Tuesday, August 31, 2010



Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 185 (Tuesday, December 24, 1751):
He that willingly suffers the corrosions of inveterate hatred, and gives up his days and nights to the gloom of malice, and perturbations of stratagem, cannot surely be said to consult his ease. Resentment is an union of sorrow with malignity, a combination of a passion which all endeavour to avoid, with a passion which all concur to detest. The man who retires to meditate mischief, and to exasperate his own rage; whose thoughts are employed only on means of distress and contrivances of ruin; whose mind never pauses from the remembrance of his own sufferings, but to indulge some hope of enjoying the calamities of another, may justly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings, among those who are guilty without reward, who have neither the gladness of prosperity, nor the calm of innocence.


Vermicelli Soup

William Cowper, letter to Lady Hesketh (November 27, 1787):
A poor man begg'd food at the Hall lately. The Cook gave him some Vermicelli soup. He ladled it about sometime with the spoon, and then returned it to her saying — I am a Poor man it is true, and I am very hungry, but yet I cannot eat broth with Maggots in it.
Vermicelli, a type of pasta, is also the Italian word for little worms, or maggots. Here is a recipe for vermicelli soup from Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, The Universal Cook, and City and Country Housekeeper (London: R. Noble, 1792), p. 191:
Having put four ounces of butter into a large tossing-pan, cut a knuckle of veal and a scrag of mutton into small pieces about the size of walnuts. Slice in the meat of a shank of ham, with three or four blades of mace, two or three carrots, two parsnips, two large onions, with a clove stuck in at each end. Cut in four or five heads of celery washed clean, a bunch of sweet herbs, eight or ten morels, and an anchovy. Cover the pan close, and set it over a slow fire, without any water, till the gravy is drawn out of the meat. Then pour the gravy into a pot or bason, let the meat brown in the same pan; but take care it does not burn. Then pour in four quarts of water, and let it boil gently till it is wasted to three pints. Then strain it, and put the gravy to it. Set it on the fire, add to it two ounces of vermicelli, cut the nicest part of a head of celery, put in chyan pepper and salt to your taste, and let it boil about four minutes. If it is not of a good colour, put in a little browning, lay a French roll in the soup-dish, pour in the soup upon it, and lay some of the vermicelli over it.
A children's song starts "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, / Guess I'll go eat worms..."

Monday, August 30, 2010


Contemporary Literature

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2001), p. 237 (tr. by Stephen at Don Colacho's Aphorisms):
When one century’s writers can write nothing but boring things, we readers change century.
This reminds me of two more of Gómez Dávila's aphorisms, also from Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 2 vols. (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1977), my translation:
All literature is contemporary to the reader who knows how to read. (I, 57)

Contemporary literature, in each and every epoch, is the worst enemy of culture. A reader's limited time is wasted in reading a thousand books that blunt his critical sense and damage his literary sensibility. (I, 258)
Hat tip: Patrick Kurp, for introducing me to the excellent blog Don Colacho's Aphorisms.


To Benefit Another Age

Cicero, On Old Age 7.24-25:
They expend effort on things which they know won't benefit them at all: "He plants trees to benefit another age," as our Caecilius Statius says in his Young Comrades. If you ask a farmer, no matter how old he is, for whom he's planting, he doesn't hesitate to say, "For the immortal gods, who not only were willing for me to receive these things from my ancestors, but also for me to hand them on to my descendants."

in eis elaborant, quae sciunt nihil ad se omnino pertinere: "serit arbores, quae altero saeclo prosint," ut ait Statius noster in Synephebis. nec vero dubitat agricola, quamvis sit senex, quaerenti cui serat respondere: "dis immortalibus, qui me non accipere modo haec a maioribus voluerunt, sed etiam posteris prodere."
Clare Leighton, from Four Hedges: A Gardener's Chronicle

Anton Lock, The Sapling

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Feats of Memory

"Anecdotes of Dr. Jabez Earle, a Dissenting Minister, Who Died in 1768," The Kentish Register (December 1794) 464:
His chief excellence, as a scholar, was in classical learning. When he was above ninety years old, he would repeat with the greatest readiness and fluency, a hundred verses or more from Homer, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, or others of the ancient poets, upon their being at any time occasionally mentioned.
William Cowper mentions him in a letter to Martin Madan (June 8, 1789, anent Madan's translation of Juvenal and Persius):
Dr. Earl, I remember, was a Master of both these authors, and could perhaps have repeated the greatest part of Juvenal, but of all the Scholars I have ever known He was the only one so well acquainted with him. Juvenal, of all the Roman Writers, was his Favorite.


Our Conceitful Eyes

John Muir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), pp. 356-357:
Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit — the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.

From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material he has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earthborn companions and our fellow mortals. The fearfully good, the orthodox, of this laborious patchwork of modern civilization cry "Heresy" on every one whose sympathies reach a single hair's breadth beyond the boundary epidermis of our own species. Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kind of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.
Henry David Thoreau, Journals (April 2, 1852):
It appears to me that, to one standing on the heights of philosophy, mankind and the works of man will have sunk out of sight altogether; that man is altogether too much insisted on. The poet says the proper study of mankind is man. I say, study to forget all that; take wider views of the universe. That is the egotism of the race.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Bernard Knox

Thanks very much to the anonymous benefactor who sent me a copy of Bernard Knox, The Oldest Dead White European Males and Other Reflections on the Classics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994). I read it from cover to cover with immense enjoyment.

Knox died last month. See Wolfgang Saxon, "Bernard Knox, 95, Classics Scholar, Dies," New York Times (August 16, 2010), especially the final paragraph:
"There is a sort of general feeling among radicals that the whole of the Western tradition — and the Greeks are the heart of that tradition — is something that has to be repudiated," he told The Washington Post in 1992. "I feel appalled. God knows what the world would be like if we were all brought up on the stuff they'd like us to read."
Hat tip for the New York Times article: Dave Lull.


Different Species

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 160 (Saturday, September 28, 1751):
We are, by our occupations, education, and habits of life, divided almost into different species, which regard one another, for the most part, with scorn and malignity. Each of these classes of the human race has desires, fears, and conversation, vexations and merriment, peculiar to itself; cares which another cannot feel; pleasures which he cannot partake; and modes of expressing every sensation which he cannot understand.
The fact that we humans are "divided almost into different species" always strikes me with special force when I see crowds of people. I can't imagine myself, under any circumstances, travelling hundreds of miles, at the beck and call of some television personality, to join thousands of people on the National Mall in Washington, waving signs, hollering, cheering, whooping, chanting, and gesticulating.

It's dehumanizing to submerge one's individuality in the crowd like that. Søren Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, tr. R.G. Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 141 (XI1 A 384):
These millions, the law of whose existence is 'first be like the rest', this mass of aping—materially they look as if they were something, something great, something immensely powerful. And materially they are indeed something; but ideally this mass, these millions are zero, they are less than zero, they are wasted and forfeited existences.


A Scarecrow to All Translators

William Cowper, letter to Walter Bagot (December 6, 1787):
In the course of our conversation he produced from his pocket-book a translation of the first 10 or 12 lines of the Iliad, and in order to leave my judgment free, informed me kindly at the same time that they were not his own. I read them, and according to the best of my recollection of the Original, found them well executed. The Bishop indeed acknowledged that they were not faultless, neither did I find them so. Had they been such, I should have felt their perfection as a discouragement hardly to be surmounted; for at that passage I have laboured more abundantly than at any other, and hitherto with the least success. I am convinced that Homer placed it at the threshold of his work as a Scarecrow to all Translators.
William Cowper, translation of Homer, Iliad 1.1-12:
Achilles sing, O Goddess! Peleus' son;
His wrath pernicious, who ten thousand woes
Caused to Achaia's host, sent many a soul
Illustrious into Hades premature,
And Heroes gave (so stood the will of Jove)
To dogs and to all ravening fowls a prey,
When fierce dispute had separated once
The noble Chief Achilles from the son
Of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of men.

