

He sat, and ate his food in solitude:
And ever, scattered from his palsied hand,
That, still attempting to prevent the waste,
Was baffled still, the crumbs in little showers
Fell on the ground; and the small mountain birds,
Not venturing yet to peck their destined meal,
Approached within the length of half his staff.

Such is the drama of the old man’s day. Wordsworth grants himself a gentle smile at the fellow, who doesn’t want to lose any of the bread he eats, but loses a little bit anyway, and who is so harmless that the small and timid birds manage to come within two feet of him, this mysterious creature, this man. We don’t know what is going on in the man’s mind. Wordsworth doesn’t allow himself that sentimentality. Whatever it may be, he is a part of both the natural world and the human village. There is a communion of sorts between him and the sparrows, he the more precious of that breed, and a communion between him and his fellow men.

For people are moved by him. Again, Wordsworth is not appealing to easy sentiment, but to action—the action of human souls. The sauntering horseman does not toss the beggar a coin, but stops, to make sure the alms are lodged safely in the man’s hat, and then, upon leaving him, “watches the aged Beggar with a look / Sidelong, and half reverted.” The exchange is not financial but human. The woman at the turnpike, when she sees him coming, leaves her booth and lifts up the latch for him to pass. The post-boy, harried with business, shouts to him from behind, but if the old man doesn’t hear, the boy slows down his horses and passes him on the roadside, “without a curse / Upon his lips, or anger at his heart.”

If the old man cannot earn his keep, can he at least behold with a full heart the beauty of the world around him? If we should insist upon it, then that, too, would reduce him to an object of utility. No, the man is so stooped, his eyes travel the ground at the same slow pace of his walk. He seems, quite literally, to make no mark on the world, as the world seems to make no mark on him:

His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
Disturb the summer dust; he is so still
In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
And urchins newly breeched—all pass him by:
Him even the slow-paced wagon leaves behind.

What good is such a life?

Here Wordsworth turns with a glare at those who reduce “good” to utility, and utility to those economic speckles that can be counted up:

But deem not this Man useless.—Statesmen! Ye
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
Who have a broom still ready in your hands
To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
Your talents, power, or wisdom, deem him not
A burthen of the earth!

What nuisances, one might ask? The poor, whose souls we kill, while keeping their bodies well fed and at a comfortable distance? The simple, who shatter our dreams of Harvard, and whose habits embarrass us? The dying, who remind us of our mortality? The unborn, for whose little lives we are personally responsible? What good are these? But the goodness of being, the poet affirms, is absolute. All things partake of it, even the meanest creatures that creep on the earth; far more, then, does man, no matter how lowly. We cannot scorn that Beggar, unaccommodated Man, “without offence to God.”

But there is more. The old man is not only an object of charity. He is a living memorial to that kindness. He endows it with a human face—what no detachedly benign philanthropic system can do; and so connects his benefactors with their own better selves long past, and with one another:

While from door to door,
This old Man creeps, the villagers in him
Behold a record which together binds
Past deeds and offices of charity,
Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
And that half-wisdom half-experience gives,
Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
To selfishness and cold oblivious cares.

For some few, for the sublime and saintly among us, that beggar may bring them their first glimpse into a world of their own kindred amid sorrow and want; so it is that a Mother Teresa, that most unsentimental of women, will say that the poor, when they are loved, give more than they receive.

One thing they give us is the rare chance to break those fetters that can bind us tighter than sin: the fetters of right living. The Poor Woman of Leon Bloy’s novel, as she lies dying, will say with a heart filled with gratitude that the only tragedy is not to have been a saint. It is no tragedy to have missed out at a partnership in a law firm, or to have let slip one’s “dreams,” whatever those fantasies of power and glory may be. Wordsworth puts the point bluntly: what is there in the “cold abstinence from evil deeds” that can “satisfy the human soul”? A man pays his taxes, does not violate the law in any flagrant way, keeps well away from the marches of evil as mapped out by the latest scientists of ethics, votes for the correct candidates, and sends a check now and again to a distant charity. Does that satisfy the human soul? No more, I say, than a speckled ceiling or the drone of a television, or the false paternity of a government, or any other measure that keeps us conveniently apart from one another and from the good creatures with which we share this world.

