Monday, August 31, 2009


Frogs and Men

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country (New York: William Sloan Associates, 1949), p. 69 (August, on Hyla versicolor, the gray tree-frog):
Several times, out of a sheer selfish desire to make him acknowledge that, from a frog's point of view, I am good for something, I have elevated some tidbit, on the end of a straw, under his very nose. Twice he has snatched it casually; twice, when I became very insistent, he impatiently brushed it away with his foreleg. But usually he simply stares motionless and straight ahead after the fashion of the Buddha he so much resembles. Frogs, he tells me, do not need men. They can get along very well without them, would rather not acknowledge their existence. The sense of independence is worth more than an occasional supererogatory worm. Mankind, so far as frogs are concerned, serves no useful purpose. There is no teleological explanation for the human race's existence.
Hyla versicolor


La Rentrée

H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun (October 8, 1928):
It always makes me melancholy to see the boys going to school. During the half hour before 9 o'clock they stagger through the square in front of my house in Baltimore with the despondent air of New Yorkers coming up from the ferries to work. It happens to be uphill, but I believe they'd lag as much if they were going down. Shakespeare, in fact, hints as much in the Seven Ages. In the afternoon, coming home, they leap and spring like gazelles. They are tired, but they are happy, and happiness in the young always takes the form of sharp and repeated contractions of the striped muscles, especially in the legs, arms and larynx.

The notion that schoolboys are generally content with their lot seems to me to be a sad delusion. They are, in the main, able to bear it, but they like it no more than a soldier enjoys life in a foxhole. The need to endure it makes actors of them; they learn how to lie—perhaps the most valuable thing, to a citizen of Christendom, that they learn in school. No boy genuinely loves and admires his teacher; the farthest he can go, assuming him to have all of his wits, is to tolerate her as he tolerates castor oil. She may be the loveliest flower in the whole pedagogical garden, but the most he can ever see in her is a jailer who might conceivably be worse.
Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.7.144-146:
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Embarrassing Typographical Error

Anna Mehler Paperny, "Press release's typo makes PMO the butt of jokes," Globe and Mail (August 19, 2009):
Languages are tricky creatures.

Jumping from one to another is fraught with potential for embarrassing linguistic slipups.

Just ask the Prime Minister's Office.

The PMO found itself in an awkward position yesterday when it realized it had sent out a press release Monday that inadvertently said the Prime Minister would make several public appearances in a "Place of Many Excrement-Covered Bottoms."

The release meant to say Iqaluit - the 7,000-person capital of the territory of Nunavut, where yesterday the Prime Minister did indeed make multiple media appearances.

But instead it said Iqualuit, which adds a u after the q and means something entirely different.

The root word "iquq," explained Sandra Inutiq, a policy analyst with Nunavut's language commissioner, refers to "fecal matter remaining on the outer layer of the anus post-defecation."

The suffix "aluit" makes it a plural or suggests "the speaker is surprised or disturbed," implying a surprising or disturbing number of people with unclean behinds.
See Guy Bordin, Lexique analytique de l'anatomie humaine: inuktitut-français-anglais (Louvain: Peeters, 2004), p. 66, s.v. iqquq:
Selon Spalding (1998:30), iquq désigne en aivilingmiutitut les excréments adhérant à l'anus ou aux poils périanaux. Ex: iquqtuq, qui s'est essuyé le derrière.
Bordin's citation is to A. Spalding, Inuktitut—A Multi-dialectal Outline Dictionary (with an Aivilingmiutaq base) (Iqaluit: Nunavut Arctic College, 1998), unavailable to me.

Related posts:


How to Master Greek

Gilbert Highet, The Art of Teaching (New York: Knopf, 1950), p. 244:
The same arduous type of challenge, without compulsion but with all its difficulty, was given to one of the most distinguished of American educators, Mr. Abraham Flexner. His adviser, Professor Morris of Johns Hopkins, told him that if he wanted to master Greek, he should get a compact little shelf of Greek books and read nothing but Greek for five years. "Read the daily papers to keep up with the world," he said, "but don't read books in any other language. Read Greek only." The ambitious young student took this hard advice, and, like the pupils of Agassiz, he gazed at the intricate subject until he really felt at home in it. Just as they could take a new specimen and see a thousand things which would escape the untrained eye, so he could pick up a book (an immortal book, a permanently valuable book) in Greek, and read it through with ease and pleasure. Such efforts are painful; but without effort there is no reward.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


The Hamadryads of George Lane

Samuel Johnson, letter to Mrs. Thrale (Litchfield, August 14, 1769):
They have cut down the trees in George Lane. Evelyn in his book of Forest trees tells us of wicked men that cut down trees and never prospered afterwards, yet nothing has deterred these audacious aldermen from violating the Hamadryads of George Lane.
See the explanatory notes in Bruce Redford, ed. The Letters of Samuel Johnson, Volume I: 1731-1772 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 327:
George Lane, in central Litchfield, connected Stowe Street to Castle Ditch. SJ's foster-mother lived there, and he "used to call...and eat fruit in the garden, which was full of trees" (Johns. Misc. I.130; Clifford, 1955, p. 28).

"One might fill a just volume with the Histories of Groves that were violated by wicked Men, who came to fatal periods" (John Evelyn, Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees, 3d ed., 1679, p. 268).
Related posts: Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.


Set in Stone

David Norton wrote in an email:
Reading the item you posted for August 26th, I recalled my visit to Stoke Poges and the monument there to Thomas Gray, which misquotes what is perhaps his most famous stanza:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Gray wrote "Awaits", and few critics (and no scholar) would prefer the mason's version. I hate to think how many poets and scholars will never rest easy because their gravestones misquote them--or others.
David also drew my attention to textual notes on this corruption at The Thomas Gray Archive.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Vistas of Dusty Libraries

Robert Buchanan (1841-1901), The Bookworm:
With spectacles upon his nose,
    He shuffles up and down;
Of antique fashion are his clothes,
    His napless hat is brown.
A mighty watch, of silver wrought,
    Keeps time in sun or rain
To the dull ticking of the thought
    Within his dusty brain.

To see him at the bookstall stand
    And bargain for the prize,
With the odd sixpence in his hand
    And greed in his gray eyes!
Then, conquering, grasp the book half blind,
    And take the homeward track,
For fear the man should change his mind,
    And want the bargain back!

The waves of life about him beat,
    He scarcely lifts his gaze,
He hears within the crowded street
    The wash of ancient days.
If ever his short-sighted eyes
    Look forward, he can see
Vistas of dusty Libraries
    Prolonged eternally.

But think not as he walks along
    His brain is dead and cold;
His soul is thinking in the tongue
    Which Plato spake of old;
And while some grinning cabman sees
    His quaint shape with a jeer,
He smiles, — for Aristophanes
    Is joking in his ear.

Around him stretch Athenian walks,
    And strange shapes under trees;
He pauses in a dream and talks
    Great speech, with Socrates.
Then, as the fancy fails — still mesh'd
    In thoughts that go and come —
Feels in his pouch, and is refresh'd
    At touch of some old tome.

The mighty world of humankind
    Is as a shadow dim,
He walks through life like one half blind,
    And all looks dark to him;
But put his nose to leaves antique,
    And hold before his sight
Some press'd and withered flowers of Greek,
    And all is life and light.

A blessing on his hair so gray,
    And coat of dingy brown!
May bargains bless him every day,
    As he goes up and down;
Long may the bookstall-keeper's face,
    In dull times, smile again,
To see him round with shuffling pace
    The corner of the lane!

