Sunday, September 26, 2010


They Call It Enjoyment

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Summer, XIII):
In this high summertide, I remember with a strange feeling that there are people who, of their free choice, spend day and night in cities, who throng to the gabble of drawing-rooms, make festival in public eating-houses, sweat in the glare of the theatre. They call it life; they call it enjoyment. Why, so it is, for them; they are so made. The folly is mine, to wonder that they fulfil their destiny.
Horace, Epistles 1.14.10 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
I call him happy who lives in the country; you him who dwells in the city.

rure ego viventem, tu dicis in urbe beatum.
Related posts:

Friday, September 24, 2010


Burton's Characters

Robert Burton recommmends, "I would advise him that is actually melancholy not to read this tract of Symptoms, lest he disquiet or make himself for a time worse, and more melancholy than he was before." (Anatomy of Melancholy, Part I, Sec. 3, Mem. 1, Subs. 2.) I suffer a bit from melancholy, but I find Burton's treatise a welcome distraction, and I can't take his advice not to read it. For years I just dipped into his book here and there, but I recently started reading it from cover to cover.

Certain paragraphs of Burton seem similar to character sketches by Theophrastus, Joseph Earle, Samuel Butler, and others. Here are Burton's character sketches of 1) the suspicious and jealous man, and 2) the bashful man, both from the subsection just cited:
Suspicion, and jealousy, are general symptoms: they are commonly distrustful, apt to mistake, and amplify, facilè irascibiles, testy, pettish, peevish, and ready to snarl upon every small occasion, cum amicissimis, and without a cause, datum vel non datum, it will be scandalum acceptum. If they speak in jest, he takes it in good earnest. If they be not saluted, invited, consulted with, called to counsel, &c., or that any respect, small compliment, or ceremony be omitted, they think themselves neglected, and contemned; for a time that tortures them. If two talk together, discourse, whisper, jest, or tell a tale in general, he thinks presently they mean him, applies all to himself, de se putat omnia dici. Or if they talk with him, he is ready to misconstrue every word they speak, and interpret it to the worst; he cannot endure any man to look steadily on him, speak to him almost, laugh, jest, or be familiar, or hem, or point, cough, or spit, or make a noise sometimes, &c. He thinks they laugh or point at him, or do it in disgrace of him, circumvent him, contemn him; every man looks at him, he is pale, red, sweats for fear and anger, lest somebody should observe him. He works upon it, and long after this false conceit of an abuse troubles him.


Crato, Laurentius, and Fernelius, put bashfulness for an ordinary symptom, subrusticus pudor, or vitiosus pudor, is a thing which much haunts and torments them. If they have been misused, derided, disgraced, chidden, &c., or by any perturbation of mind, misaffected, it so far troubles them, that they become quite moped many times, and so disheartened, dejected, they dare not come abroad, into strange companies especially, or manage their ordinary affairs, so childish, timorous, and bashful, they can look no man in the face; some are more disquieted in this kind, some less, longer some, others shorter, by fits, &c., though some on the other side (according to Fracastorius) be inverecundi et pertinaces, impudent and peevish. But most part they are very shamefaced, and that makes them with Pet. Blesensis, Christopher Urswick, and many such, to refuse honours, offices, and preferments, which sometimes fall into their mouths, they cannot speak, or put forth themselves as others can, timor hos, pudor impedit illos, timorousness and bashfulness hinder their proceedings, they are contented with their present estate, unwilling to undertake any office, and therefore never likely to rise. For that cause they seldom visit their friends, except some familiars: pauciloqui, of few words, and oftentimes wholly silent. Frambeserius, a Frenchman, had two such patients, omnino taciturnos, their friends could not get them to speak: Rodericus à Fonseca consult. tom. 2. 85. consil. gives instance in a young man, of twenty-seven years of age, that was frequently silent, bashful, moped, solitary, that would not eat his meat, or sleep, and yet again by fits apt to be angry, &c.
I don't see myself in the portrait of the suspicious and jealous man, but reading the character sketch of the bashful man is like looking at myself in the mirror.

