Monday, January 30, 2023

"Mugby Junction" by Charles Dickens

In the Christmas 1866 edition of his weekly magazine All the Year Round, Charles Dickens published eight short stories centered on a theme – railroads. Specifically, the railroad theme was loosely entitled “Mugby Junction,” a fictitious rail junction in England where several routes crisscrossed.  

If the 19th century, and specifically 19th century Britain, had a symbol, it would have been the railroad. From 1826 to 1836, some 378 miles of track were completed. That had risen to 2,210 miles by 1844. By 1870, more than 16,000 miles of track had been opened, carrying 423 million passengers annually.


In Dickens’ lifetime, the railroad had grown from non-existent to a huge technological force, tying the country together, boosting the Industrial Revolution, propelling the growth of cities, and changing the lives of virtually everyone in the country. “Mugby Junction” was a symbol of that impact.


Dickens himself wrote four of the eight stories. In “Barbox Brothes,” a man detrains at the station, not quite sure why he’s doing so, since he bought a thru ticket to London. In “Barbox Brothers and Co.,” the man meets a little girl, who seems to know him far better than he knows her. In “Main Line: The Boy at Mugby,” the boy of the title works in the refreshment room, fully aware that it is likely just the opposite of what it advertises itself as. “No. 1 Branch Line: The Signalman” takes something of a dark technological turn, with the signalman seeing a specter or ghost shortly before various rail tragedies.


Charles Dickens

Even though these stories by Dickens are clearly set in the 19th century, they oddly have a contemporary feel about them. The railroads have brought change, and with the change has come dislocation.


The four remaining stories all concern various branch lines.


In “No. 2 Branch Line: The Engine Driver” by Andrew Halliday, the engine driver explains how he has killed seven men and boys over the course of his career, all as a result of accidents. “No. 3 Branch Line: The Compensation House” by Charles Collins moves the Mugby Junction narrative away from the railroads and to a house being converted for use by the railroads – and a strange house it is. “No. 4 Branch Line: The Traveling Post Office” by Hesba Stretton concerns the theft of a diplomatic box, a crime that seems to be unexplainable (and is only resolved in distant Egypt). And “No. 5 Branch Line: The Engineer” by Amelia Edwards tells the story of two lifelong friends who fall out over a woman toying with them both, and how one seemingly returns from the dead to warn his friend.


Mugby Junction is an interesting mix of stories and genres – literary fiction, mystery, ghost story, and a mixture of all three. The stories are all about the railroad and what it had wrought in both society at large and individual lives in particular. And Dickens and his fellow writers saw the technology as a mixed blessing. Like all technologies, it had brought both good and bad.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Witness to the light

After John 1:1-14

He was sent to witness,

he was sent to speak,

he was sent to testify

of the light that was coming.


the light coming into the world


the light, the word, to logos

was here,

here in the world,


shining, yet strange,

an alien who looked like us

but unrecognized, suspected,

rejected by the very people

who had hoped and prayed

for him for centuries. 


He came as a man,

to live among us

for a time, to teach

and heal, until the day


the stone rolled away and

he was not here.


Photograph by Jose Ortega Castro via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - Jan. 28, 2023

We’ve been watching “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS. We saw the original series when it aired from 1978 to 1990, but I like the new series better. Ethan Warren at Literary Hub takes a look at the show, and he says it’s about so much more than a charming country vet.  

Children usually don’t know that their parents, and even their grandparents, often pray for them. Michel Kelley at Forward Progress prays for his children, and he says there’s one specific thing he prays for each of them. And in these days and times, he makes a good point.


It used to be one of the most common forms of poetry in popular culture, but it’s been a long, long time since those days. Kevin Mims at Quillette asks the question: whatever happened to light verse


Since 1999, Bradley Birzer has been doing something that may make him one of the bravest people in academia – he’s been teaching the American Civil War. At The Imaginative Conservative, he reflects on all of the many causes of the war.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery: A New Online Collection Presents All of the Original Illustrations from Charles Dickens' Novels – Colin Marshall at Open Culture.


Adventures in Reading: Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children’s Great Books and How to Experience Them by Cheri Blomquist – Elizabeth Corey at First Things Magazine.


Maybe the Book Doesn't Need to Be "Disrupted" in the First Place? – Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft.


The Books That Made My Father – Jeanne Bonner at The Millions.


Let children’s books be children’s books – Nina Welsch at The Critic Magazine.


British Stuff


Some Interdimensional Portals I have Come Across During Walks in the British Countryside – Tom Cox.


Sonnet Prefixed to His Majesty's Instructions to His Dearest Son, Henry the Prince – King James I at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).




John Adams in Heaven, from Legends of Liberty – Andrew Benson Brown at Society of Classical Poets. 


Burdens – Seth Lewis.




Be Still My Soul: A Hymn for the Hardest Losses – Jon Bloom at Desiring God.