A good old Ragpicker is he,
    Who, following morn and eve
The quick feet of Humanity,
    Searches the dust they leave.
He pokes the dust, he sifts with care,
    He searches close and deep;
Proud to discover, here and there,
    A treasure in the heap!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


An Unfortunate Misprint

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, An Unspoken Farewell:
When my time comes, I will not say with Cassandra, ἀρκείτω βίος, 'Let life suffice', but with the unknown speaker of a fragment of Aeschylus, 'Life's bivouac is o'er, διαπεφρούρηται βίος. These words of a warrior remind me of Victor Hugo's 'J'ai servi, j'ai veillé', 'I have served, I have watched'—served as a teacher, watched as a critic; and of Landor's 'warming both hands before the <bivouac> fire of life.' Διαπεφρούρηται βίος shall be my epitaph.
Quoted in The Letters of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, edited by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 324.

The compound verb διαφρουρέω is a hapax legomenon. Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v. translate "to keep one's post," with the fragment from Aeschylus as the only citation. The simplex verb φρουρέω = "watch, guard" occurs often. G. Italie, Index Aeschyleus, 2nd ed. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964), p. 71, translates the fragment into Latin as vitae vigilia peracta est.

Unfortunately, Gildersleeve's instructions for his epitaph were not carried out to the letter. Briggs (loc. cit.) notes:
It is the epitaph on his gravestone at Plot 58 of the University Cemetery in Charlottesville, but it is misspelled, with an English "V" in place of the upsilon.
An unfortunate misprint in the epitaph of so exact a Greek scholar. Briggs (p. 353):
The apocryphal story of his desire to be buried in Charlottesville after death since he had been "buried" there for two decades of his life has been the most durable of the many anecdotes about him.
Gildersleeve taught Greek at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from 1856 to 1876. I studied Greek there in the 1970s, but unfortunately I never saw Gildersleeve's tomb.

The etymology of bivouac is interesting. See the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1702, from Fr., ult. from Swiss/Alsatian biwacht "night guard," from bei- "double, additional" + wacht "guard." Original meaning was an army that stayed up on night watch; sense of "outdoor camp" is 1853. Not a common word in Eng. before the Napoleonic Wars.
The phrase "the bivouac of Life" occurs in Longfellow's poem A Psalm of Life:
In the world's broad field of battle,
    In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
    Be a hero in the strife!
Gildersleeve was "a hero in the strife" of the Civil War. As he put it, "The right to teach Southern youth for nine months was earned by sharing the fortunes of their fathers and brothers at the front for three." In 1864, Gildersleeve was wounded at Weyer's Cave in the thigh by a Spencer bullet, so badly that he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve

One could make an interesting blog out of excerpts from Gildersleeve's Brief Mention column in American Journal of Philology, with translations and notes. C.W.E. Miller collected some excerpts in Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1930), but many gems remain to be rediscovered. See Paul Shorey, "Fifty Years of Classical Studies in America," Transactions of the American Philological Association 50 (1919) 33-61 (at 60):
[Y]ou can hardly pick up a number of Brief Mention, even among those which an unfriendly critic might deem the most discursive, frivolous, and repetitious, without learning something about Greek or the history of literature or linguistic analysis and literary criticism, that is worth knowing and that you did not know, without receiving some suggestion that will prove of helpful application in your own reading and study.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Spirit of Toleration

Montaigne, Essays I.37 (Of Cato the Younger, tr. Donald M. Frame):
I do not share that common error of judging another by myself. I easily believe that another man may have qualities different from mine. Because I feel myself tied down to one form, I do not oblige everybody to espouse it, as all others do. I believe in and conceive a thousand contrary ways of life; and in contrast with the common run of men, I more easily admit difference than resemblance between us. I am as ready as you please to acquit another man from sharing my conditions and principles. I consider him simply in himself, without relation to others; I mold him to his own model. I do not fail, just because I am not continent, to acknowledge sincerely the continence of the Feuillants and the Capuchins, and to admire the manner of their life. I can very well insinuate myself by imagination into their place, and I love and honor them all the more because they are different from me. I have a singular desire that we should each be judged in ourselves apart, and that I may not be measured in conformity with the common patterns.
Montaigne, Essays III.10 (On Husbanding Your Will, tr. Donald M. Frame):
When my will gives me over to one party, it is not with so violent an obligation that my understanding is infected by it. In the present broils of this state, my own interest has not made me blind to either the laudable qualities in our adversaries or those that are reproachable in the men I have followed. People adore everything that is on their side; as for me, I do not even excuse most of the things that I see on mine. A good work does not lose its grace for pleading against my cause.


I want the advantage to be for us, but I do not fly into a frenzy if it is not. I adhere firmly to the healthiest of the parties, but I do not seek to be noted as especially hostile to the others and beyond the bounds of the general reason.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners

Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.6.4 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
"And what of the man who is such a keen man of business that he has no leisure for anything but the selfish pursuit of gain?"

"We must avoid him too, I think. There is no profit in knowing him."

Τί δ᾽; ὅστις διὰ τὸν ἔρωτα τοῦ χρηματίζεσθαι μηδὲ πρὸς ἓν ἄλλο σχολὴν ποιεῖται ἢ ὁπόθεν αὐτός τι κερδανεῖ;

Ἀφεκτέον καὶ τούτου, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ· ἀνωφελὴς γὰρ ἂν εἴη τῶι χρωμένῳ.

Sunday, August 23, 2009



Martial 1.15, tr. William Hay:
Thou, whom (if faith or honour recommends
A friend) I rank amongst my dearest friends,
Remember, you are now almost threescore;
Few days of life remain, if any more.
Defer not, what no future time insures:
And only what is past, esteem that yours.
Successive cares and trouble for you stay;
Pleasure not so; it nimbly fleets away.
Then seize it fast; embrace it ere it flies;
In the embrace it vanishes and dies.
"I'll live to-morrow," will a wise man say?
To-morrow is too late, then live to-day.
The same, tr. Goldwin Smith:
Friend of my heart—and none of all the band
Has to that name older or better right—
Julius, thy sixtieth winter is at hand;
Far spent is now life's day, and near the night.

Delay not what thou would'st recall too late;
That which is past, that only call thy own:
Cares without end and tribulations wait,
Joy tarrieth not, but scarcely come, is flown.

Then grasp it quickly, firmly to thy heart;
Though firmly grasped, too oft it slips away;
To talk of living is not wisdom's part:
To-morrow is too late: live thou to-day!
The original Latin:
O mihi post nullos, Iuli, memorande sodales,
    si quid longa fides canaque iura valent,
bis iam paene tibi consul tricensimus instat,
    et numerat paucos vix tua vita dies.
non bene distuleris videas quae posse negari,
    et solum hoc ducas, quod fuit, esse tuum.
exspectant curaeque catenatique labores,
    gaudia non remanent, sed fugitiva volant.
haec utraque manu conplexuque adsere toto:
    saepe fluunt imo sic quoque lapsa sinu.
non est, crede mihi, sapientis dicere 'Vivam':
    sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie.

Martial 5.58, tr. Abraham Cowley:
To-morrow you will live, you always cry:
In what far country does this morrow lie,
That 't is so mighty long ere it arrive?
Beyond the Indies does this morrow live?
'T is so far fetch'd this morrow, that I fear
'T will be both very old and very dear.
To-morrow I will live, the fool does say:
To-day itself's too late; the wise liv'd yesterday.
The same, tr. Edward Sherburne:
Still, still thou cry'st, "Tomorrow I'll live well:"
But when will this to morrow come? canst tell?
How far is't hence? or where's it to be found?
Or upon Parthian or Armenian ground?
Priam's or Nestor's years by this 't has got;
I wonder for how much it might be bought?
Thou'lt live to morrow?—'Tis too late to day:
He's wise who yesterday, "I liv'd," can say.
The original Latin:
Cras te victurum, cras dicis, Postume, semper.
    dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando venit?
quam longe cras istud, ubi est? aut unde petendum?
    numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
iam cras istud habet Priami vel Nestoris annos.
    cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
cras vives? hodie iam vivere, Postume, serum est:
    ille sapit quisquis, Postume, vixit heri.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Merry It Is and Quiet