Related posts:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Solitary Men

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human I, 625 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Solitary men. — Some men are so accustomed to being alone with themselves that they do not compare themselves with others at all but spin out their life of monologue in a calm and cheerful mood, conversing and indeed laughing with themselves alone. If they are nonetheless constrained to compare themselves with others they are inclined to a brooding underestimation of themselves: so that they have to be compelled to acquire again a good and just opinion of themselves from others: and even from this acquired opinion they will tend continually to detract and trade away something. — We must therefore allow certain men their solitude and not be so stupid, as we so often are, as to pity them for it.

Einsame Menschen. — Manche Menschen sind so sehr an das Alleinsein mit sich selber gewöhnt, dass sie sich gar nicht mit Anderen vergleichen, sondern in einer ruhigen, freudigen Stimmung, unter guten Gesprächen mit sich, ja mit Lachen ihr monologisches Leben fortspinnen. Bringt man sie aber dazu, sich mit Anderen zu vergleichen, so neigen sie zu einer grübelnden Unterschätzung ihrer selbst: so dass sie gezwungen werden müssen, eine gute, gerechte Meinung über sich erst von Anderen wieder zu lernen: und auch von dieser erlernten Meinung werden sie immer wieder Etwas abziehen und abhandeln wollen. — Man muss also gewissen Menschen ihr Alleinsein gönnen und nicht so albern sein, wie es häufig geschieht, sie desswegen zu bedauern.
Related post: Solitary Laughter.

Monday, September 20, 2010


On the Road

Grant Showerman, Horace and His Influence (Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1922), p. 164 (on Horace, Odes 2.6):
And what numbers of men have taken to their hearts from the same ode the famous
Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes
Angulus ridet,—

Yonder little nook of earth
Beyond all others smiles on me,—
and expressed through its perfect phrase the love they bear their own beloved nook of earth. "Happy Horace!" writes Sainte-Beuve on the margin of his edition, "what a fortune has been his! Why, because he once expressed in a few charming verses his fondness for the life of the country and described his favorite corner of earth, the lines composed for his own pleasure and for the friend to whom he addressed them have laid hold on the memory of all men and have become so firmly lodged there that one can conceive no others, and finds only those when he feels the need of praising his own beloved retreat!"
My favorite corner of earth is in Maine, and I will be on the road for the next couple of weeks, on a trip to that spot. Blogging will be light, as I expect my access to the Internet to be limited, and I will have only a few of my books with me (Horace's Odes among those few).

Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), Interior of a Wood


Vacant Musing

William Wordsworth, The Prelude 1.252-256:
Ah! better far than this, to stray about
Voluptuously through fields and rural walks,
And ask no record of the hours, resigned
To vacant musing, unreproved neglect
Of all things, and deliberate holiday.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Assault Against Silence

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Spring, XXIII):
Noises of wood and metal, clattering of wheels, banging of implements, jangling of bells—all such things are bad enough, but worse still is the clamorous human voice. Nothing on earth is more irritating to me than a bellow or scream of idiot mirth, nothing more hateful than a shout or yell of brutal anger. Were it possible, I would never again hear the utterance of a human tongue, save from those few who are dear to me.
Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (1944; rpt. New York: Perennial, 2004), pp. 218-219:
The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise, and noise of desire—we hold history's record for all of them. And no wonder, for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. The most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear-drums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions—news items, mutually irrelevent bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ears, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego's central core of wish and desire. Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on wood-pulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose—to prevent the will from ever achieving silence.
It's only man-made noise that so irritates. Thunder, rain, wind, a waterfall, bird song—all of these are welcome to my ears.