Who them to strife impell'd? What power divine?
Latona's son and Jove's. For he, incensed
Against the King, a foul contagion raised
In all the host, and multitudes destroy'd,
For that the son of Atreus had his priest
Dishonored, Chryses.
The Greek:
Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾿ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾿ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ᾿ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι· Διὸς δ᾿ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

Tίς τ᾿ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός· ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὄρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,
οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα
One reason why Cowper decided to translate Homer was his dissatisfaction with Alexander Pope's version (letter to Clotworthy Rowley, February 21, 1788):
Not much less than thirty years since, Alston and I read Homer through together. We compared Pope with his original all the way. The result was a discovery, that there is hardly the thing in the world of which Pope was so entirely destitute, as a taste for Homer. After the publication of my last volume, I found myself without employment. Employment is essential to me; I have neither health nor spirits without it. After some time, the recollection of what had passed between Alston and myself in the course of this business struck me forcibly; I remembered how we had been disgusted; how often we had sought the simplicity and majesty of Homer in his English representative, and had found instead of them, puerile conceits, extravagant metaphors, and the tinsel of modern embellishment in every possible position.
Rhyme, thought Cowper, led Pope astray (letter to Edward Thurlow, August 22, 1791):
I verily believed that rhime had betrayed Pope into his deviations.
Here is the beginning of Pope's translation of the Iliad:
The Wrath of Peleus' Son, the direful Spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heav'nly Goddess, sing!
That Wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy Reign
The Souls of mighty Chiefs untimely slain;
Whose Limbs unbury'd on the naked Shore
Devouring Dogs and hungry Vultures tore.
Since Great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the Sov'reign Doom, and such the Will of Jove.

Declare, O Muse! in what ill-fated Hour
Sprung the fierce Strife, from what offended Pow'r?
Latona's Son a dire Contagion spread,
And heap'd the Camp with Mountains of the Dead;
The King of Men his Rev'rend Priest defy'd,
And, for the King's Offence, the People dy'd.
See the detailed criticisms on the opening lines by Philip Gentner in his edition of Pope, The Iliad of Homer: Books I., VI., XXII., and XXIV. (Boston: Benj. H. Sanborn & Co., 1899), p. xviii-xix:
In his first verse, Pope ornaments and elaborates a simple thought implied by Homer; he calls Achilles' wrath the "spring" of disasters, and, worse than that, seems to play upon the various meanings of the word. In the second verse, he adds the needless adjective "heavenly," and calls the "Muse" "goddess." The third verse adds the epithet "gloomy," and impairs the visual image suggested by "Hades," by adding the abstract word "reign" (realm). The fourth verse expands the Homeric phrase, "strong souls of heroes" into "mighty chiefs untimely slain." The fifth verse changes and elaborates a graphic picture into trivialness; "limbs" takes the place of body, and the words "unburied" and "naked "are gratuitous and woefully artificial. For the sixth verse, Pope has been praised for an accuracy and concreteness surpassing Homer's. "Vultures," it is said, is more definite than "all winged birds;" and, moreover, every bird is not one of prey. But it is hard to believe that Homer meant more than that the bodies were there, a ready spoil for all birds that cared to prey upon them; and, in any case, since other birds besides vultures do feed upon the dead, Homer's expression is as true as Pope's, and far more wide-reaching in import. Again (to say nothing of Pope's feeble reduplication of idea in the words "devouring" and "hungry,"), Homer, by the epithet "winged," adds an idea of flight absent in Pope.
Gentner overreaches a bit—Homer has "goddess," not "Muse," and I see no epithet "winged" in the Greek.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I Love No Leafless Land

A.E. Housman, More Poems, VIII:
Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
    A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
    I love no leafless land.

Alas, the country whence I fare,
    It is where I would stay;
And where I would not, it is there
    That I shall be for aye.

And one remembers, and one forgets,
    But 'tis not found again,
Not though they hale in crimsoned nets
    The sunset from the main.
Could Housman have had Ovid in the back of his mind when he wrote this poem? The speaker is going into exile unwillingly (second stanza), and one of the things Ovid hated about his exile in Tomis was the lack of trees: "aspiceres nudos sine fronde, sine arbore, campos" (Tristia 3.10.75); "non salices ripa, robora monte virent" (Ex Ponto 1.3.52); and "non hic pampineis amicitur vitibus ulmus" (Ex Ponto 3.8.13).


The Popular View of Poetry and Poets

George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling:
It is no use pretending that in an age like our own, 'good' poetry can have any genuine popularity. It is, and must be, the cult of a very few people, the least tolerated of the arts....But in general ours is a civilization in which the very word 'poetry' evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen disgust that most people feel when they hear the word 'God'. If you are good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes. But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested reading them Shakespeare's sonnets, for instance?
Roy Clark Playing the Part of Poet Claude Strawberry

Update: Thanks to Patrick Kurp for drawing my attention to poet laureate Percy Dovetonsils, a role played by comedian Ernie Kovacs. Watch recitations of Dovetonsil's Autumn and Ode from a Germ's Eye Viewpoint, and read several of Dovetonsil's Odes here.


Bumf in Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Written in an Album, in The Complete Poems, ed. William Keach (1997; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 397:
PARRY seeks the polar ridge;
Rhymes seeks S.T. Coleridge,
Author of works, whereof — tho' not in Dutch —
The public little knows — the publisher too much.
No bumf there, but see Keach's note on p. 599, where he quotes the following alternate version from a letter of Coleridge to J.H. Green (May 30, 1827):
Parry seeks the Pólar Ridge:
But rhymes seeks S.T. Cólĕridge
Fit for Mrs Smudger's Olbum
Or to wipe her Baby's small bum.
Related posts:


Thursday, August 26, 2010


A Garbled Footnote

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, edd. W.J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss, Vol. III (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), p. 315, n. 1:
Greek Anthology, VII.128. Thewho quotes it in "Heraclitus," Lives,
authorship is uncertain, SJ attributesIX.1.16.
the epigram to Diogenes Laertius,
This is the editors' note on the motto for essay 208 (Saturday, March 14, 1752). Perhaps it was corrected in later printings, but so it stands in the copy I borrowed from the library. It should read:
Greek Anthology, VII.128. The authorship is uncertain. SJ attributes the epigram to Diogenes Laertius, who quotes it in "Heraclitus," Lives IX.1.16.
Here is Johnson's translation of the epigram, followed by the Greek:
Begone, ye blockheads, Heraclitus cries,
And leave my labours to the learn'd and wise;
By wit, by knowledge, studious to be read,
I scorn the multitude, alive and dead.

Ἡράκλειτος ἐγώ· τί μ' ἄνω κάτω ἕλκετ' ἄμουσοι;
  οὐχ ὑμῖν ἐπόνουν, τοῖς δ' ἔμ' ἐπισταμένοις.
εἷς ἐμοὶ ἄνθρωπος τρισμύριοι, οἱ δ' ἀνάριθμοι
  οὐδείς. ταῦτ' αὐδῶ καὶ παρὰ Φερσεφόνῃ.
Related posts:



He Did Not Join Any of Them

Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod, V (The Wellfleet Oysterman):
He was curious to know to what religious sect we belonged. He said that he had been to hear thirteen kinds of preaching in one month, when he was young, but he did not join any of them, — he stuck to his Bible. There was nothing like any of them in his Bible.
Horace, Epistles 1.1.14 (tr. Niall Rudd):
I don't feel bound to swear obedience to any master.

Nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Avoidable Evils

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 178 (Saturday, November 30, 1751):
Many complaints are made of the misery of life; and indeed it must be confessed that we are subject to calamities by which the good and bad, the diligent and slothful, the vigilant and heedless, are equally afflicted. But surely, though some indulgence may be allowed to groans extorted by inevitable misery, no man has a right to repine at evils which, against warning, against experience, he deliberately and leisurely brings upon his own head; or to consider himself as debarred from happiness by such obstacles as resolution may break, or dexterity may put aside.

Great numbers who quarrel with their condition have wanted not the power but the will to obtain a better state. They have never contemplated the difference between good and evil sufficiently to quicken aversion, or invigorate desire; they have indulged a drowsy thoughtlessness or giddy levity; have committed the balance of choice to the management of caprice; and when they have long accustomed themselves to receive all that chance offered them, without examination, lament at last that they find themselves deceived.