From the movie Good Will Hunting:
Sean: So what do you really want to do?
Will: I wanna be a shepherd.
Sean: Really.
Will: I wanna move up to Nashua, get a nice little spread, get some sheep and tend to them.
Sean: Maybe you should go do that.
William Byrd, The Herdman's Happy Life:
What pleasure have great princes
More dainty to their choice
Than herdmen wild, who careless
In quiet life rejoice?
And fortune's fate not fearing,
Sing sweet in summer morning.
Their dealings plain and rightful,
Are void of all deceit;
They never know how spiteful
It is to kneel and wait
On favourite presumptuous,
Whose pride is vain and sumptuous.
All day their flocks each tendeth,
At night they take their rest,
More quiet than who sendeth
His ship into the east,
Where gold and pearl are plenty,
But getting very dainty.
For lawyers and their pleading,
They 'steem it not a straw;
They think that honest meaning,
Is of itself a law;
Where conscience judgeth plainly,
They spend no money vainly.
Oh, happy who thus liveth!
Not caring much for gold;
With clothing which sufficeth,
To keep him from the cold.
Though poor and plain his diet,
Yet merry it is and quiet.
Joseph Farquharson, Leaving the Hills

Friday, August 21, 2009


A Sin of Omission

Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia, Afterthoughts, Last Words (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945), p. 107 (Guilt, from More Trivia):
What should I think of? I asked myself as I opened my umbrella. How should I occupy my imagination that harsh, dusky, sloshy, winter afternoon, as I walked to Bedford Square? Should I think of Arabia; of Albatrosses, or of those great Condors who sleep on their outspread wings in the high white air above the Andes?

But a sense of guilt oppressed me. What had I done, or left undone? And the shadowy figures that seemed to menace and pursue me? Yes, I had wronged them; it was again those Polish Poets, it was Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Szymonowicz, Krasicki, Kochanowski;—and I'd never read one word of all their works!


Save My Family from Puberty

I received this email earlier this week and rescued it from the Spam folder:
Mr Micheal,

how are you doing today and how s things moving sir.sir the main reason i am here s to help me to save my family from puberty.sir i than God i have find your email.please my family don,t have money to care for me and my youngers sister and brothers even because of the puberty all of us have stop schooling.please i want you to help me to save my family from puberty.please i want you to send me money or credit card, so that i can get money to help my family from puberty.Mr Micheal i need your help,please help me .samuel s my name.i am looking forward to hear from you soon Mr Micheal.
No amount of money, alas, can save Mr. Samuel's family from puberty. Even if it could, the milk of human kindness has dried up in my breast. I feel today like Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self-Reliance:
Then again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee thou foolish philanthropist that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots, and the thousand-fold Relief Societies;—though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Accept the Terms

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Terminus:
It is time to be old,
To take in sail:—
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: "No more!
No farther shoot
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent,
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There's not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two,
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms,
Soften the fall with wary foot;
A little while
Still plan and smile,
And,—fault of novel germs,—
Mature the unfallen fruit.
Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires,
Bad husbands of their fires,
Who, when they gave thee breath,
Failed to bequeath
The needful sinew stark as once,
The Baresark marrow to thy bones,
But left a legacy of ebbing veins,
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,—
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb."
As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
"Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Two Examples of Epipompē in Tibullus

Tibullus 1.1.33-34 (tr. J.P. Postgate):
But ye, ye thieves and wolves, have mercy on my scanty flocks; from great herds must ye take your spoil.

at vos exiguo pecori, furesque lupique,
  parcite: de magno est praeda petenda grege.
Robert Maltby, Tibullus: Elegies. Text, Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge: Francis Cairns, 2002), ad loc. (p. 133):
The couplet is an example of auersio (ἀποπομπή), a prayer that evil should be averted from one's self onto others, cf. Cat. 63.92-3 procul a mea tuus sit furor omnis, era, domo:/ alios age incitatos, alios age rabidos, Priap. 86.19-21 quare hinc, o pueri, malas abstinete rapinas./ uicinus prope diues est negligensque Priapus:/ inde sumite. Further examples in N-H on Hor. Carm. 1.21.13 and Fedeli on Prop. 3.8.20. Here the prayer is addressed indirectly to Pales.
I have a minor clarification on a point of terminology. Richard Wünsch was apparently the first to use the terms apopompē (ἀποπομπή) and epipompē (ἐπιπομπή) to describe two different ways of banishing evil. See his "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13/14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else.

In most of the exorcisms recorded in the Gospels, Jesus drove demons away from the possessed — this is apopompē ("sending away"). But at Gadara (or Gerasa or Gergesa, Matthew 8.30-32, par. Mark 5.11-13 and Luke 8.32-33), Jesus drove the demons into a herd of pigs — this is epipompē ("sending to or against"). The examples from Tibullus, Catullus, and the Priapeia adduced by Maltby are all examples of epipompē, not apopompē.

There is another example in Tibullus, at 1.6.85 (haec aliis maledicta cadant = "may these curses fall on others"). See Maltby ad loc. (p. 279):
the curse of an unhappy old age is averted on to others; for this form of apotropaic prayer, cf. Cat. 63.92-3 procul a mea tuus sit furor omnis, era, domo:/ alios age incitatos, alios age rabidos.
For more on this topic see my web page on Epipompē, to which I will add these two examples from Tibullus soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


What We Love

Donald Culross Peattie, Flowering Earth (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 22:
What we love, when on a summer day we step into the coolness of a wood, is that its boughs close up behind us. We are escaped, into another room of life. The wood does not live as we live, restless and running, panting after flesh, and even in sleep tossing with fears. It is aloof from thoughts and instincts; it responds, but only to the sun and wind, the rock and the stream—never, though you shout yourself hoarse, to propaganda, temptation, reproach, or promises. You cannot mount a rock and preach to a tree how it shall attain the kingdom of heaven. It is already closer to it, up there, than you will grow to be. And you cannot make it see the light, since in the tree's sense you are blind. You have nothing to bring it, for all the forest is self-sufficient; if you burn it, cut, hack through it with a blade, it angrily repairs the swathe with thorns and weeds and fierce suckers. Later there are good green leaves again, toiling, adjusting, breathing—forgetting you.
Asher Brown Durand, Monument Mountain, Berkshires

Sunday, August 16, 2009



Palladas, Greek Anthology 9.394, tr. W.R. Paton:
Gold, father of flatterers, son of pain and care, it is fear to have thee and pain not to have thee.

Χρυσέ, πάτερ κολάκων, ὀδύνης καὶ φροντίδος υἱέ,
  καὶ τὸ ἔχειν σε, φόβος· καὶ μὴ ἔχειν σ᾿, ὀδύνη.
Latin translation by Samuel Johnson:
Mater adulantum prolesque, Pecunia, curae,
  Teque frui timor est, teque carere dolor.
French translation by Pierre de Ronsard:
0 Mère des flatteurs, Richesse,
Fille du soin et de tristesse,
T'avoir est une grande peur
Et ne t'avoir, grande douleur.
Thanks very much to Michael Hendry for providing me with the Greek text of Palladas' epigrams in electronic form.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The Green Flag

Donald Culross Peattie, Flowering Earth (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 6:
There are always some of us, not a few, in every generation, who go over wholly to the green flag. It is such a passionless fealty, so reticent a love, that neither do trumpets sound for it nor quarrels arise from it. Only, you will find that those who have pledged allegiance are happy about it in quiet.
Richard Wilbur, Green:
Tree-leaves which, till the growing season's done,
Change into wood the powers of the sun,

Take from that radiance only reds and blues.
Green is a color that they cannot use,

And so their rustling myriads are seen
To wear all summer an extraneous green,

A green with no apparent role, unless
To be the symbol of a great largesse

Which has no end, though autumns may revoke
That shade from yellowed ash and rusted oak.
Ivan Shishkin, Willows Lit Up By the Sun


In My Studies and Enquiries

Some prayers, from The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume I: Diaries, Prayers, and Annals, ed. E.L. McAdam, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958).