Related posts:


Brave Samuel Johnson

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Summer, XIV):
Brave Samuel Johnson! One such truth-teller is worth all the moralists and preachers who ever laboured to humanise mankind. Had he withdrawn into solitude, it would have been a national loss. Every one of his blunt, fearless words had more value than a whole evangel on the lips of a timidly good man. It is thus that the commonalty, however well clad, should be treated. So seldom does the fool or the ruffian in broadcloth hear his just designation; so seldom is the man found who has a right to address him by it. By the bandying of insults we profit nothing; there can be no useful rebuke which is exposed to a tu quoque. But, as the world is, an honest and wise man should have a rough tongue. Let him speak and spare not!

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (Sunday, March 21, 1784):
Last night I made an end of reading Johnson's Prefaces....I am very much the Biographer's humble admirer. His uncommon share of good sense, and his forcible expression, secure to him that tribute from all his readers. He has a penetrating insight into character, and a happy talent of correcting the popular opinion upon all occasions where it is erroneous. And this he does with the boldness of a man who will think for himself but at the same time with a justness of sentiment that convinces us he does not differ from others through affectation, but because he has a sounder judgment.
Johnson's Prefaces are of course his Lives of the Poets.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Mid September

Edward Dowden, In September, from his Poems (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1876), p. 160:
Spring scarce had greener fields to show than these
Of mid September; through the still warm noon
The rivulets ripple forth a gladder tune
Than ever in the summer; from the trees
Dusk-green, and murmuring inward melodies,
No leaf drops yet; only our evenings swoon
In pallid skies more suddenly, and the moon
Finds motionless white mists out on the leas.
Dear chance it were in some rough wood-god's lair
A month hence, gazing on the last bright field,
To sink o'er-drowsed, and dream that wild-flowers blew
Around my head and feet silently there,
Till Spring's glad choir adown the valley pealed,
And violets trembled in the morning dew.


Homo Homini Daemon

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 10:
And which is worse, as if discontents and miseries would not come fast enough upon us: homo homini daemon, we maul, persecute, and study how to sting, gall, and vex one another with mutual hatred, abuses, injuries; preying upon and devouring as so many ravenous birds; and as jugglers, panders, bawds, cozening one another; or raging as wolves, tigers, and devils, we take a delight to torment one another; men are evil, wicked, malicious, treacherous, and naught, not loving one another, or loving themselves, not hospitable, charitable, nor sociable as they ought to be, but counterfeit, dissemblers, ambidexters, all for their own ends, hard-hearted, merciless, pitiless, and to benefit themselves, they care not what mischief they procure to others.
"Homo homini daemon" ("man is to man a devil") says Burton, adapting Plautus, Asinaria 495 ("lupus est homo homini" = "man is to man a wolf"). Cf. Sartre, "Hell is other people" ("L'enfer, c'est les autres").

