Thursday, November 06, 2008


A Lay Sage

Ronald Syme, Some Arval Brethren (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), pp. 114-115:
In diverse and negative fashion Annius Verus and King Philopappus illuminate the quality and functions of the Brethren. A subdued congregation on the whole, and not exhilarating. Eloquence, talent, and taste were to be found elsewhere, for example among the quindecimviri. Lacking entry to aristocratic 'convivia et circuli' or the superior avenues of patronage and intrigue, the less pretentious members might nevertheless derive benefit from intermittent contact with birth and rank and success. Like certain posts in the administration, the fraternity permitted an approach to one of the ideals of a leisured society: something to live for and nothing to do. Mediocrity embellished by survival and seniority gains respect among colleagues, although not always in the wider world. To reverse the verdict of a lay sage in a later era, the arvalis saw no cause to question the value of a club that admitted persons no better than himself.
The "lay sage in a later era" is comedian Groucho Marx, who sent this telegram to the Friars Club of Beverly Hills: "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member."

Marx was not a clubable man. He wrote in his autobiography:
I'm not a particularly gregarious fellow. If anything, I suppose I'm a bit on the misanthropic side. I've tried being a jolly good club member, but after a month or so my mouth always aches from baring my teeth in a false smile. The pseudo-friendliness, the limp handshake and the extra firm handshake (both of which should be abolished by the Health Department), are not for me. This also goes for the hearty slap-on-the-back and the all-around, general clap-trap that you are subjected to from the All-American bores which you would instantly flee from if you weren't trapped in a clubhouse.
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