A Prayer Before Beginning Any New Study (p. 48):
Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto Thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which Thou hast given me on useless trifles, not waste it in vain searches after things which thou hast hidden from me.

Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which Thou hast allotted me; and so further with Thy help that labour which, without thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
After Time Negligently and Unprofitably Spent (p. 49):
О Lord, in whose hands are life and death, by whose power I am sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity. Forgive me, that I have this day neglected the duty which thou hast assigned to it, and suffered the hours, of which I must give account, to pass away without any endeavour to accomplish thy will, or to promote my own salvation. Make me to remember, О God, that every day is thy gift, and ought to be used according to thy command. Grant me, therefore, so to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from Thee, and pass the time which Thou shalt yet allow me, in diligent performance of thy commands, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Study of Tongues (p. 58):
Almighty God, giver of all knowledge, enable me so to pursue the study of tongues, that I may promote thy glory and my own salvation.

Bless my endeavours, as shall seem best unto Thee; and if it shall please Thee to grant me the attainment of my purpose, preserve me from sinful pride; take not thy Holy Spirit from me, but give me a pure heart and humble mind, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Yet Why So Alien Still?

George Orwell, On a Ruined Farm near the His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory:
As I stand at the lichened gate
With warring worlds on either hand—
To left the black and budless trees,
The empty sties, the barns that stand

Like tumbling skeletons—and to right
The factory-towers, white and clear
Like distant, glittering cities seen
From a ship's rail—as I stand here,

I feel, and with a sharper pang,
My mortal sickness; how I give
My heart to weak and stuffless ghosts,
And with the living cannot live.

The acid smoke has soured the fields,
And browned the few and windworn flowers;
But there, where steel and concrete soar
In dizzy, geometric towers—

There, where the tapering cranes sweep round,
And great wheels turn, and trains roar by
Like strong, low-headed brutes of steel—
There is my world, my home; yet why

So alien still? For I can neither
Dwell in that world, nor turn again
To scythe and spade, but only loiter
Among the trees the smoke has slain.

Yet when the trees were young, men still
Could choose their path—the wingèd soul,
Not cursed with double doubts, could fly,
Arrow-like to a foreseen goal;

And they who planned those soaring towers,
They too have set their spirit free;
To them their glittering world can bring
Faith, and accepted destiny;

But none to me as I stand here
Between two countries, both-ways torn,
And moveless still, like Buridan's donkey
Between the water and the corn.
Paul Nash, We Are Making a New World


A Silent Spectator

William Hazlitt, On Living to One's-Self:
What I mean by living to one's-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it: it is as if no one knew there was such a person, and you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it; to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world, but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, and such an interest as it might take in the affairs of men, calm, contemplative, passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not troubled by their passions; not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them. He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of the thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style, without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Cheer Your Heart

Today my mood is that of an "Epicuri de grege porcum" ("a pig from Epicurus' herd," Horace, Epistles 1.4.16). Here are some lines from Euripides' Alcestis (779-802, spoken by Heracles, tr. David Kovacs) that harmonize with my mood:
Come here so that you may be made wiser! Do you know the nature of our mortal life? I think not. How could you? But listen to me. Death is a debt all mortals must pay, and no man knows for certain whether he will be living on the morrow. The outcome of our fortune is hid from our eyes, and it lies beyond the scope of any teaching or craft. So now that you have learned this from me, cheer your heart, drink, regard this day's life as yours but all else as Fortune's! Honor Aphrodite, too, sweetest of the gods to mortals, for she is a kindly goddess. Forget all else and take my advice, if you think what I say is correct, as I suppose you do. Lay aside your excessive grief and have some wine with me [overcoming these misfortunes, head crowned with garlands]! I am quite sure that when the fit of drinking is upon you, it will bring you round from your clotted and gloomy state of mind. Being mortal we ought to think mortal thoughts. As for those who are solemn and knit their brows together, their life, in my judgment, is no life worthy of the name but merely a disaster.

δεῦρ' ἔλθ', ὅπως ἂν καὶ σοφώτερος γένῃ.
τὰ θνητὰ πράγμαθ' ἣντιν' οἶσθ' ἔχει φύσιν;
οἶμαι μὲν οὔ· πόθεν γάρ; ἀλλ' ἄκουέ μου.
βροτοῖς ἅπασι κατθανεῖν ὀφείλεται,
κοὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἐξεπίσταται
τὴν αὔριον μέλλουσαν εἰ βιώσεται·
τὸ τῆς τύχης γὰρ ἀφανὲς οἷ προβήσεται,
κἄστ' οὐ διδακτὸν οὐδ' ἁλίσκεται τέχνῃ.
ταῦτ' οὖν ἀκούσας καὶ μαθὼν ἐμοῦ πάρα
εὔφραινε σαυτόν, πῖνε, τὸν καθ' ἡμέραν
βίον λογίζου σόν, τὰ δ' ἄλλα τῆς τύχης.
τίμα δὲ καὶ τὴν πλεῖστον ἡδίστην θεῶν
Κύπριν βροτοῖσιν· εὐμενὴς γὰρ ἡ θεός.
τὰ δ' ἄλλ' ἔασον πάντα καὶ πιθοῦ λόγοις
ἐμοῖσιν, εἴπερ ὀρθά σοι δοκῶ λέγειν.
οἶμαι μέν. οὔκουν τὴν ἄγαν λύπην ἀφεὶς
πίῃ μεθ' ἡμῶν [τάσδ' ὑπερβαλὼν τύχας,
στεφάνοις πυκασθείς]; καὶ σάφ' οἶδ' ὁθούνεκα
τοῦ νῦν σκυθρωποῦ καὶ ξυνεστῶτος φρενῶν
μεθορμιεῖ σε πίτυλος ἐμπεσὼν σκύφου.
ὄντας δὲ θνητοὺς θνητὰ καὶ φρονεῖν χρεών·
ὡς τοῖς γε σεμνοῖς καὶ συνωφρυωμένοις
ἅπασίν ἐστιν, ὥς γ' ἐμοὶ χρῆσθαι κριτῇ,
οὐ βίος ἀληθῶς ὁ βίος ἀλλὰ συμφορά.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Intellectual Curiosity

The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume I: Diaries, Prayers, and Annals, ed. E.L. McAdam, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), p. 278 (October 12, 1777):
Brachia satis setosa paulum a carpo rasi, ut notum sit quantum temporis pilos restituat.
McAdam ad loc.:
On the twelfth Johnson shaved his hairy arms enough "to see how much time would restore the hairs," a rather extreme example of his intellectual curiosity.
Id., p. 297 (August 7, 1779):
Partem brachii dextri carpo proximam et cutem pectoris circa mamillam dextram rasi, ut notum fieret quanto temporis pili renovarentur.
McAdam's note (pp. 297-298):
On 7 August Johnson made an experiment similar to the one he had made on 12 October 1778 [sic, read 1777]: he shaved part of his right arm above the wrist and the hair around his right breast to see how long it would take to grow again. Perhaps he had forgotten to keep track of his October experiment, or thought that in summer the hair would grow faster. The sentence was printed by Boswell from a lost diary (Life, III.398 n.3).
Bowswell's comment:
My readers will not be displeased at being told every slight circumstance of the manner in which Dr. Johnson contrived to amuse his solitary hours. He sometimes employed himself in chemistry, sometimes in watering and pruning a vine, sometimes in small experiments, at which those who may smile, should recollect that there are moments which admit of being soothed only by trifles.


Abbreviations in Johnson's Diaries

I've been reading The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume I: Diaries, Prayers, and Annals, ed. E.L. McAdam, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958). Johnson used many abbreviations in his diaries. Some of the abbreviations are cryptic, others obvious. In Johnson's diaries the Greek letter theta (θ) stands for death or dead (Greek θάνατος, thánatos = death), and the Greek letter phi (φ) stands for friends (Greek φίλος, phílos = friend). So on Easter Day, April 4, 1779, Johnson wrote, "At the altar I commended my θ.φ." McAdams explains (p. 296), "At church on Easter Johnson commended his dead friends as usual."