The Rambler to the Gambler

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 181 (Tuesday, December 10, 1751):
Rouse from this lazy dream of fortuitous riches, which, if obtained, you could scarcely have enjoyed, because they could confer no consciousness of desert; return to rational and manly industry, and consider the mere gift of luck as below the care of a wise man.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Perpetually Occupied in Slaughter

William Cowper, letter to Walter Bagot (January 3, 1787):
Is it possible for a man to be calm who for 3 weeks past has been perpetually occupied in slaughter. Letting out one man's bowels, smiting another through the gullet, transfixing the liver of another, and lodging an arrow in the buttock of a fourth? Read the 13th. book of the Iliad, and you will find such amusing incidents as these the subject of it, the sole subject. In order to interest myself in it and to catch the spirit of it, I had need discard all humanity. It is woeful work, and were the best poet in the world to give us at this day such a List of Killed and wounded, he would not escape universal censure, to the praise of a more enlighten'd age be it spoken. I have waded through much blood, and through much more I must wade before I shall have finish'd. I determine in the mean time to account it all very sublime, and for two reasons. First, because all the Learned think so, and 2dly, because I am to translate it. But were I an indifferent by-stander perhaps I should venture to wish that Homer had applied his wonderful powers to a less disgusting subject. He has in the Odyssey, and I long to get at it.


The Time of Obedient Ears

Po Chü-i, On Being Sixty, tr. by Arthur Waley in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), p. 233:
Addressed to Liu Mēng-tē, who had asked for a poem. He was the same age as Po Chü-i.

Between thirty and forty, one is distracted by the Five Lusts;
Between seventy and eighty, one is prey to a hundred diseases.
But from fifty to sixty one is free from all ills;
Calm and still — the heart enjoys rest.
I have put behind me Love and Greed; I have done with Profit and Fame;
I am still short of illness and decay and far from decrepit age.
Strength of limb I still possess to seek the rivers and hills;
Still my heart has spirit enough to listen to flutes and strings.
At leisure I open new wine and taste several cups;
Drunken I recall old poems and sing a whole volume.
Mēng-tē has asked for a poem and herewith I exhort him
Not to complain of three-score, "the time of obedient ears."1

1Confucius said that it was not till sixty that "his ears obeyed him." This age was therefore called "the time of obedient ears."

Monday, August 23, 2010



Excerpts from Guy Davenport, "What Are Revolutions?" in The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1996), pp. 235-248:
Our revolution was fought because of a penny tax on paper and a two-penny one on butter. We are now taxed for every movement we make, every exchange of a nickel from citizen to citizen. That tyrant against whom we rebelled would not have dared to tax his subjects' incomes and was innocent of the diabolical idea that one can collect taxes on income not yet earned, which all of us now pay.


The strangest revolution of our century is this perverse and invisible evolution of the human body into the automobile.


When we wake up from our myths we will discover that we Americans do not live in Jefferson's republic but in a technological tyranny the likes of which has yet to be described by political scientists, who have slept through it all.


My grandmother, like Alexander Graham Bell, would not have a telephone in her house—she said it was a vulgar invention. (Bell, its inventor, did not have one because it was a damned nuisance.) I like better the objection of Edgar Degas, who did not have a phone because there was a great likelihood that the party calling might be someone to whom you had not been introduced.


Anybody can see that the automobile owns us, not we it. We are its slaves. It takes sharper eyes to see the more insidious process: the car is swallowing up our soul in its metal-and-glass body. But it has happened and it is so.


What scares me is that for the past fifty years we have been moving backward while we have dreamed, or fooled ourselves, that we were moving forward. Every one of our cities became more dangerous to live in; we all became little more than consumers and taxpayers so far as our government was concerned. Rascality in government has become the norm rather than the exception. Wars have gotten longer, more demoralizing, more devastating and irrational.


Because I have no rational revolution to offer you, I suggest, for the fun of it, that you try the Erewhonian. Take back your body from its possession by the automobile; take back your imagination from the TV set; take back your wealth from Congress's bottomless pit and maniac spending; take back your skills as homemakers from the manufacturers; take back your minds from the arguments from necessity and the merchants of fear and prejudice. Take back peace from perpetual war. Take back your lives; they are yours.
William Gropper, Divided House

This post is dedicated to a friend who wrote in a letter:
More cheeringly, some crucial organ in our television blew up very loudly this afternoon causing me ill-concealed glee and a renewed faith in the efficacy of petitionary prayer. The LS (lumen stultorum) is a perennial source of friction, and its life has been spared up till now only because my 'nay' has always been outnumbered 5 to 1. Now in a brave act of self-snuffing it has done the ethical thing. Beyond repair, I hope, and may no replacement cross the threshold.



An American in Paris

Guy Davenport, "Travel Reconsidered," in The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1996), pp. 314-317 (at 315):
As best as I can ascertain from casual research, the typical American trip to, say, Paris, has been standardized into four events as mandatory as the stages of a religious progress from shrine to shrine. These are an evening at the Moo Land Rouge (which ceased to exist years ago, but the crafty French have built a place so called), the Lido, and Mont Mart Tree, where you can see Impressionist painters at their canvases hard by Sacker Curr, and a tour by bus of "the old parts of the city."
A trip abroad isn't necessary for the innocent who wishes to experience Paris. When I lived in Florida, an acquaintance told me, in all seriousness, that it made no sense for him ever to visit France, when all he needed to do was take a day trip to the France Pavilion at Disney's Epcot Theme Park.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


An Overweening Conceit of Ourselves

William Hazlitt, On Reading New Books:
One age cannot understand how another could subsist without its lights, as one country thinks every other must be poor for want of its physical productions. This is a narrow and superficial view of the subject: we should by all means rise above it. I am not for devoting the whole of our time to the study of the classics, or of any other set of writers, to the exclusion and neglect of nature; but I think we should turn our thoughts enough that way to convince us of the existence of genius and learning before our time, and to cure us of an overweening conceit of ourselves, and of a contemptuous opinion of the world at large.
Owen Barfield, History in English Words (London: Faber, 1953), p. 164:
Possibly the Middle Ages would have been equally bewildered at the facility with which twentieth-century minds are brought to believe that, intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century.
Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1972), p. 81:
Contemporary ideas need to be weighed not against others of the same period but against those of the past, and it is here that the average, modern student is defenceless. His interests and leisure reading are confined to an alarming extent to contemporary writers and thinkers who, despite their apparent individualism, are all really working in the same direction. It is ironic that the current demand at universities is for more relevance (that is to say, contemporaneity) in the curriculum. If acceded to, this will result in a still larger degree of temporal provincialism and an even more profound ignorance of the history of ideas than now prevails.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Books and Felicity

Augustine Birrell, "Gossip in a Library," from In the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays (London: Elliot Stock, 1905), pp. 43-49 (at 43):
There were no books in Eden, and there will be none in heaven...
As for books in Eden, I once proved that there were such, by the following irrefutable syllogism:
Adam lacked nothing he needed in Paradise.
Books are necessities of life.
Therefore, there were books in Paradise.
As for books in heaven, I now offer a similar syllogism:
The denizens of Heaven are perfectly happy.
Perfect happiness is inconceivable without books.
Therefore, there are books in Heaven.
The following painting by Jean Jacques Henner is entitled "La Liseuse." Filthy minds may regard it as titillating erotica, but to pure spirits like me it is actually a chaste, devotional picture—I fancy that it represents Eve reading in Eden:

Related posts:


The Classics and Books about the Classics

William Cowper, letter to Samuel Rose (February 14, 1788), in The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, Vol. III: Letters 1787-1791, edd. James King and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 100-102 (at 102):
A thousand thanks, my dear Sir, for your kind offer of the books you mention. But I have already felt myself obliged to decline similar offers, lest by connecting the study of writers upon Homer and about him with the study of Homer himself, I should not live long enough to reach the end of my undertaking. I am not vain enough to think that they could not assist me, but I am too old to have so much time to spare as they would cost me.
Hugh E.P. Platt, Byways in the Classics (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1905), p. 146:
Literature is in real danger of being choked by its parasite, commentary. So I will end this little book, ut vineta egomet caedam mea, with a piece of advice which the first Lord Selborne gave to the late H.M. Wilkins, and Wilkins passed on to me,—we were all Scholars of Trinity, Oxford. It is this: READ THE CLASSICS RATHER THAN BOOKS ABOUT THE CLASSICS.
Anonymous (English, 17th century), Portrait of a Bibliophile

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Little I Ask

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Contentment:
Little I ask; my wants are few;
  I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
  That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
  Three courses are as good as ten;—
If Nature can subsist on three,
  Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice;—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land;—
  Give me a mortgage here and there,—
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
  Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know,
  And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,—
  But only near St. James;
I'm very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator's chair.

