Saturday, July 26, 2014

 

Learning Greek and Latin, or Not

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), England and the English (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1833), pp. 170-171:
I see, sir, you yet think Greek and Latin are excellent things, are worth the sacrifice of all else. Well, then, on this ground let us meet you. Your boy will go to Eton to learn Greek and Latin; he will stay there eight years (having previously spent four at a preparatory school), he will come away, at the end of his probation, but what Latin or Greek will he bring with him? Are you a scholar yourself, examine then the average of young men of eighteen; open a page of some author they have not read, have not parrot-like got by heart; open a page in the dialogues of Lucian, in the Thebaid of Statius. Ask the youth, you have selected from the herd, to construe it as you would ask your daughter to construe a page of some French author she has never seen before, a poem of Regnier, or an exposition in the Esprit des Lois. Does he not pause, does he not blush, does he not hesitate, does not his eye wander abroad in search of the accustomed “Crib,” does he not falter out something about lexicons and grammars, and at last throw down the book and tell you he has never learnt that, but as for Virgil or Herodotus, there he is your man! At the end then of eight years, without counting the previous four, your son has not learnt Greek and Latin, and he has learnt nothing else to atone for it.

 

Books Have Become My Life

Yang Hsün-chi (1456-1544), "Inscribed on the Doors of My Bookshelves," tr. John Timothy Wixted, in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 273:
Mine was a trading family
Living in Nan-Hao district for a hundred years.
I was the first to become a scholar,
Our house being without a single book.
Applying myself for a full decade,
I set my heart on building a collection.
Though not fully stocked with minor writings,
Of major works, I have nearly everything:
Classics, history, philosophy, belles-lettres—
Nothing lacking from the heritage of the past.
Binding up the volumes one by one in red covers,
I painstakingly sew them by hand.
When angry, I read and become happy;
When sick, I read and am cured.
Piled helter-skelter in front of me,
Books have become my life.
The people of the past who wrote these tomes,
If not sages, were certainly men of great wisdom.
Even without opening their pages,
Joy comes to me just fondling them.
As for my foolish family, they can't be helped;
Their hearts are set on money alone.
If a book falls on the floor, they don't pick it up;
What do they care if they get dirty or tattered?
I'll do my best by these books all my days,
And die not leaving a single one behind.
There are some readers among my friends—
To them I'll give them all away.
Better that than have my unworthy sons
Haul them off to turn into cash.

 

Homesick for the Present

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Contemporaneousness," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 329-331 (at 329-330):
Theoretically, it should make no difference to our enjoyment of it whether a work of art is new or old. There are standards of goodness and badness by which every work of whatever period may be judged. If it is good, then we admire it whether it was created this morning or three thousand years ago; if it is found to be bad, then we don't like it—and there is, or at any rate there should be, the end of the matter.

But this is true only in theory. When it comes to practice we find that this sublime disregard of time and space is not the obvious and easy thing we supposed it to be. Even when we are familiar and at home with every style and convention of art, we find that the period at which any given work was created does condition our appreciation of it. Literary scholars, and all those who for some reason have ever had to shut themselves up for any length of time in a library of nothing but ancient books, know what it is to be homesick from out of the past for the present. After a few weeks of unintermitted reading in the sixteenth century, what a blissful sensation it is to open a contemporary novel—even if it happens to be not a very good one, and even if our ancient reading has been of the choicest! At moments like these we infinitely prefer H.G. Wells to Shakespeare. He is contemporary, he breathes the same atmosphere as ourselves, his problems are our problems, and though his works may prove, in the words of the old poet, "damnably moldy a hundred years hence," when King Lear will still serenely remain what it is and always has been; though we know very well that, judged by any standard, they compare, to say the least of it, poorly with those of Shakespeare; we are ready, after too long a sojourn in the past, to turn to him with passionate avidity.

Friday, July 25, 2014

 

The Hawking Index

Jordan Ellenberg, "The Summer's Most Unread Book Is...," Wall Street Journal (July 3, 2014):
It's beach time, and you've probably already scanned a hundred lists of summer reads. Sadly overlooked is that other crucial literary category: the summer non-read, the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," widely called "the most unread book of all time."