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Martial's Wish

Martial 1.55 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Fronto, shining glory of sword and gown, if you wish to know in brief your friend Marcus' dearest wish, this is what he wants: to farm land, a little plot, of his own. He loves independence, be it rough and humble. Is any man so silly as to court the painted chill of Spartan stone, conveying morning greetings, when he could be happy with the spoils of woodland and countryside, unfolding his loaded nets before the fireplace, pulling in leaping fish with tremulous line, bringing yellow honey forth from a ruddy jar, while the bailiffs buxom wife loads the rickety table and unpaid-for ash cooks the eggs he owns? Whoever loves not me, I pray he love not such a life and live whey-faced amid the obligations of the town.
The same, tr. Abraham Cowley:
Well then, Sir, you shall know how far extend
The Pray'rs and Hopes of your Poetick Friend;
He does not Palaces nor Manors crave,
Would be no Lord, but less a Lord would have.
The Ground he holds, if he his own can call,
He quarrels not with Heav'n because 'tis small:
Let gay and toilsome Greatness others please,;
He loves of homely Littleness the ease.
Can any Man in gilded rooms attend,
And his dear Hours in humble Visits spend,
When in the fresh and beauteous Fields he may,
With various healthful Pleasures fill the Day?
If there be Man (ye Gods) I ought to hate,
Dependence and Attendance he his Fate.
Still let him busie be, and in a Croud,
And very much a Slave, and very proud:
Thus he perhaps powerful and rich may grow;
No matter, O ye Gods! that I'll allow:
But let him Peace and Freedom never see:
Let him not love this Life, who loves not me.
The same, tr. anonymous in A Collection of Epigrams, Vol. II (London: J. Walthof, 1737), number CCCLIII:
Since you, whom all the world admires,
Would know what your poor friend requires;
Some little spot of earth he prays,
To pass incognito his days.
Who'd bear the noisy pomp of state,
Or crowd of clients at his gate?
That might, in his own fields and wood,
Find his diversion and his food;
His ponds With various fishes stor'd,
The bees for him their honey hoard;
A nut-brown lass, both kind and neat,
To make his bed, and dress his meat.
He that hates me, or likes not this,
May he ne'er taste so sweet a bliss;
But, fool'd by riches and renown,
Still stay behind, and rot in town.
The same, tr. Garry Wills:
Pray would you know what Martial wishes for,
Fronto, famed ornament of peace and war?
A simple farm without extravagance,
And homespun ease in humble circumstance.
Who would endure the chill of marble halls
And daily platitude of morning calls,
When he can reap the spoils of wood and moor
And spread the wily noose before his door?
Draw forth the quivering troutlet with a hair,
Nor the red jar of golden honey spare,
What time the farm-wife loads the tottering board
And home-grown embers roasted eggs afford?
Who loves me not, may he, I humbly ask,
White-clad and wan pursue his daily task.
The Latin original:
Vota tui breviter si vis cognoscere Marci,
  clarum militiae, Fronto, togaeque decus,
hoc petit, esse sui nec magni ruris arator,
  sordidaque in paruis otia rebus amat.
quisquam picta colit Spartani frigora saxi
  et matutinum portat ineptus have,
cui licet exuviis nemoris rurisque beato
  ante focum plenas explicuisse plagas
et piscem tremula salientem ducere saeta
  flavaque de rubro promere mella cado?
pinguis inaequales onerat cui vilica mensas
  et sua non emptus praeparat ova cinis?
non amet hanc vitam quisquis me non amat, opto,
  vivat et urbanis albus in officiis.
George Henry Durrie, Autumn, Cider Pressing


Religious Zeal

William Cowper, letter to John Newton (Tuesday, June 17, 1783):
There is no grace that the spirit of self can counterfeit with more success than a religious zeal. A man thinks he is fighting for Christ, and he is fighting for his own notions; he thinks that he is skillfully searching the hearts of others, when he is only gratifying the malignity of his own; and charitably supposes his hearers destitute of all grace, that he may shine the more in his own eyes by comparison; when he has performed this notable task, he wonders that they are not converted, he has given it them soundly, and if they do not tremble and confess that God is in him of a truth, he gives them up as reprobate, incorrigible, and lost for ever.


What Did It Produce?

William Cowper, letter to John Newton (Sunday, July 27, 1783):
I look back to the past week, and say, what did it produce? I ask the same question of the week preceding, and duely receive the same answer from both—Nothing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Iconoclast Axes

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), The Growth of the Legend, lines 40-47:
Yes, the pine is the mother of legends; what food
For their grim roots is left when the thousand-yeared wood,
The dim-aisled cathedral, whose tall arches spring
Light, sinewy, graceful, firm-set as the wing
From Michael's white shoulder, is hewn and defaced
By iconoclast axes in desperate waste,
And its wrecks seek the ocean it prophesied long,
Cassandra-like, crooning its mystical song?
On the notion of a forest as a cathedral in 19th century American literature, see American Gothic Forests.