Jewels are baubles; 't is a sin
  To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,—
  Some, not so large, in rings,—
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;—I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;
  (Good, heavy silks are never dear;)—
I own perhaps I might desire
  Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive
  So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait—two forty-five—
  Suits me; I do not care;—
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
  Titians and Raphaels three or four,—
I love so much their style and tone,
  One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape,—foreground golden dirt,—
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Of books but few,—some fifty score
  For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor;—
  Some little luxury there
Of red morocco's gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems,—such things as these,
  Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
  And selfish churls deride;—
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.

Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
  Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;—
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
  But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,—
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
  Nor long for Midas' golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
  I shall not miss them much,—
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!
William Michael Harnett, Ease

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


These Tanti Men

James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. George Birbeck Hill, Vol. IV (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1904), p. 130 (anno 1781), with note:
Upon being asked by a friend3 what he should think of a man who was apt to say non est tanti;— 'That he's a stupid fellow, Sir; (answered Johnson): What would these tanti men be doing the while?'

3The friend very likely was Boswell himself. He was one of 'these tanti men.' 'I told Paoli that in the very heat of youth I felt the non est tanti, the omnia vanitas of one who has exhausted all the sweets of his being, and is weary with dull repetition. I told him that I had almost become for ever incapable of taking a part in active life.' Boswell's Corsica, ed. 1879, p. 193.
"Non est tanti" means "It's not worth such a price," where "it" presumably means "life."

Seneca was one of these tanti men. Gordon J. Laing, The Genitive of Value in Latin and Other Constructions with Verbs of Rating (Baltimore: The Library of The Johns Hopkins University, 1920), p. 17, as examples of the use of the genitive of value "where something, desirable in itself, is or is not sufficient consideration for the performance of some act or the endurance of some hardship," cites, inter alia:Cf. also Seneca, On Anger 3.15 (tr. John W. Basore): "Whether the life is worth the price we shall see; that is another question" ("an tanti sit vita videbimus: alia ista quaestio est").

Montaigne is another one of these tanti men. In his Essays 3.13 (Of Experience) he wrote, "Is living worth such a price?" ("An vivere tanti est?").

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


An Innocent Occupation

Ivor Brown, A Word in Your Ear and Just Another Word (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1945), p. 21:
To be a collector of language is an innocent occupation. The snatchers and hoarders of birds' eggs and of flowers first create a scarcity, then hunt down the rareties (or, even worse, hire others to go marauding for them) and finally exterminate the beauty which they crave. To go a-fowling on the slopes of Helicon with those flashing, sounding beauties, the words, as coveted prize invades no rights and does no violence to life. To hunt words is to do no trespass. Rather does it keep or elicit good things for the common use and public pleasure instead of destroying them or making them scanty for a privy satisfaction.
John Atkinson Grimshaw, Poachers


Secrets of Investing

Charles Dickens, Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, chapter 2 (Of Mr. Ralph Nickleby, and His Establishment, and His Undertakings. And of a Great Joint Stock Company of Vast National Importance):
"It seems to promise pretty well," said Mr. Ralph Nickleby, whose deliberate manner was strongly opposed to the vivacity of the other man of business.

"Pretty well!" echoed Mr. Bonney. "It's the finest idea that was ever started. 'United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company. Capital, five millions, in five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each.' Why the very name will get the shares up to a premium in ten days."

"And when they are at a premium," said Mr. Ralph Nickleby, smiling.

"When they are, you know what to do with them as well as any man alive, and how to back quietly out at the right time," said Mr. Bonney, slapping the capitalist familiarly on the shoulder.

Caption below one of the engravings in Honoré Daumier, Mésaventures et Désappointement de M. Gogo (Mishaps and Disappointment of Mr. Gogo), my translation:
"What! Mr. Director, you have lost 99,271 francs, 35 centimes, of the 100,000 francs that my father, Jean-Boniface Gogo, deposited in your annuity plan 40 years ago! Your prospectus, however, says that the capital will multiply six times in six years by the accumulation of interest and interest on interest."

"True, but unfortunate circumstances, variations in the rate of return, risky speculations made by of all my predecessors...Besides, the future of this annuity plan is guaranteed from now on."

"Ah! Guaranteed? That's a different story! Well! Keep my 278 francs, 65 centimes, accumulate the interest, and try to recover the capital. Take care not to lose it! I'll come back later."

"Excellent, excellent! I'll keep my eye on your capital. I'll keep watch over it as if it were my own. Come back later... [sotto voce] much later."

William Gropper, The Stock Market

Monday, August 16, 2010


The Comb-Over

About a month ago, on The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor read Hymn to the Comb-Over, by Wesley McNair:
How the thickest of them erupt just
above the ear, cresting in waves so stiff
no wind can move them. Let us praise them
in all of their varieties, some skinny
as the bands of headphones, some rising
from a part that extends halfway around
the head, others four or five strings
stretched so taut the scalp resembles
a musical instrument. Let us praise the sprays
that hold them, and the combs that coax
such abundance to the front of the head
in the mirror, the combers entirely forget
the back. And let us celebrate the combers,
who address the old sorrow of time's passing
day after day, bringing out the barrenness
of mid-life this ridiculous and wonderful
harvest, no wishful flag of hope, but, thick,
or thin, the flag itself, unfurled for us all
in subways, offices, and malls across America.
Not only is the comb-over popular across modern America, but there is also evidence of it in ancient Rome. See Suetonius, Life of Julius 45.2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, emphasis added):
He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement which troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors. Because of it he used to comb forward his scanty locks from the crown of his head, and of all the honours voted him by the senate and people there was none which he received or made use of more gladly than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times.

circa corporis curam morosior, ut non solum tonderetur diligenter ac raderetur, sed uelleretur etiam, ut quidam exprobraverunt, calvitii vero deformitatem iniquissime ferret saepe obtrectatorum iocis obnoxiam expertus. ideoque et deficientem capillum revocare a vertice adsueverat et ex omnibus decretis sibi a senatu populoque honoribus non aliud aut recepit aut usurpavit libentius quam ius laureae coronae perpetuo gestandae.


Valetudo: An Auto-Antonym

Lewis & Short, A Latin Dictionary, define valetudo as
I. habit, state, or condition of body, state of health, health, whether good or bad....
B. In partic.
1. A good state or condition, soundness of body, good health, healthfulness....
2. A bad state or condition, ill health, sickness, feebleness, infirmity, indisposition....
Thus valetudo is an auto-antonym, or word that can mean the opposite of itself.

Sometimes the meaning (good or bad health) must be inferred from context, without the help of an adjective. For sense I.B.1, Lewis & Short cite Horace, Satires 1.4.9-10 ("cui / gratia, fama, valetudo contingat abunde," tr. H. Rushton Fairclough: "if favour, fame, and health fall to him richly," i.e. "health without a let" in John Conington's translation); I noted sense I.B.2 while reading Suetonius, Life of Augustus 43.5 ("accidit votivis circensibus, ut correptus valetudine lectica cubans tensas deduceret," tr. J.C. Rolfe: "It chanced that at the time of the games which he had vowed to give in the circus, he was taken ill and headed the sacred procession in a litter"), not cited by Lewis & Short.

