Monday, December 15, 2008


Ancestors and Sportsmen

Theodore Dalrymple, "The Quivering Upper Lip," City Journal 18.4 (Autumn, 2008), quotes some excerpts from Les silences du Colonel Bramble by André Maurois. Apparently Dalrymple translated the snippets himself. They struck my fancy, and I wanted to make note of them in here in my commonplace book, otherwise known as my blog.

The translator's name doesn't appear on the front page of André Maurois, The Silence of Colonel Bamble (London: John Lane, 1919), in which I find the following on pp. 5-6:
"But don't you find yourself, Aurelle," went on Major Parker, "that intelligence is over-estimated with you? It is certainly more useful to know how to box than how to write. You would like Eton to go in for nothing but learning? It is just like asking a trainer of racehorses to be interested in circus horses. We don't go to school to learn, but to be soaked in the prejudices of our class, without which we should be useless and unhappy. We are like the young Persians Herodotus talks about, who up to the age of twenty only learnt three sciences: to ride, to shoot and to tell the truth."

"That may be," said Aurelle, "but just see, major, how inconsistent you are. You despise learning and you quote Herodotus. Better still, I caught you the other day in the act of reading a translation of Xenophon in your dug-out. Very few Frenchmen, I assure you—"

"That's quite different," said the major. "The Greeks and Romans interest us, not as objects of study, but as ancestors and sportsmen. We are the direct heirs of the mode of life of the Greeks and of the Roman Empire. Xenophon amuses me because he is a perfect type of the English gentleman, with his hunting and fishing stories, and descriptions of battles. When I read in Cicero: 'Scandal in the Colonial Office. Grave accusations against Sir Marcus Varro, Governor-General of Sicily,' you can well understand that that sounds to me like old family history. And who was your Alcibiades, pray, but a Winston Churchill, without the hats?"
Marcus Varro was never "Governor-General of Sicily," but Gaius Verres was — it is unclear whether Maurois or Major Parker made the mistake. If Major Parker made the mistake, perhaps he did so intentionally, to show his disdain for learning.

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