Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon

Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist (New York: Warner, 1995), p. 306:
The result was The Ants, published by the Harvard University Press in 1990. It contained 732 double-columned pages, hundreds of textbook figures and color plates, and a bibliography of 3000 entries. It weighed 7.5 pounds, fulfilling my criterion of a magnum opus—a book which when dropped from a three-story building is big enough to kill a man.
This brings to mind some other examples of books used as weapons.

Erasmus, Colloquies (Cyclops, or The Gospel Bearer, tr. Craig R. Thompson):
Cannius. Then why do you insist you love the Gospel?

Polyphemus. I'll tell you. A certain Franciscan in our neighborhood kept babbling from the pulpit against Erasmus' New Testament. I met the man privately, grabbed him by the hair with my left hand, and punched him with my right. I gave him a hell of a beating; made his whole face swell. What do you say to that? Isn't that promoting the Gospel? Next I gave him absolution by banging him on the head three times with this very same book, raising three lumps, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Cannius. The evangelical spirit, all right! This is certainly defending the Gospel with the Gospel.

Ca. Unde igitur declaras te amare Evangelium?

Po. Dicam. Franciscanus quidam apud nos non desinebat e suggesto deblaterare in Novum Testamentum Erasmi: conveni hominem privatim, laevam inieci capillis, dextra pugilem egi, suggillavi illum magnifice, totamque faciem tuber reddidi. Quid ais? non est hoc favere evangelio? Deinde absolvi illum a commissis, hoc ipso codice ter in verticem impacto, fecique tria tubera, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Ca. Satis quidem evangelice. Istuc nimirum est Evangelium Evangelio defendere.

Dan Nienaber, 'Bible Belt' trouble for jail guard (Mankato Free Press, April 11, 2007):
A Blue Earth County Jail guard is facing criminal charges for allegedly thumping an inmate with a Bible.

James Lee Sheppard, 56, has been charged with two gross misdemeanors for allegedly hitting an inmate with a Bible before grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against a set of steel bars in the jail, the criminal complaint said. Sheppard is scheduled to appear in court April 26 for the charges of mistreatment of an inmate and misconduct by a public officer.

The incident was investigated by a Mankato police officer at about 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 8. Officer Allen Schmidt reported he watched a video recording with jail staff that showed Sheppard entering a jail unit earlier that night and confronting 26-year-old inmate Jeremy Hansen.

Sheppard takes a book from Hansen, which Hansen later reported was his Bible, and slams it on a table, Schmidt reported.

"Custody officer Sheppard then takes the book and strikes inmate Hansen in the right side of the face with the book," the complaint said.

The bookseller Thomas Osborne bought the library of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, and hired Samuel Johnson to catalogue it. A dispute between Osborne and Johnson arose in the course of the work. Johnson's early biographers give slightly different accounts of the quarrel.

John Hawkins, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.:
I mention the above particulars of this worthless fellow as an introduction to a fact respecting his behaviour to Johnson, which I have often heard related, and which himself confessed to be true. Johnson, while employed in selecting pieces for the Harleian Miscellany, was necessitated, not only to peruse the title-page of each article, but frequently to examine its contents, in order to form a judgment of its worth and importance, in the doing whereof, it must be supposed, curiosity might sometimes detain him too long, and whenever it did, Osborne was offended. Seeing Johnson one day deeply engaged in perusing a book, and the work being for the instant at a stand, he reproached him with inattention and delay, in such coarse language as few men would use, and still fewer could brook: the other in his justification asserted somewhat, which Osborne answered by giving him the lie; Johnson's anger at so foul a charge, was not so great as to make him forget that he had weapons at hand: he seized a folio that lay near him, and with it felled his adversary to the ground, with some exclamation, which, as it is differently related, I will not venture to repeat.
Hesther Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson:
Of the truth of stories which ran currently about the town concerning Dr. Johnson it was impossible to be certain, unless one asked him himself, and what he told, or suffered to be told, before his face without contradicting, has every public mark, I think, of real and genuine authenticity. I made, one day, very minute inquiries about the tale of his knocking down the famous Tom Osborne with his own "Dictionary" in the man's own house. "And how was that affair? In earnest? Do tell me, Mr. Johnson?" "There is nothing to tell, dearest lady, but that he was insolent, and I beat him, and that he was a blockhead, and told of it, which I should never have done. So the blows have been multiplying and the wonder thickening for all these years, as Thomas was never a favourite with the public. I have beat many a fellow, but the rest had the wit to hold their tongues."
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.:
In 1742 he wrote ... 'Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.' He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000 £, a sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.'
The statement of the former Mrs. Thrale (Hesther Lynch Piozzi) that the book used as a weapon was Johnson's own dictionary can probably be dismissed. Hawkins and Boswell connect the incident with the catalogue of the Harleian library. Work on this started in 1742, parts of the catalogue appeared in 1743-1744, and selected pamphlets from the library were reprinted between 1744 and 1746. Johnson's Dictionary was not published until 1755.

John Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, vol. VIII (1814), p. 446, reports:
The identical book with which Johnson knocked down Osborne (Biblia Graeca Septuaginta, folio, 1594, Frankfort; the note written by the Rev. ----- Mills) I saw in February 1812 at Cambridge, in the possession of J. Thorpe, Bookseller; whose Catalogue, since published, contains particulars authenticating this assertion.
W. Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), p. 225, accepts the identification of the folio with a Greek Bible.

In related news, composer Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) supposedly died when a book shelf fell over on him, although doubt has been cast on the story. In April, 2003 the newspaper Jutarnji List published a story about a 60 year-old mathematics professor from Zagreb, identified only by the initials "DK", who was trapped for three days by a pile of books. The Associated Press (Dec. 30, 2003) reported that Patrice Moore was trapped in his apartment for two days under a pile of books and papers.

For the dangers of reading, see Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

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