All My Not-Enoughness – Brittany Lee Allen.


American Stuff


The Tragic South – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 


The End of History: The solution to our natural biases is a broad, inclusive, and honest study of the past – Chris Stirewalt at The Dispatch.


Life and Culture


No Other Options: Canada and Euthanasia – Alexander Raikin at The New Atlantis.


The Dehumanizing Effects of Constant Performance – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.




Why Yevgeny Prigozhin is essential to Putin – Anna Arutunyan at The Spectator.


News Media


Abolish the Disinformation Reporter – Fred Skulthorp at The Critic Magazine.


BuzzFeed to Use ChatGPT Creator OpenAI to Help Create Some of Its Content – Alexandra Bruell at The Wall Street Journal.


O Lord You’re Beautiful – Chris Tomlin

 Painting: Study of a Man Reading, oil on panel (circa 1860) attributed to Thomas Couture (1815-1879)

Friday, January 27, 2023

An old woman's song

After Luke 2:36-38

I am 84, an old woman,

and I have served here

these many years, with

hope in my heart, a hope

realized this day, for

I have seen salvation,

the promise as old as

the people, the promise

made to Moses, and

I have seen it realized

this day: in front of me

is the redemption

of Jerusalem. This day,

the smallest doubt

has died, and the light

is shining.


Photograph by Danie Franco via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

"A Ghostly Shadow" by H L Marsay

What are called “ghost walk tours” are popular with tourists in many British studies, and those in the city of York has more than its fair share. And with Halloween approaching, it seems difficult not to find a customed Dick Turpin, Guy Fawkes, Richard III, and other famous and infamous people associated with York leading a group of tourists around the city’s medieval heart. 

All is not well with the tour leaders, however. Two newcomers from Oxford seem to be siphoning customers from the others. And someone is stealing batches of brochures from tourist information racks and tearing down posters from city walls and bulletin boards.


Detective Chief Inspector John Shadow has his own problems. An off-site training seminar has left a skeleton crew at police headquarters, and he and his No. 2 Sgt. Jimmy Chang are having to investigate crimes normally left to other teams. Shadow is consequently in a grumpy mood; but as his sergeant will cheerfully point out, his boss is almost always in a grumpy mood.


H L Marsay

The ghost tour walk business gets turned upside down when two of the leaders – the pair from Oxford – are murdered one after the other. As Shadow and Chang investigate, they uncover professional jealousy and old-fashioned revenge are among the motives possibly lurking in the case. 


A Ghostly Shadow is the third in the DCI John Shadow series by British author H L Marsay. Set in York, the characteristic features of each of the stories are a curmudgeonly DCI, his irrepressibly cheerful sergeant, a culinary tour of the city restaurants, cafĂ©, and pubs (some of which actually exist), and an introduction to York’s colorful history and present. A Ghostly Shadow is no exception, and a few developments – like Shadow cat sitting the pet of one of the victims – adds a good dose of hilarity to the story, as does how two forensic specialists set the DCI’s desk on fire.


Marsay is the author of six mystery novels in the DCI John Shadow series. A member of the Crime Writers Association, she lives with her family in the city of York in England.




A Long Shadow by H.L. Marsay.


A Viking’s Shadow by H L Marsay.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tracing the Life of an Ancestor Isn’t Easy—or Always Accurate

Oral history may not be particularly trustworthy. 

My father was four years old when his paternal grandfather died, so any direct memories he would have had were likely dim. He told me the story, passed down by his father, that his grandfather Samuel Young had fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, had found himself stranded somewhere in the east when the war ended in 1865, and made his way home primarily by walking. My father said “the Youngs were a family of shopkeepers,” and had lived and worked around Brookhaven in northern Pike Country, and they had owned no slaves. (Pike was a large county; during Reconstruction it was split into two counties, Pike and Lincoln.)


When his grandfather reached home near Brookhaven, Mississippi, my father said, he discovered the family was gone. Neighbors said the entire family had fled to East Texas to escape the devastation of war and Union control. He continued his trek across Louisiana and eventually found his family. At some point, the family returned to Mississippi. My father also told me, again passing down the family story from his father, that Samuel had been too young to enlist, and so became a messenger boy. 


To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph: My paternal great-grandparents, Samuel and Octavia Young.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Poets and Poems: Laura Mullen and "After I Was Dead"

November, 2022: It’s just over 53 years since I first walked on the campus at LSU in Baton Rouge as a college freshman. I’m in the school’s bookstore, which is nothing like the one I remember in the Student Union. This one is across the street and operated by Barnes and Noble. And in this day of electronic textbooks, the bookstore more resembles a large department store filled with LSU-brand clothing and merchandise of all shapes, sizes and varieties. 

Still, there are physical books, tucked away on the second floor. Right by the escalator are two shelves of books by faculty authors. And it’s there I find After I was Dead, a poetry collection by Laura Mullen bearing the sticker “faculty author.” 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.