How can we find today's greatest non-reads? Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we're guessing most people are likely to have read.
Some years ago I bought a good, sturdy copy of William Langland's Piers the Plowman, with notes by W.W. Skeat, for two dollars. The first eighty lines have interlinear and marginal notes in ink. Obviously the original owner didn't read more than three pages of the text before giving up. I find this very often in secondhand school editions of Greek and Latin texts—English definitions of practically every word, scrawled all over the first few pages, then no sign that the rest of the book was read at all.

The Hawking Index could be skewed upwards, however, by selective skimming. See, for example, how a young woman describes her friend, a student at Yale, in William Deresiewicz, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," New Republic (July 21, 2014):
No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing.
Related post: Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac.

 

The Deteriorationist

Here are some speeches of Mr. Escot, "the deteriorationist," in Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Headlong Hall.

Chapter I:
"[T]hese improvements, as you call them, appear to me only so many links in the great chain of corruption, which will soon fetter the whole human race in irreparable slavery and incurable wretchedness: your improvements proceed in a simple ratio, while the factitious wants and unnatural appetites they engender proceed in a compound one; and thus one generation acquires fifty wants, and fifty means of supplying them are invented, which each in its turn engenders two new ones; so that the next generation has a hundred, the next two hundred, the next four hundred, till every human being becomes such a helpless compound of perverted inclinations, that he is altogether at the mercy of external circumstances, loses all independence and singleness of character, and degenerates so rapidly from the primitive dignity of his sylvan origin, that it is scarcely possible to indulge in any other expectation, than that the whole species must at length be exterminated by its own infinite imbecility and vileness."
Chapter II:
"I am certain," said Mr Escot, "that a wild man can travel an immense distance without fatigue; but what is the advantage of locomotion? The wild man is happy in one spot, and there he remains: the civilised man is wretched in every place he happens to be in, and then congratulates himself on being accommodated with a machine, that will whirl him to another, where he will be just as miserable as ever."
Chapter IV:
"Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none."
Chapter VII:
"Profound researches, scientific inventions: to what end? To contract the sum of human wants? to teach the art of living on a little? to disseminate independence, liberty, and health? No; to multiply factitious desires, to stimulate depraved appetites, to invent unnatural wants, to heap up incense on the shrine of luxury, and accumulate expedients of selfish and ruinous profusion. Complicated machinery: behold its blessings. Twenty years ago, at the door of every cottage sate the good woman with her spinning-wheel: the children, if not more profitably employed than in gathering heath and sticks, at least laid in a stock of health and strength to sustain the labours of maturer years. Where is the spinning-wheel now, and every simple and insulated occupation of the industrious cottager? Wherever this boasted machinery is established, the children of the poor are death-doomed from their cradles. Look for one moment at midnight into a cotton-mill, amidst the smell of oil, the smoke of lamps, the rattling of wheels, the dizzy and complicated motions of diabolical mechanism: contemplate the little human machines that keep play with the revolutions of the iron work, robbed at that hour of their natural rest, as of air and exercise by day: observe their pale and ghastly features, more ghastly in that baleful and malignant light, and tell me if you do not fancy yourself on the threshold of Virgil's hell, where
Continuo auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,
Infantumque animæ flentes, in limine primo,
Quos dulcis vitæ exsortes, et ab ubere raptos,
Abstulit atra dies, et FUNERE MERSIT ACERBO!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

 

Nothing

Greek Anthology 7.339 (by Palladas?, tr. W.R. Paton):
It was not for any sin of mine that I was born of my parents. I was born, poor wretch, and I journey towards Hades. Oh death-dealing union of my parents! Oh for the necessity which will lead me to dismal death! From nothing I was born, and again I shall be nothing as at first. Nothing, nothing is the race of mortals. Therefore make the cup bright, my friend, and give me wine the consoler of sorrow.

Οὐδὲν ἁμαρτήσας γενόμην παρὰ τῶν με τεκόντων·
    γεννηθεὶς δ᾽ ὁ τάλας ἔρχομαι εἰς Ἀΐδην.
ὦ μῖξις γονέων θανατηφόρος· ὤ μοι ἀνάγκης,
    ἥ με προσπελάσει τῷ στυγερῷ θανάτῳ.
οὐδὲν ἐὼν γενόμην· πάλιν ἔσσομαι, ὡς πάρος, οὐδὲν·
    οὐδὲν καὶ μηδὲν τῶν μερόπων τὸ γένος·
λοιπόν μοι τὸ κύπελλον ἀποστίλβωσον, ἑταῖρε,
    καὶ λύπης †ὀδύνην τὸν Βρόμιον πάρεχε.
This is Paton's Greek text, but he provides no apparatus. Here is the apparatus for line 8 from Hugo Stadtmüller's edition:

I don't have access to Pierre Waltz, ed., Anthologie grecque, T. IV (Paris: Les Belles-Lettres, 1938), but I believe that Alexandre-Marie Desrousseaux conjectured Ἅιδην for ὀδύνην therein.

