Sunday, March 01, 2009


Unancestried, Unprivileged, Unknown

Thanks to David Norton for pointing out this example of a series of asyndetic, privative adjectives, from James Russell Lowell's essay on Abraham Lincoln in My Study Windows:
People of more sensitive organizations may be shocked, but we are glad that in this our true war of independence, which is to free us forever from the Old World, we have had at the head of our affairs a man whom America made, as God made Adam, out of the very earth, unancestried, unprivileged, unknown, to show us how much truth, how much magnanimity, and how much statecraft await the call of opportunity in simple manhood when it believes in the justice of God and the worth of man.
Unancestried appears to be a hapax legomenon — this is the only example cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

I noticed a few other examples of asyndetic, privative adjectives recently in the poems of Thomas Hardy:I don't see unadieu'd in the OED.

Jon Silkin called Hardy's 1917 poem A Call to National Service "dismayingly simple — even comic," and in Michael Millgate's opinion, it is "poetically weak." You judge:
Up and be doing, all who have a hand
To lift, a back to bend. It must not be
In times like these that vaguely linger we
To air our vaunts and hopes; and leave our land

Untended as a wild of weeds and sand.
- Say, then, "I come!" and go, O women and men
Of palace, ploughshare, easel, counter, pen;
That scareless, scathless, England still may stand.

Would years but let me stir as once I stirred
At many a dawn to take the forward track,
And with a stride plunged on to enterprize,

I now would speed like yester wind that whirred
Through yielding pines; and serve with never a slack,
So loud for promptness all around outcries!
To me, this brings to mind the death of Priam in the second book of Vergil's Aeneid, the passage that starts (506-511, tr. C.H. Sisson):
Perhaps you want to know how Priam died.
When he saw that the city had been taken,
The palace gates torn off, the enemy
Right in the central suite of his apartments,
Old as he was he put his armour on,
The first time for years, buckled his sword,
Useless although it was, and off he went
Into the thick of the enemy, to die.

Forsitan et Priami fuerint quae fata requiras.
urbis uti captae casum convulsaque vidit
limina tectorum et medium in penetralibus hostem,
arma diu senior desueta trementibus aevo
circumdat nequiquam umeris et inutile ferrum
cingitur, ac densos fertur moriturus in hostis.

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