For we need to love as well as to be loved:

Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.

That last line says all that I have been struggling to say here. The medicine for our inhumanity cannot be compounded of inhumanity. We must learn to love again—even to know our neighbors would be a good and toddling beginning. We must learn to love those incomparably useless and precious beings, the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying, because they and we are one.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This article reprinted with permission from

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John Tory attends Toronto's WorldPride parade in 2014 while he was campaigning for mayor.
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BREAKING: Toronto’s mayor criticizes City for banning concert over songs about Jesus

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By Patrick Craine

Sign the petition demanding that the City of Toronto reverse its decision to ban Voices of the Nations here

TORONTO, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — After tens of thousands of people signed petitions and hundreds joined a rally on Saturday, Toronto Mayor John Tory has come to the defence of a Christian concert banned from a city square because it was singing about Jesus. The mayor said the decision by management of Yonge-Dundas Square was comparable to banning a Christmas concert.

"I respectfully disagree with [the] decision," Tory told a questioner at a town hall event on Rogers TV Tuesday night, according to Sun Media. "There is a city policy that says you're not supposed to make people feel uncomfortable by having a kind of what I'll call a 'hard sell' on religion or any other kind of matter in public squares and I understand that."

"I hope that those people will reconsider and perhaps just say, 'Look, we're counting on you to act responsibly,'" Tory said. "I hope they get their permit and I hope that people understand this is no different than a Christmas carol service."

The Christian group Voices of the Nations has organized the concert in the square every summer since 2006, however the Yonge-Dundas Square Board of Management denied their application for a 2016 permit last month.

On October 22, Natalie Belman, the square’s manager of events, told them they had violated the City’s policy against “proselytizing” by singing the name of Jesus. “If you’re praising Jesus, ‘praise the Lord,’ and ‘there’s no God like Jehovah,’ that type of thing, that’s proselytizing,” she told the group in a recording of a phone conversation obtained by LifeSiteNews.

Voices of the Nations obtained the legal services of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which has filed an appeal, to be considered December 10. The organization has threatened to launch a lawsuit if necessary, and says they are willing to take it to the Supreme Court if it comes to it.

Story: City of Toronto agrees to hear appeal from group banned from city square for singing about Jesus

On November 9 they delivered two petitions to Mayor Tory’s office totalling over 40,000 signatures - one of 30,000 names collected by LifeSiteNews and another of over 10,000 by

A rally on behalf of Christian freedoms on Saturday drew a crowd estimated at over 600 people.

Tory, who took office on December 1, 2014, and was opposed during the election by life and family leaders, would not say whether he will step in on Voices of the Nations behalf, saying he is “still learning” what role he can play as mayor in such decisions. But he added, "I'm quite happy if it is proper for me to call, to call and say this is my view. I don't think these people pose any threat, I really don't."

“We would never think of not allowing people to have a Christmas carol service in Yonge-Dundas Square. And when people are getting up and singing the chorus to O come let us adore him, O Come All Ye Faithful, O come let us adore him - the words were like that, praise the Lord and whatever. And I say, 'Well, so fine then are we going to ban Christmas carol services too?'"

"I think this is a bit of how the world has gone a bit overboard on some of these things,” he added.

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Cardinal George Pell Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Andrew Guernsey

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Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

Andrew Guernsey
By Andrew Guernsey


ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in public adultery without sacramental confession and amendment of life.

In a homily on Monday, Pell stressed the importance of fidelity to the pope, especially today as “we continue to look also to the successor of St. Peter as that guarantee of unity in doctrine and practice.”

Pell was offering Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome on the feast of Pope St. Clement I, notable in history for being one of the first popes to exert Roman papal primacy to correct the errors in the doctrine and abuses in discipline which other bishops were allowing.