 

Don't Read Books!

Yang Wan-li (1127-1206), "Don't Read Books!", tr. Jonathan Chaves in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 254:
Don't read books!
Don't chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away,
    leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly
    with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
    like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don't turn into a haggard old man,
it's annoying for others to have to hear you.

It's so much better
    to close your eyes, sit in your study,
    lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
    burn incense.
It's beautiful to listen to the wind,
    listen to the rain,
    take a walk when you feel energetic,
    and when you’re tired go to sleep.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

 

An Offering and a Prayer

Greek Anthology 6.31 (by Nicarchus?, tr. W.R. Paton):
I have offered this as a common gift to Pan the goat-treader, to Dionysus the giver of good fruit, and to Demeter the Earth-goddess, and I beg from them fine flocks, good wine and to gather good grain from the ears.

Αἰγιβάτῃ τόδε Πανὶ, καὶ εὐκάρπῳ Διονύσῳ,
    καὶ Δηοῖ Χθονίῃ ξυνὸν ἔθηκα γέρας.
αἰτέομαι δ᾽ αὐτοὺς καλὰ πώεα καὶ καλὸν οἶνον,
    καὶ καλὸν ἀμῆσαι καρπὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀσταχύων.
Goat-treader? See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. αἰγιβάτης:
goat-mounting, epith. of he-goats, etc., Pi. Fr. 201; of Pan, Theoc. Ep. 5.6, AP 6.31.
Likewise Paton translates χιμαιροβάτᾳ as "goat-treader" at Greek Anthology 6.35.1 (also an epithet of Pan), although he does render αἰγοβάταις as "goat-mounting" at Greek Anthology 12.41.4. J.M. Edmonds similarly mis-translates αἰγιβάταν as "goat-foot" at Theocritus, Epigrams 5.6.

I'm reminded of the famous statue of Pan in the ‘"Secret Room" of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples:


The suffix -βάτης is related to βαίνω. See Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Greek Comedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 256, index s.v. βαίνειν. Another compound of -βάτης with an obscene meaning is ὀπισθοβάτης (mounting from behind).

On the other hand, cf. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. tread, v., senses 8.a: "Of the male bird: To copulate with (the hen)" and 8.b: "absol. Of birds: To copulate."

Related post: Bowdlerization.

 

A Difficult Task

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Disraeli," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 79-89 (at 88):
It is extremely difficult to discover what one really loves and understands best. Human nature is so impressible and imitative. We meet people, read books, and unconsciously propose to ourselves to like what they like, feel as they feel. Many do not discover to their dying day even what gives them pleasure.

 

The Prince of All Scribaceous Authors

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Robert Burton," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 52-58 (at 54):
He is the Prince of all scribaceous authors, men who read and read and read till learning must find vent, and they have to scribble, scribble, scribble.
Id., pp. 57-58:
There was really no hatred at all in Burton, so that even when he almost bursts himself in Herculean effort to express his abhorrence, he merely sends our spirits up. I believe that is the explanation. If there was any hatred in him, it hardly amounted to more than an endearing cantankerousness which was swamped in a love, not of men, but of words. Words. He lived like a king, a despot in the realm of words. Outside it he was a bewildered, innocent-eyed, single-hearted old scholar understanding little of the world, next to nothing of its wickedness, and only something of its miseries. Thus it comes about that his book, though it is an exposure of men's crimes, delusions, and follies, is a sweet-natured book; grand, absurd, profuse, and sweet.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. scribacious: "Given to, or fond of, writing," marked as rare, with no alternate form scribaceous and only one example, dated 1677. Scribacious can also be found in Carlyle and Emerson. Cf. modern Latin scribax.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

 

Images of the Gods

Julian, fragment of a letter to a priest, 294 D (tr. Wilmer Cave Wright):
It follows that he who loves the gods delights to gaze on the images of the gods, and their likenesses, and he feels reverence and shudders with awe of the gods who look at him from the unseen world.