On Thursday, January 10, 1765, Johnson wrote in his diary, "2 cb. M 2. Floyd, Lucy, Coxterer, Beauclerc, Langton." McAdams comments (p. 86), "On Thursday, having gone to bed at 2 ('M' is his symbol for defecation), Johnson saw a long list of people."

In the 1990s a controversy arose in the pages of The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual (abbreviated AJ) about the meaning of M, which occurs often in Johnson's diaries. Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), p. 87, summarizes the debate (words in square brackets added by me from Johnson's diary):
This impulse to tabulate and count, incidentally, which later became compulsive, appears to account for the appearance of a cryptic 'M' under 22 October in his 1729-34 'Diary'. If the Latin that follows [M quod feci Sept. 9 et 12 et 17. et 19 et 22 et 28 et 26.] is translated as 'Remember what I did on 9, 12, 17, 19, 22, 26 and 28 September', this would simply be an innocuous reference to what happened on those days that he either forgot to record in the diary or recorded elsewhere. Or it might mean something less savoury. One widely respected critic has urged that this 'M' refers to masturbation, others that it indicates sexual intercourse, and still others that it alludes to defecation. In the 1760s he used this 'M' more plausibly to chronicle his defecation because he was very ill then, suffering from insomnia and wishing to keep track of his bowel movements during the night. In 1729 the first two meanings may be more likely as it is certainly possible that, especially during periods of boredom in his room, he indulged in sexual fantasies. To keep a record of instances of masturbation by way of trying to control the practice, this same critic observes, is not uncommon, and it would have been a way of dealing with his guilt over it.24
Martin's note 24 on p. 536 reads:
See these articles: Donald Greene, 'A Secret Far Dearer to Him Than His Life: Johnson's "Vile Melancholy" Reconsidered', AJ, 4 (1991): 1-40; Barry Baldwin, 'The Mysterious Letter "M" in Johnson's Diaries', AJ, 6 (1994): 131-145; J.D. Fleeman, 'Johnson's Secret', AJ, 6 (1994): 147-149; and Aaron Stavisky, 'Johnson's "Vile Melancholy" Reconsidered Once More', AJ 10, (1998): 1-24.
In the introduction to his Life of Johnson, Boswell wrote:
I remain firm and confident in my opinion, that minute particulars are frequently characteristic, and always amusing, when they relate to a distinguished man. I am therefore exceedingly unwilling that any thing, however slight, which my illustrious friend thought it worth his while to express, with any degree of point, should perish. For this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very old and venerable authority, quoted by our great modern prelate, Seeker, in whose tenth sermon there is the following passage:

"Rabbi David Kimchi, a noted Jewish commentator, who lived about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, His leaf also shall not wither, from Rabbins yet older than himself, thus; That even the idle talk, so he expresses it, of a good man ought to be regarded; the most superfluous things he saith are always of some value. And other ancient authors have the same phrase, nearly in the same sense."
Boswell, Seeker, and Kimchi of course meant the "minute particulars" of a great man's public conversation, but my fascination about Johnson's life extends to what he wrote in his private diaries, and even to what he did on Thursday, January 10, 1765.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Leaves and Bark

Robert Frost, Leaves Compared With Flowers:
A tree's leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bark, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bark, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.
John Frederick Kensett, Kearsarge Mountain

Monday, August 10, 2009


Samuel Johnson and Palladas

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to his Son, No. 100 (January 25, 1745):
But, to return now to your fifth form, from whence I have strayed, it may be, too long: Pray what do you do in that country? Be so kind as to give me a description of it. What Latin and Greek books do you read there? Are your exercises, exercises of invention? or do you still put the bad English of the Psalms into had Latin, and only change the shape of Latin verse, from long to short, and from short to long? People do not improve, singly, by travelling, but by the observations they make, and by keeping good company where they do travel. So, I hope, in your travels through the fifth form, you keep company with Horace and Cicero, among the Romans; and Homer and Xenophon, among the Greeks; and that you are got out of the worst company in the world, the Greek epigrams. Martial has wit, and is worth your looking into sometimes; but I recommend the Greek epigrams to your supreme contempt. Good night to you.
Samuel Johnson didn't consider the Greek epigrams "the worst company in the world" or worthy of his "supreme contempt." In a letter to Mrs. Thrale (August 19, 1784), he wrote:
As you do not now use your books, be pleased to let Mr. Cator know that I may borrow what I want. I think at present to take only Calmet, and the Greek Anthology. When I lay sleepless, I used to drive the night along by turning Greek epigrams into Latin.

I know not if I have not turned a hundred.
See also James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (A.D. 1784, aetat. 75):
During his sleepless nights he amused himself by translating into Latin verse, from the Greek, many of the epigrams in the Anthologia. These translations, with some other poems by him in Latin, he gave to his friend Mr. Langton, who, having added a few notes, sold them to the booksellers for a small sum, to be given to some of Johnson's relations, which was accordingly done; and they are printed in the collection of his works.
Similarly Arthur Murphy, An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., in George Birbeck Hill, ed., Johnsonian Miscellanies, vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), p. 445:
Eternity presented to his mind an aweful prospect, and, with as much virtue as perhaps ever is the lot of man, he shuddered at the thought of his dissolution. His friends awakened the comfortable reflection of a well-spent life; and, as his end drew near, they had the satisfaction of seeing him composed, and even chearful, insomuch that he was able, in the course of his restless nights, to make translations of Greek epigrams from the Anthologia; and to compose a Latin epitaph for his father, his mother, and his brother Nathaniel.
Johnson's translations from the Greek Anthology (nearly a hundred, as he estimated) can be found in Barry Baldwin, The Latin & Greek Poems of Samuel Johnson. Text, Translation and Commentary (London: Duckworth, 1995), pp. 198-263, and Niall Rudd, Samuel Johnson: The Latin Poems (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005), pp. 80-118.

Among Johnson's translations are some Latin versions of epigrams by Palladas, including these, with Niall Rudd's English translation (followed by the Greek and W.R. Paton's translation).

Greek Anthology 10.60:
Ditescis, credo, quid restat? quicquid habebis
  In tumulum tecum, morte jubente, trahes?
Divitias cumulas, pereuntes neglegis horas,
  Incrementa aevi non cumulare potes.

You are growing rich. So I believe. What of the future? Are you going to drag whatever you have into the tomb with you, when death gives the order? You are piling up your riches, unaware that your hours are dwindling. You can't pile up increasing quantities of life.

Πλουτεῖς· καὶ τί τὸ λοιπόν; ἀπερχόμενος μετὰ σαυτοῦ
  τὸν πλοῦτον σύρεις, εἰς σορὸν ἑλκόμενος;
τὸν πλοῦτον συνάγεις δαπανῶν χρόνον· οὐ δύνασαι δὲ
  ζωῆς σωρεῦσαι μέτρα περισσότερα.

You are wealthy. And what is the end of it? When you depart do you trail your riches after you as you are pulled to your tomb? You gather wealth spending time, but you cannot pile up a heavier measure of life.
Greek Anthology 10.72:
Vita omnis scena est ludusque; aut ludere disce
  Seria seponens, aut mala dura pati.

Life is all a stage and a play. Either learn to play, setting serious matters aside, or else to endure hard misfortunes.

σκηνὴ πᾶς ὁ βίος καὶ παίγνιον· ἢ μάθε παίζειν
  τὴν σπουδὴν μεταθεὶς, ἢ φέρε τὰς ὀδύνας.

All life is a stage and a play: either learn to play laying your gravity aside, or bear with life's pains.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Civil Discourse

Paul Krugman, "The Town Hall Mob," New York Times (August 6, 2009):
There's a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled "Freedom of Speech," depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.'s "Four Freedoms," shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don't like what he's saying, but they're letting him speak his mind.

