Saturday, July 17, 2010


Tu Ne Quaesieris

George Otto Trevelyan, Interludes in Verse and Prose (London: George Bell and Sons, 1905), pp. 100-101:
Matilda, will you ne'er have ceased apocalyptic summing,
And left the number of the beast to puzzle Dr. Cumming?
You should not vex your charming brains about (confusion take her!)
The Babylonian Lament, the pretty dragon-breaker.
What can't be cured must be endured. Perchance a gracious heaven
May spare us till the fated year of eighteen sixty-seven.1
Perchance Jove's Board of Public Works the dread decree has passed;
And this cold season, with its joys, is doomed to be our last.
Let's to the supper-room again, though Kitmutgars may frown,
And in Lord Elgin's dry champagne wash all these tremors down:
And book me for the fifteenth walse: there, just beneath my thumb;
No, not the next to that, my girl! The next may never come.2

1This was the date fixed by Dr. Cumming for the end of all things.
2"Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero."
This is a paraphrase of Horace, Odes 1.11 (incorrectly "Lib. I, Carm. 2" in Trevelyan's table of contents):
Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
On "Kitmutgars," see Lieutenant Greenwood, Narrative of the Late Victorious Campaign in Affghanistan (London: Henry Coburn, 1844), p. 104:
Whenever people go out to dinner in India, each person is attended by his own kitmutgar, who stands behind his master's chair during dinner and attends upon him.
"Dr. Cumming" in Trevelyan's paraphrase is John Cumming (1807-1881). George Eliot's attack on "Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming," Westminster Review (October 1855), rpt. in her Essays and Leaves from a Note Book (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1900), pp. 92-122, is still timely, because preachers like Cumming still flourish — Pat Robertson comes to mind, who predicted that the world would end in 1982.

Adriano Cecioni, "The End of the World"
(caricature of Dr. Cumming
in Vanity Fair, April 13, 1872)

Hat tip: Geoffrey Brock.

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