οὐκοῦν καὶ ὅστις φιλόθεος ἡδέως εἰς τὰ τῶν θεῶν ἀγάλματα καὶ τὰς εἰκόνας ἀποβλέπει, σεβόμενος ἅμα καὶ φρίττων ἐξ ἀφανοῦς ὁρῶντας εἰς αὐτὸν τοὺς θεούς.

 

On the Shortness of Time

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922), "On the Shortness of Time," Poetical Works, Vol. I (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1914), p. 87:
If I could live without the thought of death,
Forgetful of time's waste, the soul's decay,
I would not ask for other joy than breath
With light and sound of birds and the sun's ray.
I could sit on untroubled day by day
Watching the grass grow, and the wild flowers range
From blue to yellow and from red to grey
In natural sequence as the seasons change.
I could afford to wait, but for the hurt
Of this dull tick of time which chides my ear.
But now I dare not sit with loins ungirt
And staff unlifted, for death stands too near.
I must be up and doing—ay, each minute.
The grave gives time for rest when we are in it.

 

Man Was Made to Stay at Home

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), "Travelling Abroad," in New Writings by William Hazlitt. Collected by P.P. Howe (New York: Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, 1925), pp. 9-31 (at 9):
I am one of those who do not think that much is to be gained in point either of temper or understanding by travelling abroad. Give me the true, stubborn, unimpaired John Bull feeling, that keeps fast hold of the good things it fancies in its exclusive possession, nor ever relaxes in its contempt for foreign frippery and finery. What is the use of keeping up an everlasting see-saw in the imagination between brown-stout and vin ordinaire, between long and short waists, between English gravity and French levity? The home-brewed, the home-baked, the home-spun, 'dowlas, filthy dowlas for me!'
Id.:
Man was made to stay at home—(why else are there so many millions born who never dreamt of stirring from it?)—to vegetate, to be rooted to the earth, to cling to his local prejudices, to luxuriate in the follies of his forefathers.
Dowlas, filthy dowlas: William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, 3.3.68. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dowlas as "A coarse kind of linen."

 

Decline

First three stanzas of a song by Guiraut Riquier (1230?-1292?), tr. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971), pp. 315, 317:
Never more will a man be in this world thanked for well composing fair words and pleasant airs, nor for being eager for esteem, so much is the world come to its decline. For that which used to inspire merit, approval, and praise, I hear blamed as the utmost folly, and that which one used to criticize and blame, I see upheld, and hear it praised by all.

I see those in power bold to take, and see them reluctant to welcome and give; tardy and bashful to speak the truth, and shameless and clever in lying. Loyalty they serve not, nor love, but with deceit they contend among themselves; they have no regard for mercy and are avid of occasion to sin.

Withal it's said that the world is improved, and that it's more valorous than it ever was! And he seems indeed bereft of wit who thinks that, and he far more who says so. For never in the world were knaves and cheats so suffered as now, when the great lords make great wrong, with their help, seem natural right, and when he is most sought after who best knows how to work it.
The Provençal, id., pp. 314, 316:
Ja mais non er hom en est mon grazitz
Per ben trobar belhs digz e plazens sos,
Ni per esser de bon grat enveyos,
Tant es lo muns avengutz deschauzitz.
Quar so que sol dar pretz, grat, e lauzor,
Aug repenre per folhia major;
E so qu'om sol repenre e blasmar
Vey mantener, ez aug per tot lauzar.

De tolre vey los poderos arditz
E.ls vey volpilhs de condutz e de dos;
E de dir ver tardius e vergonhos,
E de mentir frontiers et yssernitz.
E lialtat no servan, ni amor,
Mas ab enjan s'aziran entre lor;
Et a merce no.s volon regardar,
E son cobe d'aizina de peccar.

Ab tot ditz hom que.l mun es corregitz,
E pus que mais no fo es valoros!
E pareys be de conoyssensa blos
Qui so pessa, e trop pus qui o ditz.
Qu'anc el mon mais tant no foron trachor
Ni falsari sufert, que.l gran senhor
Fan de gran tort, ab elh, bon dreg semblar,
Et es volgutz mais qui.n sap pus obrar.
For more information on this song see Corpus des troubadours. Performances on CD: La Tròba: Anthologie chantée des Troubadours (Troubadours Art Ensemble, dir. Gérard Zuchetto, Tròba Vox label), vol. 5, disc 5, track 9, and The Last of the Troubadours (Martin Best Medieval Ensemble, Naxos label), track 16.

