Thursday, May 21, 2009


The Long and the Short of It

Edward Balston to his pupil James Fitzjames Stephen at Eton in the 1840's:
If you do not take more pains, how can you expect to write good longs and shorts? If you do not write good longs and shorts, how can you ever be a man of taste? If you are not a man of taste, how can you ever hope to be of use in the world?
I thought "to write good longs and shorts" was simply to compose Latin verse with correct quantities (long and short syllables), but M.L. Clarke, Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 56, restricts the expression to elegaics, in which the first verse of a couplet (the hexameter) is longer than the second verse (the pentameter).

Balston's expostulation uses the rhetorical device variously called climax, ladder, gradation, or plaiting, defined by Rutilius Lupus 1.13 as follows:
Plaiting: in this figure of speech the second phrase arises from the first, the third from the second, and thus several in succession; for as many little circles joined together make a chain, so several phrases linked together create the effect of this rhetorical device.

ἐπιπλοκή: in hoc ex prima sententia secunda oritur, ex secunda tertia, atque ita deinceps complures; nam quemadmodum catenam multi inter se circuli coniuncti vinciunt, sic huius schematis utilitatem complures sententiae inter se conexae continent.
See also the expostulation in William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, chapter 2:
It was at the close of the forenoon school, and Pen had been unnoticed all the previous part of the morning till now, when the Doctor put him on to construe in a Greek play. He did not know a word of it, though little Timmins, his form-fellow, was prompting him with all his might. Pen had made a sad blunder or two when the awful Chief broke out upon him.

'Pendennis, sir,' he said, 'your idleness is incorrigible and your stupidity beyond example. You are a disgrace to your school, and to your family, and I have no doubt will prove so in after-life to your country. If that vice, sir, which is described to us as the root of all evil, be really what moralists have represented (and I have no doubt of the correctness of their opinion), for what a prodigious quantity of future crime and wickedness are you, unhappy boy, laying the seed! Miserable trifler! A boy who construes δε and instead of δε but, at sixteen years of age is guilty not merely of folly, and ignorance, and dulness inconceivable, but of crime, of deadly crime, of filial ingratitude, which I tremble to contemplate. A boy, sir, who does not learn his Greek play cheats the parent who spends money for his education. A boy who cheats his parent is not very far from robbing or forging upon his neighbour. A man who forges on his neighbour pays the penalty of his crime at the gallows. And it is not such a one that I pity (for he will be deservedly cut off), but his maddened and heart-broken parents, who are driven to a premature grave by his crimes, or, if they live, drag on a wretched and dishonoured old age. Go on, sir, and I warn you that the very next mistake that you make shall subject you to the punishment of the rod. Who's that laughing? What ill-conditioned boy is there that dares to laugh?' shouted the Doctor.
In Thackeray, the climax extends from "A boy, sir, who does not learn his Greek play" to "his crime at the gallows."

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