We see the pejorative meaning of Latin valetudo in its English derivative valetudinarian, defined in The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia as "Being in a poor state of health; weak; infirm; invalid; delicate; seeking to recover health" and "A person of a weak, infirm, or sickly constitution; one who is seeking to recover health; an invalid." See Joseph Addison, "Letter from a Valetudinarian" (Spectator No. 25, Thursday, March 29, 1711):
I am one of that sickly tribe who are commonly known by the name of Valetudinarians; and do confess to you, that I first contracted this ill habit of body, or rather of mind, by the study of physic.
Related posts:


Sunday, August 15, 2010


A Querulous Cur

Joseph Hall (1574-1656), The Malecontent, from Characters of Virtues and Vices, Book II:
He is neither well, full nor fasting; and though he abound with complaints, yet nothing dislikes him but the present; for what he condemned while it was, once past he magnifies, and strives to recall it out of the jaws of time. What he hath, he seeth not; his eyes are so taken up with what he wants: and what he sees, he cares not for; because be cares so much for that which is not.

When his friend carves him the best morsel, he murmurs, "That it is a happy feast wherein each one may cut for himself." When a present is sent him, he asks, "Is this all?" and "What! no better?" and so accepts it as if he would have his friend know how much he is bound to him for vouchsafing to receive it: it is hard to entertain him with a proportionable gift: if nothing, he cries out of unthankfulness; if little, that he is basely regarded; if much, he exclaims of flattery and expectation of a large requital.

Every blessing hath somewhat to disparage and distaste it; children bring cares; single life is wild and solitary; eminency is envious; retiredness, obscure; fasting, painful; satiety, unwieldy; religion, nicely severe; liberty is lawless; wealth burdensome; mediocrity contemptible: every thing faulteth either in too much or too little.

This man is ever headstrong and self-willed; neither is he always tied to esteem or pronounce according to reason; some things be must dislike, he knows not wherefore, but he likes them not; and otherwhere, rather than not censure, he will accuse a man of virtue. Every thing he meddleth with, he either findeth imperfect or maketh so; neither is there any thing that soundeth so harsh in his ear as the commendation of another; whereto yet perhaps he fashionably and coldly assenteth, but with such an afterclause of exception as doth more than mar his former allowance; and if he list not to give a verbal disgrace, yet he shakes his head and smiles, as if his silence should say, "I could, and will not." And when himself is praised without excess, he complains that such imperfect kindness hath not done him right.

If but an unseasonable shower cross his recreation, he is ready to fall out with Heaven; and thinks he is wronged if God will not take his times, when to rain, when to shine. He is a slave to envy, and loseth flesh with fretting, not so much at his own infelicity as at others' good; neither hath he leisure to joy in his own blessings, whilst another prospereth.

Fain would he see some mutinies, but dares not raise them, and suffers his lawless tongue to walk through the dangerous paths of conceited alterations; but so, as, in good manners, he had rather thrust every man before him when it comes to acting. Nothing but fear keeps him from conspiracies, and no man is more cruel when he is not manacled with danger.

He speaks nothing but satires and libels, and lodgeth no guests in his heart but rebels. The inconstant and he agree well in their felicity, which both place in change; but herein they differ, the inconstant man affects that which will be, the malecontent commonly that which was.

Finally, he is a querulous cur, whom no horse can pass by without barking at; yea, in the deep silence of night, the very moonshine openeth his clamorous mouth; he is the wheel of a well couched firework, that flies out on all sides, not without scorching itself. Every ear was long ago weary of him, and he is now almost weary of himself: give him but a little respite, and he will die alone; of no other death than others' welfare.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Computers and Pencils

Max Palevsky (1924-2010), computer engineer, director at Xerox, Intel, etc., interviewed by Suzanne Muchnic, "Arty, crafty, dependable," Los Angeles Times (December 14, 2008):
"I don't own a computer," he says. "I don't own a cellphone, I don't own any electronics. I do own a radio."
Prof. Dr. Edsger W. Dijkstra (1930-2002), Department of Computer Science, University of Texas at Austin, Answers to questions from students of Software Engineering (Nov. 28, 2000, a handwritten document):
And I don't need to waste my time with a computer just because I am a computer scientist. [Medical researchers are not required to suffer from the diseases they investigate.]
Wendell Berry, "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer", New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly 10.1 (Autumn 1987):
I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil....To make myself as plain as I can, I should give my standards for technological innovation in my own work. They are as follows:-

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.
Thanks to Jim K. for directing me to the Palevsky quotation in Hal Crowther, "One Hundred Fears of Solitude (extract)," The Telegraph (Aug. 13, 2010).



Philosophy and Health

Epicurus, fragment 220 Usener = Vatican Collection LIV (tr. Cyril Bailey):
We must not pretend to study philosophy, but study it in reality; for it is not the appearance of health that we need, but real health.

οὐ προσποιεῖσθαι δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν, ἀλλ᾽ ὄντως φιλοσοφεῖν· οὐ γὰρ προσδεόμεθα τοῦ δοκεῖν ὑγιαίνειν, ἀλλὰ τοῦ κατ᾽ ἀλήθειαν ὑγιαίνειν.

Friday, August 13, 2010


The Iliad

Paul Gruchow (1947-2004), The Necessity of Empty Places (New York: St.Martin's Press, 1988), p. 255:
At the University of Minnesota, on another spring day, I heard the poet John Berryman fail to lecture on The Iliad to a room jammed with students. He sat down at a table, as was his custom, put on his reading glasses, lit a cigarette, which he held at bottom of the space between his trembling index and middle fingers in the way that drunks do, and began to read to us from the poem in his dark voice, oddly powerful coming from such a frail man, paying as much attention to the stops in the lines as to the accents. He read to us the scene in which Hector and Andromache say farewell to each other. Hector is destined to die and Andromache to be hauled into slavery, and both know this by premonition. When he came to the end of the scene, Berryman was weeping and so, unexpectedly, were we. He made no effort to hide his grief, running from an ancient pen across the long centuries through a modern language into our hearts. He did not even brush away his tears. We sat, stunned, until he got up and left the room without another word, and then we, too, gathered up our books and emerged into the cruel sunshine. I hurried to my office (I was editor of the student newspaper) and locked myself in, and it was an hour or two before I could see anybody. It was the first time, I think, that any of us had ever been taught what literature is all about.


The Smell of Resins

Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982), The Singing Wilderness (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956; rpt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 55-56:
One of the grandest smells of all is the combination of pine and spruce and balsam when you can catch the wind blowing over a thousand miles of them. If you could have smelled them as I did one morning after a rain while the trees were still wet and the rising sun was bringing out the resins, you would have had a real whiff of the north. The air coming across those rain-washed hills and valleys was steeped that morning with tonic and cleanness and healing, and I thought of a city I know where the smells are those of industry and burning and where men seldom know the joy of air that has come over miles of wild, unsettled country.

Once in that same city I walked past a lumberyard where the boards were stacked into white and yellow piles. The resinous smell of them stopped me there in the sun, and for an instant the city was gone and I was back in the wilderness. Sometimes I have got the smell in new houses before they are sealed off forever with varnish and stain. Those hints of resin in the heart of the city were like a cool breeze after the heat.

The smell of resins is part of our background, part of the woods existence of our ancestors in the pine forests of other continents. Our response to them is part of our racial awareness; our subconscious is so impregnated with them, the memories they invoke are so involved with our ancient way of life that no amount of city-dwelling removed from the out-of-doors will ever completely erase them.
Ivan Shishkin, Coniferous Forest

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Can't Get No Satisfaction

Epicurus, fragment 473 Usener (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Nothing satisfies the man who is not satisfied with a little.

ᾧ ὀλίγον οὐχ ἱκανόν, ἀλλὰ τούτῳ γε οὐδὲν ἱκανόν.
Hermann Usener, Epicurea (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1887), p. 302, cites the following sources:

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 4.13 (tr. N.G. Wilson, cf. Stobaeus, Anthology 17.30):
Epicurus of the deme of Gargettus proclaimed that a man who is not satisfied with a little will not be satisfied with anything. He also said that he was ready to declare himself a match for Zeus in good fortune if he had bread and water. If Epicurus held these opinions, we shall learn on another occasion what he had in mind when he recommended pleasure.