Turning to address the issues at the Synod on the Family, Pell rebuked those who “wanted to say of the recent Synod, that the Church is confused and confusing in her teaching on the question of marriage,” and he insisted that the Church will always remain faithful to “Jesus’ own teaching about adultery and divorce” and “St. Paul’s teaching on the proper dispositions to receive communion.” Pell argues that the possibility of Communion for those in adultery is “not even mentioned in the Synod document.”

Pell asserted that Pope Francis is preparing “to clarify for the faithful what it means to follow the Lord…in His Church in our World.” He said, “We now await the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, which will express again the Church’s essential tradition and emphasize that the appeal to discernment and the internal forum can only be used to understand better God’s will as taught in the scriptures and by the magisterium and can never be used to disregard, distort or refute established Church teaching.”

STORY: Vatican Chief of Sacraments: No pope can change divine law on Communion

The final document of the synod talks about the “internal forum” in paragraphs 84-86, refers to private discussions between a parish priest and a member of the faithful, to educate and form their consciences and to determine the “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church,” based on their individual circumstances and Church teaching. The selective quoting of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio that omitted his statement ruling out the possibility of Communion for those in public adultery has given liberals hope that this “fuller participation” could include reception of Communion.

Pell’s prediction that the pope will side with the orthodox side of this controversy lends two explanations. On one reading, Pell is uncertain what the pope will do in his post-synodal exhortation, but he is using such firm language as a way of warning the pope that he must clearly uphold Church teaching and practice, or else he would risk falling into heresy at worst or grave negligence at best in upholding the unity of the Church.

On another reading, Pell may have inside information, even perhaps from the pope himself, that he will uphold Church teaching and practice on Communion for those in public adultery, that the pope’s regular confidants apparently do not have.

This hypothesis, however, is problematic in that just last week, Pope Francis suggested that Lutherans may “go forward” to receive Holy Communion, contrary to canon law, if they come to a decision on their own, which suggests agreement with the reformers’ line of argument about “conscience.” And earlier last month, the pope granted an interview to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, who quoted the pope as promising to allow those in adultery back to Communion without amendment of life, even though the Vatican refused to confirm the authenticity of the quote since Scalfari does not use notes.

If Pell actually knew for certain what the pope would do, it would also seem to put Pell’s knowledge above that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in what could be a warning to Pope Francis, declared last week in no uncertain terms that “Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law” as the prohibition of public adulterers from Holy Communion.

STORY: Papal confidant signals Pope Francis will allow Communion for the ‘remarried’

Several members of the pope’s inner circle have said publicly that the controversial paragraphs 84-86 of the Synod final document have opened the door for the Holy Father to allow Communion in these cases if he so decides. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a close friend of Pope Francis and the editor of La Civita Catholica, a prominent Jesuit journal in Rome reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote this week that the internal forum solution for the divorced in adultery is a viable one:

The Ordinary Synod has thus laid the bases for access to the sacraments [for the divorced and civilly remarried], opening a door that had remained closed in the preceding Synod. It was not even possible, one year ago, to find a clear majority with reference to the debate on this topic, but that is what happened in 2015. We are therefore entitled to speak of a new step.

Spadaro’s predictions and interpretation of the Synod are consistent with the public statements of liberal prelates, some of whom are close confidantes to Pope Francis, including Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Nichols, and the head of the Jesuit order, Fr. Nicolás. Fr. Nicolás, in particular, first confirmed that there would be an apostolic exhortation of the pope, and said of Communion for those in public adultery:

The Pope’s recommendation is not to make theories, such as not lumping the divorced and remarried together, because priests have to make a judgment on a case by case and see the situation, the circumstances, what happens, and depending on this decision one thing or the other. There are no general theories which translate into an iron discipline required at all. The fruit of discernment means that you study each case and try to find merciful ways out.

Although in the best analysis, Pell’s prediction about what Pope Francis may do in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation remains just that-- a prediction—he is drawing a line in the sand that if the pope chooses to cross, would bring the barque of Peter into uncharted waters, where the danger of shipwreck is a very real threat.