That's a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters—some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting "This is America!"—have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

Ian Urbina, "Beyond Beltway, Health Debate Turns Hostile," New York Times (August 7, 2009):
The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.


One of the week's most raucous encounters occurred Thursday in Tampa, Fla., where roughly 1,500 people attended a forum held by Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Kathy Castor. When the auditorium at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County reached capacity and organizers had to close the doors, the scene descended into violence.

As Ms. Castor began to speak, scuffles broke out as people tried to push their way in. Parts of her remarks were drowned out by chants of "read the bill, read the bill" and "tyranny," as a video recording of the meeting showed. Outside the meeting, there were competing chants of "Yes we can" and "Just say no."

Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 2.3.2 (56 B.C., tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Milo appeared on 7 February. Pompey spoke—or rather tried to speak, for no longer was he on his feet than Clodius' gang raised a clamour, and all through the speech he was interrupted not merely by shouting but by booing and abuse. When he wound up (and I will say he showed courage; he was not put off, delivered all he had to say, sometimes even managing to get silence by his personal authority)—well, when he wound up, Clodius rose. Wishing to repay the compliment, our side gave him such an uproarious reception that he lost command of thoughts, tongue, and countenance. That lasted till half past one, Pompey having finished just after midday—all manner of insults, ending up with some highly scabrous verse to the address of Clodius and Clodia. Pale with fury, he started a game of question and answer in the middle of the shouting: 'Who's starving the people to death?' 'Pompey,' answered the gang. 'Who wants to go to Alexandria?' Answer: 'Pompey.' 'Whom do you want to go?' Answer: 'Crassus' (who was present as a supporter of Milo, wishing him no good). About 2:15 the Clodians started spitting at us, as though on a signal. Sharp rise in temperature! They made a push to dislodge us, our side countercharged. Flight of gang. Clodius was hurled from the Rostra, at which point I too made off for fear of what might happen in the free-for-all.

A. d. VII. Id. Febr. Milo adfuit. dixit Pompeius, sive voluit. nam ut surrexit, operae Clodianae clamorem sustulerunt, idque ei perpetua oratione contigit, non modo ut acclamatione, sed ut convicio et maledictis impediretur. qui ut peroravit (nam in eo sane fortis fuit, non est deterritus, dixit omnia atque interdum etiam silentio, cum auctoritate pervicerat)—sed ut peroravit, surrexit Clodius, ei tantus clamor a nostris (placuerat enim referre gratiam) ut neque mente nec lingua neque ore consisteret. ea res acta est, cum hora sexta vix Pompeius perorasset, usque ad horam octavam, cum omnia maledicta, versus denique obscenissimi in Clodium et Clodiam dicerentur. ille furens et exsanguis interrogabat suos in clamore ipso quis esset qui plebem fame necaret: respondebant operae 'Pompeius.' quis Alexandriam ire cuperet: respondebant 'Pompeius.' quem ire vellent: respondebant 'Crassum' (is aderat tum Miloni, animo non amico). hora fere nona quasi signo data Clodiani nostros consputare coeperunt. exarsit dolor. urgere illi ut loco nos moverent. factus est a nostris impetus, fuga operarum. eiectus de rostris Clodius, ac nos quoque tum fugimus, ne quid in turba.
William Sidney Mount, School Boys Quarreling

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Tenet Insanabile Multos Scribendi Cacoethes

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, No. 85 (Saturday, December 1, 1759):
One of the peculiarities which distinguish the present age is the multiplication of books. Every day brings new advertisements of literary undertakings, and we are flattered with repeated promises of growing wise on easier terms than our progenitors.

How much either happiness or knowledge is advanced by this multitude of authors, it is not very easy to decide.

He that teaches us any thing which we knew not before, is undoubtedly to be reverenced as a master. He that conveys knowledge by more pleasing ways, may very properly be loved as a benefactor; and he that supplies life with innocent amusement, will be certainly caressed as a pleasing companion.

But few of those who fill the world with books have any pretensions to the hope either of pleasing or instructing. They have often no other task than to lay two books before them, out of which they compile a third, without any new materials of their own, and with very little application of judgment to those which former authors have supplied.


The Great Excellence of Learning

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, No. 94 (Saturday, February 2, 1760):
It is the great excellence of learning, that it borrows very little from time or place; it is not confined to season or to climate, to cities or to the country, but may be cultivated and enjoyed where no other pleasure can be obtained.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Summer Luxury

John Keats, On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
The poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper's—he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights, for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
  Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
  The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.
On the genesis of this sonnet see Charles Cowden Clarke, Recollections of Writers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878), pp. 135-136:
But the occasion that recurs with the liveliest interest was one evening when—some observations having been made upon the character, habits, and pleasant associations with that reverend denizen of the hearth, the cheerful little grasshopper of the fireside—Hunt proposed to Keats the challenge of writing then, there, and to time, a sonnet "On the Grasshopper and Cricket." No one was present but myself, and they accordingly set to. I, apart, with a book at the end of the sofa, could not avoid furtive glances every now and then at the emulants. I cannot say how long the trial lasted. I was not proposed umpire; and had no stop-watch for the occasion. The time, however, was short for such a performance, and Keats won as to time. But the event of the after-scrutiny was one of many such occurrences which have riveted the memory of Leigh Hunt in my affectionate regard and admiration for unaffected generosity and perfectly unpretentious encouragement. His sincere look of pleasure at the first line—

        The poetry of earth is never dead.

"Such a prosperous opening!" he said; and when he came to the tenth and eleventh lines:—

        On a lone winter evening, when the frost
        Has wrought a silence

"Ah! that's perfect! Bravo Keats!"
Here is Leigh Hunt's sonnet composed on the same occasion:
Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
  Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
  Sole voice that's heard amid the lazy noon,
When ev'n the bees lag at the summoning brass;
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
  With those who think the candles come too soon,
  Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
  One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
  At your clear hearts; and both seem given to earth
To ring in thoughtful ears this natural song—
  In doors and out, summer and winter, Mirth.
Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats (Cambridge: Belknap Press; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 121, compares the two:
Hunt's sonnet, considering the time he had to write it, is by no means bad. But what he can do with it is limited from the outset by his focus on the the insects themselves; and needing to fill out the lines and to make them agreeable to human feelings, he is forced to sentimentalize by personifying. The "little vaulter in the sunny grass," and the cricket—"warm little housekeeper"—are "sweet and tiny cousins." And the sonnet drives to a moral at the end: "both are sent" to carry to the thoughtful ear the salutary lesson of "mirth." Keats, on the other hand, typically focuses on a psychological process rather than a moral. The generalization is disposed of at the start ("The poetry of earth is never dead"), and brought back only at the beginning of the sestet in order to introduce the cricket. A simple division in structure gives a frame; and the sonnet can thus become more freely allusive and concrete. The result is a more nearly objective empathy (the grasshopper "rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed") and finally a more genuine resolution—the the blending, or continuity, of summer and winter are frankly left to the listener's imagination.
Katherine Plymley, Grasshopper from Nature Sept. 23rd 1803

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Steal One Day Out of Thy Life to Live