Thanks very much to the generous friend who gave me Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry and many other books.

Monday, July 21, 2014

 

Parts of Speech

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Journals and Papers, tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Vol. 1 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967), p. 14 (I A 126, March, 1836):
All of human life could well be conceived as a great discourse in which different people come to represent the different parts of speech (this might also be applicable to nations in relation to each other). How many people are merely adjectives, interjections, conjunctions, adverbs; how few are nouns, action words, etc.; how many are copulas.

People in relation to each other are like the irregular verbs in various languages—almost all the verbs are irregular.
In Danish:
Hele Msklivet kunde godt lade sig opfatte som en stor Tale, hvor da de forskjellige Msk. komme til at repræsentere de forskjellige Taledele (dette lader sig maaskee ogsaa overføre paa Staterne i Forhold til hverandre). Hvor mange Msk. ere ikke blot Adjectiver, Interjectioner, Conjunctioner, Adverbier, hvor faa ere Subst., Gjerningsord etc., hvor mange ere copula.

Det gaaer med Msk. i Forhold til hverandre, som med de uregelmæssige Verber i adskillige Sprog, alle Verberne ere næsten uregelmæssige.

 

A Certain Void

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Variety: Second Series, tr. William Aspenwall Bradley (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), p. 245:
If a great catastrophe is not announced in the morning, we feel a certain void: "There is nothing in the papers today," we sigh.
In French, from his Oeuvres, I (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 1048:
S'il n'y a point ce matin quelque grand malheur dans le monde, nous nous sentons un certain vide. — « Il n'y a rien aujourd'hui dans les journaux », disent-ils.

 

Reversed Alchemy

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Thayer's Beethoven," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 272-273 (at 272):
Certain authors possess the secret of a kind of reversed alchemy; they know how to turn the richest gold into lead. The most interesting subjects become in their hands so tedious that we can hardly bear to read about them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

 

Subterfuges of Book Buyers

John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), pp. 154-155 (footnotes omitted):
In September 1742 Bach, then aged fifty-seven, bought a de luxe edition of Martin Luther's complete works in seven volumes. According to a little note in his own hand about 'these German and magnificent writings of the late D.[octor] M.[artin] Luther' that had previously belonged to two distinguished theologians, Calov and Mayer, he had paid ten thalers for them. On his shelves he already had fourteen fat folios of Luther's writings, including the Tischreden, plus a Second Quarto volume of his Hauß-Postilla, besides many volumes of sermons, Bible commentaries and devotional writings by other authors, most of whom cited Luther generously. So why the new purchase? Was it just because this was the new Altenburg edition, whereas he already had the Jena version? Bach's working library, estimated to have contained at least 112 different theological and homiletic works, was less like a typical church musician's and more what one might expect to find in the church of a respectably sized town, or that 'many a pastor in Bach's day would have been proud to have owned'. It is slightly odd, too, that the price Bach claimed he had paid for these new volumes appears to have been obliterated and rather clumsily altered to ten thalers from a figure likely to have been twice or even three times as large—in the same month a Leipzig bookseller, Theophil Georg, published a four-volume catalogue of new and old Luther editions which quoted twenty thalers for the Altenburg edition. Was Bach too embarrassed to admit to his wife the full price he had paid—amounting to perhaps half a month's salary?
I confess to similar ruses to conceal from Mrs. Laudator the extent of my book buying, e.g. keeping newly purchased books in the trunk of my car until I can smuggle them into the house undetected.


Felix Vallotton, Le Bibliophile

Thanks to the friend who gave me a copy of Gardiner's book, delivered to my house in a plain brown wrapper.

 

Survivors

Conrad Celtis, Epigrams 2.46, tr. Leonard Forster, Selections from Conrad Celtis, 1459-1508 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1948), p. 35:
What but the fame of your ruin is left, O Rome, of so many Consuls and Caesars? Devouring time does so consume all things, nothing permanent exists in the world. Virtue and books alone survive.
The Latin, id., p. 34:
Quid superest, o Roma, tuae nisi fama ruinae
    De tot consulibus Caesaribusque simul?
Tempus edax sic cuncta vorat nilque exstat in orbe
    Perpetuum, Virtus scriptaque sola manent.
Forster cites this as "Epigr. II.6 ... ed. Hartfelder," but it is numbered II.46 in Fünf Bücher Epigramme von Konrad Celtis, ed. Karl Hartfelder (Berlin: Verlag von S. Calvary & Co., 1881), pp. 32-33.