Ἐπίκουρος ὁ Γαργήττιος <ἐκεκράγει> λέγων· "ᾧ ὀλίγον οὐχ ἱκανόν, ἀλλὰ τούτῳ γε οὐδὲν ἱκανόν." ὁ αὐτὸς ἔλεγε ἑτοίμως ἔχειν καὶ τῷ Διὶ ὑπὲρ εὐδαιμονίας διαγωνίζεσθαι μάζαν ἔχων καὶ ὕδωρ. ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ἐννοῶν ὁ Ἐπίκουρος τί βουλόμενος ἐπῄνει τὴν ἡδονήν, εἰσόμεθα ἄλλοτε.
Horace, Epistles 1.2.46 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
But he, to whose lot sufficient falls, should covet nothing more.

quod satis est cui contingit, nil amplius optet.
Charles Spencelayh, His Daily Ration

Eric Enstrom, Grace

Related post: Avarice and Dropsy.


The View from the Window

R.S. Thomas, The View from the Window:
Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart. All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,
Looking coolly, or, as we now,
Through the tears' lenses, ever saw
This work and it was not finished?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Curious Antiquaries

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy ("Democritus to the Reader"), with notes from the edition of A.R. Shilleto, Vol. I (London: George Bell & Sons, 1893), p. 129:
Your supercilious criticks, grammatical triflers, note-makers, curious antiquaries, find out all the ruins of wit, ineptiarum delicias, amongst the rubbish of old writers; 1pro stultis habent, nisi aliquid sufficiant invenire, quod in aliorum scriptis vertant vitio, all fools with them that cannot find fault; they correct others, & are hot in a cold cause, puzzle themselves to find out how many streets in Rome, houses, gates, towers, Homer's country, Aeneas' mother, Niobe's daughters, an Sappho publica fuerit? ovum2prius extiterit an gallina?3 &c. & alia quae dediscenda essent, si scires,4 as Seneca holds. What clothes the Senators did wear in Rome, what shoes, how they sat, where they went to the close stool, how many dishes in a mess, what sauce; which for the present for an historian to relate, 6according to Lodovic. Vives, is very ridiculous, is to them most precious elaborate stuff, they admired for it, and as proud, as triumphant in the mean time for this discovery, as if they had won a City, or conquered a province; as rich as if they had found a mine of gold ore. Quosvis auctores absurdis commentis suis percacant & stercorant, one saith, they bewray & daub a company of books and good authors with their absurd comments, correctorum sterquilinia7 Scaliger calls them, and shew their wit in censuring others, a company of foolish note-makers, humble-bees, dors8 or beetles, inter stercora ut plurimum versantur, they rake over all those rubbish and dunghills, and prefer a manuscript many times before the Gospel itself,9 thesaurum criticum, before any treasure, and with their deleaturs, alii legunt sic, meus codex sic habet,10 with their postremae editiones,11 annotations, castigations, &c., make books dear, themselves ridiculous, and do no body good, yet if any man dare oppose or contradict, they are mad, up in arms on a sudden, how many sheets are written in defence, how bitter invectives, what apologies? 12Epiphyllides hae sunt et merae nugae.13 But I dare say no more of, for, with, or against them, because I am liable to their lash, as well as others.

1 Morus, Utop. lib. II.    2 Macrob. Saturn. 7.17.    [3 Which came first, the egg or the hen? Whether Sappho was no better than she should be? &c.]    [4 And other things which you would try to forget, if you knew.]    5 Epist. [88. § 32.]    6 Lib. de causis corrup. artium.    7 Lib. 2 in Ausonium, cap. 19 et 32.    [8=Cockchafers.]    9 Edit. 7. volum. Jano Gutero.    [10 Omit so and so, some read so and so, my MS. has so and so.]    [11 Last editions.]    12 Aristophanis Ranis. [92.]    [13 These are a poor vintage and mere trifles.]
I recognize myself in this description. Although I never investigated where Senators in Rome went to the close stool, I was curious to find out how they wiped their bums after they had done their business there:
Stefan Mart, Don Quixote

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Virgin of Ville Bonheur

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1938; rpt. New York: Harper & Row, 1990), pp. 230-231:
This great shrine of Haiti got its first breath of life in 1884, they say. In that year a beautiful, luminous virgin lit in the fronds of a palm tree there and waved her gorgeous wings and blessed the people. She paused there a long time and the whole countryside saw her. Seeing the adoration of the people, the Catholic Priest of the parish came out to drive off the apparition. Finally she sang a beautiful song and left of her own volition. She had not been disturbed at all by the priest. People came to the palm tree and were miraculously cured and others were helped in various ways. The people began to worship the tree. The news spread all over Haiti and more and more people came. The Catholic Church was neglected. So the priest became so incensed that he ordered the palm tree to be chopped down, but he could find no one who would chop it. Finally he became so incensed at the adoration of the people for the tree that he seized a machete and ran to the tree to cut it down himself. But the first blow of the blade against the tree caused the machete to bounce back and strike the priest on the head and wound him so seriously that he was taken to the hospital in Port-au-Prince, where he soon died of his wound. Later on the tree was destroyed by the church and a church was built on the spot to take the place of the palm tree, but it is reported that several churches burned on that site. One was destroyed by lightning. That is the story of the Virgin of Ville Bonheur.
There are some interesting parallels. See, e.g., Lucan 3.429-431 (tr. J.D. Duff):
But strong arms faltered; and the men, awed by the solemnity and terror of the place, believed that, if they aimed a blow at the sacred trunks, their axes would rebound against their own limbs.

sed fortes tremuere manus, motique verenda
maiestate loci, si robora sacra ferirent,
in sua credebant redituras membra securis.
Anonymous, Life of St. Nicholas of Sion 16 (tr. Ihor Ševčenko and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko):
And Nicholas, the servant of God said: "What are those gashes in the tree?" They said to him: "Some man of old came to fell the tree with two hatchets, and an axe. And as he began to fell it, the unclean spirit snatched away the blades, and slaughtered the man, so that his grave was found at the roots of the tree."
Related post: A Spirit Protects the Trees.



The Goddess We Adore

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy ("Democritus to the Reader"):
Our summum bonum is commodity, and the goddess we adore Dea moneta, Queen money, to whom we daily offer sacrifice, which steers our hearts, hands, affections, all; that most powerful goddess, by whom we are reared, depressed, elevated, esteemed the sole commandress of our actions, for which we pray, run, ride, go, come, labour, and contend as fishes do for a crumb that falleth into the water.
Cartoon by William Gropper

Related posts:


Epicurus, Fragment 476

Epicurus, fragment 476 Usener (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all riches.

Πλουσιώτατον αὐτάρκεια πάντων.
Hermann Usener, Epicurea (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1887), p. 303, cites the following sources:

Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 6.2 (tr. William Winston):
Further, Euripides [Phoenissae 554] having written: "For to the temperate enough sufficient is" — Epicurus expressly says, "Sufficiency is the greatest riches of all."

ἀλλ´ Εὐριπίδου γράφοντος 'ἐπεὶ τά γ' ἀρκοῦντα ἱκανὰ τοῖς γε σώφροσιν' Ἐπίκουρος ἄντικρύς φησι Πλουσιώτατον αὐτάρκεια πάντων.
Porphyry, Letter to Marcella 28 (tr. Alice Zimmern):
Wherefore philosophers say that nothing is so necessary as to know thoroughly what is unnecessary, and moreover that to be self-sufficing is the greatest of all wealth, and that it is honourable not to ask anything of any man.

διό φασιν οἱ φιλόσοφοι οὐδὲν οὕτως ἀναγκαῖον ὡς τὸ γινώσκειν καcῶς τὸ μὴ ἀναγκαῖον, πλουσιωτάτην δὲ εἶναι πάντων τὴν αὐτάρκειαν καὶ σεμνὸν τὸ μηδενὸς δεῖσθαι λαμβάνονται.
Augustine, On the Utility of Belief 4.10 (tr. C.L. Cornish):
An instance suited to the third kind is, if one, after having read in the books of Epicurus some place wherein he praises continence, were to assert that he had made the chief good to consist in virtue, and that therefore he is not to be blamed.