Martial 2.53, tr. Abraham Cowley in his essay Of Liberty:
Would you be free? 'Tis your chief Wish, you say,
Come on; I'll shew thee, friend, the certain Way.
If to no Feasts abroad thou lov'st to go,
Whilst bounteous God does Bread at home bestow;
If thou the Goodness of thy Cloaths dost prize
By thine own Use, and not by others Eyes;
(If only safe from Weathers) thou canst dwell
In a small House, but a convenient Shell;
If thou without a Sigh, or Golden Wish,
Canst look upon thy Beechen Bowl and Dish;
If in thy Mind such Power and Greatness be,
The Persian King's a slave, compar'd with thee.
The Latin original:
Vis fieri liber? mentiris, Maxime, non vis:
  sed fieri si vis, hac ratione potes.
liber eris, cenare foris si, Maxime, nolis,
  Veientana tuam si domat uva sitim,
si ridere potes miseri chrysendeta Cinnae,
  contentus nostra si potes esse toga,
si plebeia Venus gemino tibi vincitur asse,
  si tua non rectus tecta subire potes.
haec tibi si vis est, si mentis tanta potestas,
  liberior Partho vivere rege potes.
Cowley translates rather freely and softens Martial's coarseness. The prose version of Walter C.A. Ker is more literal:
Do you wish to become free? You lie, Maximus; you don't wish. But if you do wish, in this way you can become so. You will be free, Maximus, if you refuse to dine abroad, if Veii's grape quells your thirst, if you can laugh at the gold-inlaid dishes of the wretched Cinna, if you can content yourself with a toga such as mine, if your plebeian amours are handfasted at the price of twopence, if you can endure to stoop as you enter your dwelling. If this is your strength of mind, if such its power over itself, you can live more free than a Parthian king.
Here is the second stanza of Cowley's Ode to Liberty, also in his essay Of Liberty:
'Tis Morning; well; I fain would yet sleep on:
  You cannot now; you must be gone
  To Court, or to the noisie Hall:
Besides, the Rooms without are crouded all;
  The Stream of Business does begin,
And a Spring-Tide of Clients is come in.
Ah cruel Guards, which this poor Pris'ner keep!
  Will they not suffer him to sleep?
Make an Escape; out at the Postern flee,
And get some blessed Hours of Liberty.
With a few Friends, and a few Dishes dine,
  And much of Mirth and mod'rate Wine.
To thy bent Mind some Relaxation give,
And steal one Day out of thy Life to live.
Oh happy Man (he cries) to whom kind Heav'n
  Has such a Freedom always giv'n!
Why, mighty Madman, what should hinder thee
From being ev'ry Day as free?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


Sorbs and Medlars

In response to Some Shad-Bush Thoughts, I received some interesting emails from Alan Knell, excerpts from which follow:
I too have planted service trees, but of British / European varieties [I live in Leamington Spa, UK].

I have two Wild Service Trees, Sorbus torminalis. These small trees bear attractive maple-like leaves, turning gold in autumn, and sweet brown fruits maybe a half-inch long. It is an occasional tree in Kent, my home county in the SE of England. Elsewhere it is rare. The bark breaks into a chequer-board pattern in older trees, giving the folk name of 'Chequers Tree', which I believe is the origin of the name of the country house kept for British prime ministers.

I also have a True Service Tree, Sorbus domestica. This is like a giant rowan, except it too bears brown fruits, larger than the wild service tree's berries: 'whitty pears'. I am told the Romans introduced this tree, which is very rare in the wild in Britain. They used it to flavour ale....

We Anglo-Saxons used rowan berries [S. aucuparia] to sharpen the sweetness of ale. Rowan ale used to be served sometimes on high tables in Cambridge and Oxford.

A Medlar completes my collection - Mespilus germanica. This bears fruit like a small, round, rough pear, with a prominent whirl of sepals round the distal end. The appearance suggests a coarse Anglo-Saxon folk name, gentled to 'Openers'. Medlars are harvested in November, stored on the ends in trays. After several weeks they 'blet' - soften and turn black. In this half-rotten state they taste like bananas, I think an unusual flavour before bananas became common. Traditionally they are enjoyed with port wine before a log fire on a cold December evening: an experience I recommend without hesitation. They will blet on the tree, but the birds will strip the lot in days. No doubt you are familiar with Lawrence's poem on the medlar.


I attach a picture of European medlars, half grown, to illustrate the origin of the English common name for the fruits.

The English common name for the fruits of the medlar is open-arse, "gentled to openers." See the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. open-arse.

The English word service, as a tree name, comes from Latin sorbus, by way of Middle English serves (plural of serve) and Old English syrfe. See Walter W. Skeat, Notes on English Etymology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), pp. 266-268, who rejects the derivation of service from cervisia (beer) in R.C.A. Prior, On the Popular Names of British Plants (London: Williams and Norgate, 1863), p. 202. Also to be rejected is the folk etymology mentioned by Charles Fergus, Trees of New England: A Natural History (Guilford: Globe Pequot, 2005), pp. 158-159:
A more colorful story holds that "service" refers to the memorial services that circuit preachers performed in spring, around the time of the juneberries' blossoming, to commemorate settlers who had not survived the preceding winter.
There is useful information in Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A to Z (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 306:
Sorb, domesticated tree fruit of southeastern Europe. The sorb is a slow-growing tree. Its fruit ripens late in the season and is never very good to eat fresh. In these various ways the sorb resembles the olive; in addition it fruits only after many years' growth. In the classical Mediterranean sorbs were an important winter fruit: they were halved and sun-dried or else conserved in sapa, light grape syrup. They were also, so Palladius had heard, made into a kind of cider (which is called cormé in modern French).

The sorb or service-apple (Sorbus domestica) is Greek oon, ouon, Latin sorbum. Latin sorbum torminale is the fruit of a related species, probably the chequers-tree (S. torminalis); Pliny is aware of two other kinds, presumably the whitebeam (S. Aria) and the rowan (S. aucuparia).

Plato, Symposium 190d; Hippocrates R 55; Theophrastus HP 3.2.1, CP 3.1.4; Cato DA 7.4, 143.3; Varro RR 1.68.1; Celsus, Medicine 2.24.2; Dioscorides MM 1.120; Columella DA 8.17.13; Pliny NH 15.85, 16.74, 17.221; Priapeia 51.10; Dio of Prusa, Orations 7.75; Galen SF 12.87; Palladius OA 2.15.1-5.
Dalby overlooked a reference to sorb juice drunk by northern barbarians, at Vergil, Georgics 3.379-380 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Here they spend the night in play, and with ale and bitter service-juice joyously mimic draughts of wine.

hic noctem ludo ducunt, et pocula laeti
fermento atque acidis imitantur vitea sorbis.

Until Alan Knell mentioned it, I was unfamiliar with D.H. Lawrence's poem Medlars and Sorb-Apples:
I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness.

I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
So morbid, as the Italians say.

What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream.

Something of the same flavour as Syracusan Muscat wine
Or vulgar Marsala.

Though even the word Marsala will smack of preciosity
Soon in the pussyfoot West.

What is it?
What is it, in the grape turning raisin,
In the medlar, in the sorb-apple,

Wineskins of brown morbidity,
Autumnal excrementa;
What is it that reminds us of white gods?

Gods nude as blanched nut-kernels,
Strangely, half sinisterly flesh-fragrant
As if with sweat,
And drenched with mystery.

Sorb-apples, medlars with dead crowns.
I say, wonderful are the hellish experiences,
Orphic, delicate
Dionysos of the Underworld.

A kiss, and a spasm of farewell, a moment's orgasm of rupture
Then a long the damp road alone, till the next turning,
And there, a new partner, a new parting, a new unfusing into twain,
A new gasp of further isolation,
A new intoxication of loneliness, among decaying, frost-cold leaves.

Going down the strange lanes of hell, more and more intensely alone,
The fibres of the heart parting one after the other
And yet the soul continuing, naked-footed, ever more vividly embodied
Like a flame blown whiter and whiter
In a deeper and deeper darkness
Ever more exquisite, distilled in separation.

So, in the strange retorts of medlars and sorb-apples
The distilled essence of hell.
The exquisite odour of leave-taking.
nbsp;   Jamque vale!
Orpheus, and the winding, leaf-clogged, silent lanes of hell.

Each soul departing with its own isolation,
Strangest of all strange companions,
And best.

Medlars, sorb-apples
More than sweet
Flux of autumn
Sucked out of your empty bladders
And sipped down, perhaps, with a sip of Marsala
So that the rambling, sky-dropped grape can add its savour to yours,
Orphic farewell, and farewell, and farewell
And the ego sum of Dionysos
The sono io of perfect drunkenness
Intoxication of final loneliness.