Cf. id., 5.60 ("Ad mortem," p. 114 Hartfelder, my translation):
You destroy everything, O Death, you seize everything won by toil:
    After death Virtue and books alone survive.

Omnia, mors, perimis, rapis omnia parta labore:
    Post mortem probitas scriptaque sola manent.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

 

The Glory, the Beauty, and the Delight of Nature

John Wilson (1785-1854), aka Christopher North, "Sir Henry Steuart's Theory of Transplantation," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume XXIII, No. CXXXVII (April, 1828) 409-430, partially rpt. as "Trees" in his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1842), pp. 96-107 (at 96-97):
Trees are indeed the glory, the beauty, and the delight of nature. The man who loves not trees—to look at them—to lie under them—to climb up them, (once more a schoolboy,)—would make no bones of murdering Mrs. Jeffs. In what one imaginable attribute, that it ought to possess, is a tree, pray, deficient? Light, shade, shelter, coolness, freshness, music, all the colours of the rainbow, dew and dreams dropping through their umbrageous twilight at eve or morn,—dropping direct,—soft, sweet, soothing, and restorative, from heaven. Without trees, how, in the name of wonder, could we have had houses, ships, bridges, easy-chairs, or coffins, or almost any single one of the necessaries, conveniences, or comforts of life? Without trees, one man might have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but not another with a wooden ladle.

Tree by itself tree, "such tents the patriarchs loved,"—Ipse nemus,—"the brotherhood of trees,"—the grove, the coppice, the wood, the forest,—dearly, and after a different fashion, do we love you all!—And love you all we shall, while our dim eyes can catch the glimmer, our dull ears the murmur, of the leaves,—or our imagination hear at midnight, the far-off swing of old branches groaning in the tempest. Oh! is not merry also sylvan England? And has not Scotland, too, her old pine forests, blackening up her highland mountains? Are not many of her rivered valleys not unadorned with woods,—her braes beautiful, with their birken shaws?—And does not stately ash or sycamore tower above the kirk-spire, in many a quiet glen, overshadowing the humble house of God, "the dial-stone aged and green," and all the deep-sunk, sinking, or upright array of grave-stones, beneath which
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep?"
We have the highest respect for the ghost of Dr. Johnson; yet were we to meet it by moonlight, how should we make it hang its head on the subject of Scottish trees! Look there, you old, blind, blundering blockhead! That pine forest is twenty miles square! Many million trees, there, have at least five hundred arms each, six times as thick as ever your body was, sir, when you were at your very fattest in Bolt Court. As for their trunks—some straight as cathedral pillars—some flung all awry in their strength across cataracts—some without a twig till your eye meets the hawk's nest diminished to a black-bird's, and some overspread, from within a man's height of the mossy sward, with fantastic branches, cone-covered, and green as emerald—what say you, you great, big, lumbering, unwieldy ghost you, to trunks like these? And are not the forests of Scotland the most forgiving that ever were self-sown, to suffer you to flit to and fro, haunting unharmed their ancient umbrage? Yet—Doctor—you were a fine old Tory every inch of you, for all that, my boy—so come glimmering away with you into the gloom after us—don't stumble over the roots—we smell a still at work—and neither you nor I—shadow nor substance (but, prithee, why so wan, good Doctor? Prithee, why so wan?) can be much the worse, eh, of a caulker of Glenlivat?

Every man of landed property, that lies fairly out of arm's-length of a town, whether free or copyhold, be its rental above or below forty shillings a-year, should be a planter. Even an old bachelor, who has no right to become the father of a child, is not only free, but in duty bound to plant a tree. Unless his organ of philoprogenitiveness be small indeed, as he looks at the young, tender plants in his own nursery-garden, his heart will yearn towards them with all the longing and instinctive fondness of a father.
On the murder of Betty Jeffs see Annual Register 70 (1828) 308-319. On Samuel Johnson's criticism of the treeless aspect of Scotland, see Papadendrion.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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