Tertio generi est illud accommodatum: si quis Epicurum, lecto eius in libris aliquo loco ubi continentiam laudat, in virtute illum summum bonum posuisse asseveret, et ideo non esse culpandum.
Related posts:

Monday, August 09, 2010


Making Hay

Freeman Dyson, in John Brockman, ed., The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), pp. 72-73:
The most important invention of the last two thousand years was hay. In the classical world of Greece and Rome and in all earlier times, there was no hay. Civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses you could not have urban civilization. Some time during the so-called dark ages, some unknown genius invented hay, forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York.
It's a mystery how someone so intelligent as Dyson could say something so absurd. Of course there was hay in Greek and Roman times, as overwhelming evidence shows, e.g. Homer, Odyssey 18.366-370 (tr. Butcher and Lang), where Odysseus challenges Eurymachus to a scything contest:
Eurymachus, would that there might be a trial of labour between us twain, in the season of spring, when the long days begin! In the deep grass might it be, and I should have a crooked scythe, and thou another like it, that we might try each the other in the matter of labour, fasting till late eventide, and grass there should be in plenty.

Εὐρύμαχ᾽, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ᾽ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη.
Hesiod, Works and Days 606-607 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
Bring in fodder and litter so as to have enough for your oxen and mules.

χόρτον δ' ἐσκομίσαι καὶ συρφετόν, ὄφρα τοι εἴη
βουσὶ καὶ ἡμιόνοισιν ἐπηετανόν.
Cato, On Agriculture 5.8 (tr. William Davis Hooper, rev. Harrison Boyd Ash):
Second-crop hay and aftermath should also be stored dry.

item faenum cordum, sicilimenta de prato, ea arida condito.
Varro, On Agriculture 1.49.1 (tr. William Davis Hooper, rev. Harrison Boyd Ash):
First the grass on the hay-meadows should be cut close with the sickle when it ceases to grow and begins to dry from the heat, and turned with the fork while it is drying out; when it is quite dry it should be made into bundles and hauled to the barn.

primum de pratis summissis herba, cum crescere desiit et aestu arescit, subsecari falcibus debet et, quaad perarescat, furcillis versari; cum peraruit, de his manipulos fieri ac vehi ad villam.
Hat tip: Dave Haxton, with thanks for an enjoyable and memorable visit to his farm last year.

Julien Dupré, The Haymaker

Sunday, August 08, 2010


I Know Myself a Man

Sir John Davies, from Nosce Teipsum, in Norman Ault, ed., Elizabethan Lyrics (New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), p. 272:
I know my body's of so frail a kind,
  As force without, fevers within, can kill;
I know the heavenly nature of my mind,
  But 'tis corrupted both in wit and will.

I know my soul hath power to know all things,
  Yet is she blind and ignorant of all;
I know I am one of nature's little kings,
  Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.

I know my life's a pain, and but a span;
  I know my sense is mocked with everything;
And to conclude, I know myself a man,
  Which is a proud, and yet a wretched thing.
Worthington Whittredge, Retrospection


Tree Felling on Trajan's Column

On Wikimedia Commons, there is a useful page with links to Trajan's Column - Cichorius Plates. Tree felling can be seen on the following plates (relevant scenes underlined):
Conrad Cichorius, Die Reliefs der Traianssäule, Erster Tafelband: Die Reliefs des Ersten Dakischen Krieges, Tafeln 1-57 (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1896):
  • Tafel XIII: Römisches Lagerbild (Szene XIII); Traian vor einer Bergfestung (Szene XIV); Bäume fällende Legionäre (Szene XV)
  • Tafel XIV: Bäume fällende Legionäre (Szene XV); Bau einer Festung (Szene XVI); Römische Festungswerke am Fluß (Szene XVII); Einbringung eines dakischen Gefangenen (Szene XVIII)
  • Tafel XVII: Vormarsch im Wald (Szene XXII); Bahnen eines Weges im Wald (Szene XXIII); Erste Schlacht (Szene XXIV)
  • Tafel XXXIX, Feierliches Opfer (Szene LIII); Ansprache Traians an das Heer (Szene LIV); Vormarsch im Hochgebirge (Szene LV); Straßenbau im Gebirge (Szene LVI)
  • Tafel XL, Straßenbau im Gebirge (Szene LVI); Besetzung einer dakischen Ansiedlung (Szene LVII)
  • Tafel XLVIII, Große Schlacht (Szene LXVI); Dakisches Landschaftsbild (Szene LXVII)
  • Tafel XLIX: Einbringung eines Gefangenen (Szene LXVIII); Arbeitende Legionäre im Wald (Szene LXIX)
Conrad Cichorius, Die Reliefs der Traianssäule, Zweiter Tafelband: Die Reliefs des Zweiten Dakischen Krieges, Tafeln 58-113 (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1900):
  • Tafel LXVII, Straßenbau im Gebirge (Szene XCII)
  • Tafel LXXXVIII, Anlegung von Belagerungswerken (Szene CXVII)
There are too many plates to show them all, but here is Plate XL, with scene LVI on the left depicting road building in the mountains, including tree felling:


Saturday, August 07, 2010


Come, My Friends

James Henry, Poems Chiefly Philosophical (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold and Sons, 1856), p. 262:
Come, my friends, let's enjoy the good things of this world,
Eat our roast, crack our joke, take our ease, drink our bottle,
And be right jolly fellows, true souls, friendly brothers,
Bottle nosed, copper cheeked, hanging lipped, and bald pated,
Round paunched, oily skinned, gouty footed and handed,
Coarse minded, fine palated, choleric, and short breathed,
And to die on a sudden and quite fill the coffin.


The Circle

James Henry, Poems Chiefly Philosophical (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold and Sons, 1856), p. 258:
From blank nought to the womb, from the womb to the cradle,
From the cradle to school, and from school to the mill —
There to grind, till it's weary, bread, honor, or riches —
To the sick chamber then and sick bed, and at last
To a box and the blank nought from which first it came.

Friday, August 06, 2010


A Mind Content

Robert Greene (1560?-1592), in Norman Ault, ed., Elizabethan Lyrics (New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), p. 121:
Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;
  The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
  The poor estate scorns fortune's angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.

The homely house that harbours quiet rest;
  The cottage that affords no pride nor care;
The mean that 'grees with country music best;
  The sweet consort of mirth and music's fare;
Obscurëd life sets down a type of bliss:
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.

music's fare] 1591; modest fare, W.J. Linton, 1882.
Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939), A Courtyard



Epicurus, Vatican Collection 74, text from Hermann Usener, "Epikurische Spruchsammlung," in his Kleine Schriften I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1912), pp. 297-325 (at 319), tr. Cyril Bailey in Whitney J. Oates, ed., The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (New York: Random House, 1940), p. 44:
In a philosophical discussion he who is worsted gains more in proportion as he learns more.

Ἐν φιλολόγῳ συζητήσει πλεῖον ἤνυσεν ὁ ἡττηθεὶς, καθ᾽ ὃ προσέμαθεν.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


De Gustibus

R.S. Thomas, Taste:
I had preferred Chaucer
but for the slop in his saucer:

or grave Edmund Spenser
moving formally as a dancer.

But Shakespeare's cut and thrust,
I allow you, was a must

on my bookshelves; and after,
Donne's thin, cerebral laughter.

Dryden I could not abide,
nor the mincing fratricide

of Pope. Jonathan Swift,
though courageous, had no uplift.

But Wordsworth, looking in the lake
of his mind, him I could take;

and Percy Shelley at times;
Byron, too, but only for his rhymes.

Tennyson? Browning? If I mention
them, it is but from convention,

despite the vowel technique
of the one, the other's moral cheek.

Then Hardy, for many a major
poet, is for me just an old-stager,

shuffling about a bogus heath
cobwebbed with his Victorian breath.

And coming to my own century
with its critics' compulsive hurry

to place a poet, I must smile
at the congestion at the turnstile

of fame, the faceless, formless amoeba
with the secretion of its vers libre.
Related post: Tutors.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Machado and Arboricide Etc.