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Cheryl Sullenger

Columbia Planned Parenthood halts abortions: poised to lose abortion license

Cheryl Sullenger
By Cheryl Sullenger

Columbia, MO, November 25, 2015 (OperationRescue) — It’s the kind of news the Abortion Cartel cringes over. The Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Columbia, Missouri, has once again halted abortions and will lose their license to do them because their abortionist, Colleen McNicholas, cannot qualify for legitimate hospital privileges, as required by law.

McNicholas started prescribing abortion pills in Columbia after a shady deal was struck with Missouri University to provide her with bogus “refer and follow” privileges that were then used by Planned Parenthood to surreptitiously convince the Health Department to issue the facility a license to do abortions.

Once the scheme was uncovered by a state interim legislative committee, with the help of local activists, the University revoked McNicholas’ agreement that only allowed her to suggest that women seek treatment at University Hospital. The agreement also allowed her to receive information about the medical condition of women she referred there.

The last day for abortions at the Planned Parenthood in Columbia was Monday, November 23. McNicholas’ dubious “privileges” expire on December 1.

“We give all the honor and glory and victory to God,” said Kathy Forck, who heads up 40 Days for Life campaigns in Columbia. “This is God’s victory.”

This leaves Columbia once again abortion free, and the state of Missouri with one remaining abortion facility, a high-volume Planned Parenthood mill in St. Louis – where McNicholas also works as an abortionist — that has caused perhaps the highest known number of medical emergencies resulting in hospitalization of any abortion facility in the U.S.

However, Missouri is accustomed to having just one abortion clinic. The Columbia Planned Parenthood has had chronic difficulty keeping an abortionist on staff. It was forced to end abortions in September, 2011, after its abortionist left town. It later resumed abortions only to stop them once again after another abortionist quit.

Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a Texas abortion law that contains similar hospital privilege requirements. That case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, is a critically important one, according to Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, whose work exposing abortion abuses in Texas and across the nation led to the passage of hospital privilege requirements in over a dozen states.

“We have seen too many suffering women dumped by abortionists on hospitals, whose staff then must take the time to piece together what happened to women as their lives ebb away. In fact, some have died, and that is why the local hospital privilege requirement is so critical,” said Newman. “The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide whether the profits of abortionist who are unqualified for hospital privileges will trump the lives and health of women. There is a lot riding on this case, not just for Columbia, but for communities across America.”

But despite the difficulties in finding anyone that can legitimately qualify for hospital privileges, Planned Parenthood isn’t giving up easily.

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Since campus unrest forced the resignation of top leadership at Missouri University, Planned Parenthood sees an opportunity to reverse their fortunes. Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates the Columbia center, has vowed to pressure interim Chancellor Hank Foley to restore privileges to McNicholas.

In fact, the Planned Parenthood organization that McQuade now leads is the same one that faced 107 criminal charges in Kansas for illegal late-term abortions and manufacturing evidence to cover up for their crimes. That case was dropped after an unknown corrupt official in the Kansas Attorney General’s office illegally shredded the evidence against them during the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who later served the Obama Administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“I wouldn’t trust this double-dealing Planned Parenthood for anything. They’re on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck,” said Newman.

So in the tank for Planned Parenthood is Sebelius that she is scheduled as keynote speaker at a conference Planned Parenthood is holding in Kansas City, Missouri on December 14, 2015. (Details here.)

“This isn’t over. There is no doubt that Planned Parenthood and their cronies will bring powerful political coercion to bear on Missouri University to once again partner with them in the abortion business,” said Newman. “We cannot allow the University to once again participate in the shedding of innocent blood by capitulating to Planned Parenthood’s back-room bullying.”

Take Action:

Operation Rescue encourages the public to continue to contact Interim Chancellor Hank Foley and ask him to stand strong on keeping Missouri University out of the abortion business.

E-Mail: [email protected]

Reprinted with permission from Operation Rescue

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