I also owe to Alan Knell a reference to Augusta Paton, "True Service Trees of Worcestershire," Proceedings of the Botanical Society of the British Isles 7.1 (1967) 9-13, which has a curious story on p. 10 belonging to the annals of arboricide:
The final chapter in the history of the Wyre sorb tree is a sad one. This ancient tree, venerated by botanists from all over the country, had become a withered wreck by the middle of the nineteenth century, the top branches alone bearing flowers and fruit at their extremities. In 1858 a large party of naturalists gathered beneath it for lunch: four years later it was destroyed by fire. The miscreant of this dastardly deed was a notorious poacher. He had been sentenced by a local magistrate, Squire Childe of Kinlet, to what he considered too severe a term of imprisonment. In order to spite the squire, who was particularly fond of the sorb tree, he burnt it to the ground. Just retribution speedily followed. The poacher not long afterwards was convicted of setting fire to some farm buildings. He was transported and condemned to spend the rest of his days at Botany Bay.

All that was left of the old sorb tree was a blackened stump and various limbs. These were carefully collected by Mr George Jorden, a well known botanist of Bewdley. Out of these branches he had four goblets made. The most elaborate of them had silver bands round the rim and foot on which were engraved the blossom and early leaves of the tree and the fruit and mature leaves. It was presented to Mr William Matthews, Honorary Secretary of the Severn Valley Field Club.

On the 30th June 1864 about eighty members of this club met at the site of the old tree and around its blackened stump they sang a requiem lamenting the destruction of a tree so long an object of veneration. Unfortunately the words and music sung on this sad occasion have not been recorded.


Garden Pests

Theodor Storm, August (Agony Column), tr. Leonard Forster:
I beg to request the esteemed young gentlemen who intend to steal my apples and pears this year to restrict themselves as far as possible to this form of enjoyment, and not to trample down the carrots and peas in my vegetable beds.
Eden Phillpotts, My Garden (London: Country Life, 1906), pp. 198-200:
Prime of garden pests is the human boy. In the pupa stage this creature evadeth every lure, and causeth much anguish of mind within the confines of cultivated ground. He hath no eye to distinguish between the grass plat and the garden knot, but trampleth indifferently upon either, and loveth best to frisk over soil wherein rare and curious seeds are germinating. Glass hath an affinity or attraction for him, and when he breaketh the same, he lifteth up his voice shrilly in merriment; but maketh still louder sounds to indicate anguish, when captured and chastened. At the season of Spring he haunteth shrubberies, and leapeth out upon the innocent traveller with horrid, inarticulate sounds. The ear may mark his unseen progress through plantations by the snapping of green boughs and by the outcry of parent birds. Occasionally, in his efforts to secure the nurseries of fowl upon lofty trees or precipices, he falleth and breaketh his neck; but this seldom happeneth, because he hath a feline plenitude of lives, and, in the art of self-preservation, is ever very nimble, discreet, and unscrupulous. During the autumnal months he affecteth the place of fruit, and by strategy may there be taken at any time in the day with full pockets and full cheeks. He hath no special taste in fruits, but devoureth with the impartial profusion of the caterpillar and canker worm. The birds of the air surpass him by their wise patience, for they know to an hour when the perfection of plum or pear has come; but not so he.


There is no cure for the human boy save time. Then, by exceeding slow stages, he groweth into the adult organism, and either turneth from his mysterious courses toward justification of existence, or else, as too often happeneth, doth wax in wickedness, as well as in the power to perform it.

Monday, August 03, 2009


You Can't Take It With You

Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.60, tr. W.R. Paton:
You are wealthy. And what is the end of it? When you depart do you trail your riches after you as you are pulled to your tomb? You gather wealth spending time, but you cannot pile up a heavier measure of life.
The same, tr. J.W. Mackail:
Thou art rich, and what of it in the end? as thou departest, dost thou drag thy riches with thee, pulling them into the coffin? Thou gatherest riches at expense of time, and thou canst not heap up more exceeding measures of life.
The same, tr. T.R. Glover:
Get riches, and what then? the coffin's lid
The company of thy coffer will forbid;
Add wealth and time subtract; and what remains?
Life not an hour longer for thy pains.
The same, tr. Tony Harrison:
So, Mr. Moneybags, you're loaded? So?
You'll never take it with you when you go.

You've made your pile but squandered time. Grown old
you can't gloat over age like hoarded gold.
The original Greek:
Πλουτεῖς· καὶ τί τὸ λοιπόν; ἀπερχόμενος μετὰ σαυτοῦ
  τὸν πλοῦτον σύρεις, εἰς σορὸν ἑλκόμενος;
τὸν πλοῦτον συνάγεις δαπανῶν χρόνον· οὐ δύνασαι δὲ
  ζωῆς σωρεῦσαι μέτρα περισσότερα.
A commonplace, but a true one, worth keeping in mind. Here are some parallels from other ancient writers:

Sunday, August 02, 2009



V. Sackville-West, from The Garden (Winter):
He dreams an orchard neatly pruned and spurred,
Where Cox' Orange jewels with the red
Of Worcester Permain, and the grass beneath
Blows with narcissus and the motley crocus,
Rich as Crivelli, fresh as Angelo
Poliziano, or our English Chaucer
Or Joachim du Bellay, turn by turn.
He dreams again, extravagant, excessive,
Of planted acres most unorthodox
Where Scarlet Oaks would flush our English fields
With passionate colour as the Autumn came,
Quercus coccinea, that torch of flame
Blown sideways as by some Atlantic squall
Between its native north America
And this our moderate island. Or again
He dreams of forests made of flow'ring trees
Acre on acre, thousands in their pride,
Cherry and almond, crab and peach and plum,
Not like their working cousins grown for use
But in an arrant spendthrift swagger cloak
Squandered across th' astonished countryside.
What woodlands here! No beech, no sycamore,
No rutted chestnut, no, nor wealden oak,
Trunks rising straight from sun-shot, shade-flecked ground,
Elephants' legs, set gray and solid-round,
No green-brown distance of the mossy ride,
But tossing surf of blossom, frothy heads,
Lather of rose, of cream, of ice-green white,
Vapour and spindrift blown upon the air,
Scudding down rides and avenues more fair
Even than usual woodlands in the Spring
Or at the Summer's height;
(That's saying much, God knows; though saying only
A truth to him who through the woodland goes
Rapt, but aware; alone yet never lonely;
And all the changes of their movement knows.)

Saturday, August 01, 2009


The Voyage of Life

Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.65, tr. W.R. Paton:
Life is a perilous voyage; for often we are tempest-tossed in it and are in a worse case than shipwrecked men. With Fortune at Life's helm we sail uncertainly as on the open sea, some on a fair voyage, others the reverse: but all alike reach one harbour under the earth.
The same, tr. Tony Harrison:
Life's an ocean-crossing where winds howl
and the wild sea comes at us wave after wave.

With Fortune our pilot, weather fair or foul,
all alike drop anchor in the grave.
The same, tr. T.R. Glover:
Life is a dangerous voyage; storm-winds fling us
  Where worse than shipwrecked mariners we lie;
Chance, the one pilot of man's life, will bring us
  Chance knoweth where as o'er the seas we fly.
Some meet good weather; others ill have found;
All make the common anchorage underground.
The original Greek:
Πλοῦς σφαλερὸς τὸ ζῇν· χειμαζόμενοι γὰρ ἐν αὐτῷ
  πολλάκι ναυηγῶν πταίομεν οἰκτρότερα.
τὴν δὲ Τύχην βιότοιο κυβερνήτειραν ἔχοντες,
  ὡς ἐπὶ τοῦ πελάγους, ἀμφίβολοι πλέομεν,
οἱ μὲν ἐπ' εὐπλοΐην, οἱ δ' ἔμπαλιν· ἀλλ' ἅμα πάντες
  εἰς ἕνα τὸν κατὰ γῆς ὅρμον ἀπερχόμεθα.
Philip Galle, Charon in his Boat with Passengers

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