Thanks to Ángel Ruiz Pérez for drawing my attention to a poem by Antonio Machado (1875-1939), Across the Land of Spain (Por tierras de España), in Landscape of Castile, tr. Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney (Buffalo: White Pine Press, 2005), pp. 36-39 (lines 1-8 on pp. 36-37):
The man of this country who torches pine forests
and waits for his plunder as spoils of war
long ago razed the live-oak groves,
and felled the great oaks of the mountains.

Today he sees his poor sons flee their homes,
storms carry away the soil of the earth
along sacred rivers to the wide seas,
and on the cursed plateau, he suffers and works.

El hombre de estos campos que incendia los pinares
y su despojo aguarda como botín de guerra,
antaño hubo raído los negros encinares,
talado los robustos robledos de la sierra.

Hoy ve a sus pobres hijos huyendo de sus lares;
la tempestad llevarse los limos de la tierra
por los sagrados ríos hacia los anchos mares;
y en páramos malditos trabaja, sufre y yerra.

Thanks also to Mr. Ruiz for links to the following newspaper articles:These newspaper articles reflect an age-old problem — see, e.g., Code of Hammarurabi 59, tr. Percy Handcock (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1920), p. 17:
If a man cut down a tree in a man's orchard, without the consent of the owner of the orchard, he shall pay one-half mana of silver.

In 1931 Clare Leighton (1898-1989) visited a lumber camp in Canada and afterwards made six wood engravings based on what she saw. Here are four of the six (leaving out Resting and Breaking Camp):







Whitmore's Epitaph

"Qui gravis es nimium, potes hinc iam, lector, abire / quo libet" (Martial 11.16.1-2). In other words, warning — this post contains scatological content.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Epitaph on the Learned Robert Whitmore, Esqre, Who Died of a Diarrhoea, 4 August 1812, Aetatis Suae 57:
Here lies learned Whitmore!
He'll never shit more,
No, not a bit more,
Learned Robert Whitmore!

Monday, August 02, 2010



Epicurus, Vatican Collection 14, text from Hermann Usener, "Epikurische Spruchsammlung," in his Kleine Schriften I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1912), pp. 297-325 (at 314), tr. Cyril Bailey in Whitney J. Oates, ed., The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (New York: Random House, 1940), p. 40:
We are born once and cannot be born twice, but for all time must be no more. But you, who are not master of to-morrow, postpone your happiness: life is wasted in procrastination and each one of us dies without allowing himself leisure.

Γεγόναμεν ἅπαξ, δὶς δὲ οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι· δεῖ δὲ τὸν αἰῶνα μηκέτι εἶναι· σὺ δὲ οὐκ ὢν τῆς αὔριον <κύριος> ἀναβάλλῃ τὸ χαῖρον· ὁ δὲ βίος μελλησμῷ παραπόλλυται καὶ εἷς ἕκαστος ἡμῶν ἀσχολούμενος ἀποθνῄσκει.

Martial 5.58:
You say you'll live tomorrow, Postumus, always tomorrow: tell me, Postumus, when does that tomorrow of yours arrive? How far away that tomorrow of yours is! Where is it? Or whence is it to be sought? Is it hiding among the Parthians and Armenians? That tomorrow of yours is already as old as Priam or Nestor. That tomorrow of yours, tell me, for how much could it be purchased? You'll live tomorrow? It's too late to live even today, Postumus: the wise man is the one who lived yesterday.

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.
Note the insistent repetition of cras = tomorrow, which we also see embedded like a fossil in the English word procrastination.

Buson, from New Flower Picking (Shin Hanatsumi), tr. Yuki Sawa and Edith M. Shiffert:
What you want to acquire, you should acquire by any means. What you want to see, even though it is with difficulty, you should see. You should not let it pass, thinking there will be another chance to see it or acquire it. It is quite unusual to have a second chance to materialize your desire.

Sunday, August 01, 2010



Thanks to R.E. Mason for sending me a copy of H.L. Mencken, My Life as Author and Editor, ed. Jonathan Yardley (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), which I much enjoyed reading. Here are some excerpts and notes:

p. xviii:
My belief in free speech is so profound that I am seldom tempted to deny it to the other fellow. Nor do I make any effort to differentiate between that other fellow right and that other fellow wrong, for I am convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even to be malicious.
p. xix:
I wrote what I wrote because it was in my nature to do so, and for no other reason. As I have often observed, my fundamental satisfaction was indistinguished from the satisfaction that a hen enjoys in laying an egg.
pp. 5-6:
I am convinced that writing verse is the best of all preparations for writing prose. It makes the neophyte look sharply to his words, and improves that sense of rhythm and tone-color—in brief, that sense of music—which is at the bottom of all sound prose, just as it is at the bottom of all sound verse.
p. 8 (term "lemon-squeezer" used of publisher who prints books at the expense of their authors)

p. 16 (of Dvorak):
Later, when he moved on to one of the Czech colonies in the upper Middle East, it was not the low state of civilization there that made him unhappy, but the lack of decent Manhattans.
Surely this is an error for "upper Middle West," as the colony in question was Spillville, Iowa.

p. 17:
Yet another of Huneker's tales was the death of Walt Whitman. He got it, he said, from Horace Traubel, who was Whitman's amanuensis and valet. Old Walt's last moments were at hand, with Horace in attendance upon him at the little house in Camden, N.J. Finally, the dying poet whispered: "Lift me up, Horace; I want to shit." These, according to Huneker, were his authentic last words.
p. 41:
I took no notice of it, for I had already begun to believe that it was vain to engage in defensive operations. Anyone who felt aggrieved was free, so far as I was concerned, to revile me all he pleased; the one thing I asked was liberty to expose and expound my own ideas.
p. 65 (from letter of Mencken to Ezra Pound):
You made your great mistake when you abandoned the poetry business, and set up shop as a wizard in general practice. You wrote, in your day, some very good verse, and I had the pleasure, along with other literary buzzards, of calling attention to it at the time. But when you fell into the hands of those London logrollers, and began to wander through pink fogs with them, all your native common sense oozed out of you, and you set up a caterwauling for all sorts of brummagem Utopias, at first in the aesthetic region only but later in the regions of political and aesthetic baloney. Thus a competent poet was spoiled to make a tinhorn politician.
p. 86 (on Eltinge F. Warner):
He was extraordinarily ignorant of everything save sports, and once astounded us by asking us the meaning of psychology. He had found the word in the Smart Set, and said that it had puzzled him: he pronounced it pissicology.
pp. 99-100 (praise of poet Robert Loveman of Dalton, Georgia)

p. 170:
I had become convinced early in my newspaper days, and even before, that the distinguishing mark of the normal Americano was his essentially moral view of the world, his tendency to color all values with concepts of rightness and wrongness, his inability to throw off the Puritan obsession with sin.
pp. 190-191 (article "Si Mutare Potest Aethiops Pellum Suam," occurs twice, should of course be pellem, not pellum, from Vulgate of Jeremiah 13:23)

p. 249:
I had already acquired, in those days, the habit of making a note whenever anything interesting occurred to me, and these notes, in the years to come, were destined to run to immense numbers. Many of them, of course, were consumed by my newspaper and magazine articles and my books, but there was always a surplus, and early in 1945 I resolved to go through it critically, throw away all the useless stuff, and reduce the rest to coherent terms, for not a few of the notes were confined to reminders of a few words, unintelligible to anyone save myself. Indeed, when I settled down to work upon them I found that some were baffling to me as well. When I finished the job I had enough material to fill four letter-files.
pp. 285-287 (Mencken's hobby of bricklaying)

p. 294 (word "plupatriot")

p. 302 (collected attacks on him in Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon)

p. 321:
That was always my principal aim—to stand aloof from the general, and to make plain as dramatically. as possible my differences from and contempt for the general.
p. 380 (cartoonist William Gropper)

p. 391 (a useful ploy to spur lazy correspondents):
In September, not having heard from him for two months, I sent a letter to his postoffice box, addressed to "The Executor of the Estate of the Late Theodore Herman Dreiser, Deceased," and inquiring what his last words had been.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?