Philip Freneau, Lines Occasioned by a Law passed by the Corporation of New-York, early in 1790, for cutting down the trees in the streets of that City, previous to June 10, following.
The Citizen's Soliloquy

A man that owned some trees in town,
(And much averse to cut them down)
Finding the Law was full and plain,
No trees should in the streets remain,
One evening seated at his door,    5
Thus gravely talked the matter o'er:

"The fatal Day, dear trees, draws nigh,
When you must, like your betters, die,
Must die!—and every leaf will fade
That many a season lent its shade,    10
To drive from hence the summer's heat,
And make my porch a favourite seat.

"Thrice happy age, when all was new,
And trees untouched, unenvied grew,
When yet regardless of the axe,    15
They feared no law, and paid no tax!
The shepherd then at ease was laid,
Or walked beneath their cooling shade;
From slender twigs a garland wove,
Or traced his god within the grove;    20
Alas! those times are now forgot,
An iron age is all our lot:
Men are not now what once they were,
To hoard up gold is all their care:
The busy tribe old Plutus calls    25
To pebbled streets and painted walls;
Trees now to grow, is held a crime,
And These must perish in their prime!

"The trees that once our fathers reared,
And even the plundering Briton spared,    30
When shivering here full oft he stood,
Or kept his bed for want of wood —
These trees, whose gently bending boughs
Have witnessed many a lover's vows,
When half afraid, and half in jest,    35
With Nature busy in his breast,
With many a sigh, he did not feign,
Beneath these boughs he told his pain,
Or coaxing here his nymph by night,
Forsook the parlour and the light,    40
In talking love, his greatest bliss
To squeeze her hand or steal a kiss —
These trees that thus have lent their shade,
And many a happy couple made,
These old companions, thus endeared,    45
Who never tattled what they heard,
Must these, indeed, be killed so soon —
Be murdered by the tenth of June!

"But if my harmless trees must fall,
A fortune that awaits us all,    50
(All, all must yield to Nature's stroke,
And now a man, and now an oak)
Are those that round the churches grow
In this decree included too?
Must these, like common trees, be bled?    55
Is it a crime to shade the dead?
Review the law, I pray, at least,
And have some mercy on the priest
Who every Sunday sweats in black
To make us steer the skyward track:    60
The church has lost enough, God knows,
Plundered alike by friends and foes —
I hate such mean attempts as these —
Come — let the parson keep his trees!

"Yet things, perhaps, are not so bad —    65
Perhaps, a respite may be had:
The vilest rogues that cut our throats,
Or knaves that counterfeit our notes,
When, by the judge their sentence passed,
The gallows proves their doom at last,    70
Swindlers and pests of every kind,
For weeks and months a respite find;
And shall such nuisances as they,
Who make all honest men their prey —
Shall they for months avoid their doom,    75
And you, my trees, in all your bloom,
Who never injured small or great,
Be murdered at so short a date!

"Ye men of law, the occasion seize,
And name a counsel for the trees —    80
Arrest of judgment, sirs, I pray;
Excuse them till some future day:
These trees that such a nuisance are,
Next New-Year we can better spare,
To warm our shins, or boil the pot —    85
The Law, by then, will be forgot."
Text in Fred Lewis Pattee, ed., The Poems of Philip Freneau, Poet of the American Revolution, vol. 3 (Princeton: The University Library, 1907), pp. 53-56, with the following note on p. 53:
This was published in the National Gazette of March 8, 1792, with this introduction: "Legislatures and city corporations have ever been inimical to trees in cities. — About nine years ago the attempt was made in Philadelphia to cut down all the trees — The public, however, demurred to the decree, which, together with Mr. Hopkinson's Columnal Orator, saved the lives of these useful and amusing companions.

"In a neighboring city, a similar attempt was made about a year ago by its corporation. A universal extirpation was ordered, without respect to age or quality, by the 10th of June, 1791.—The public interfered in this, as in the other case, and the trees were saved, ‡except a few, which having been injudiciously placed, above a century ago, had nearly grown into the inhabitants' houses ; and consequently suffered the sentence of the law....‡A copy of verses, on this occasion, were as follow: THE LANDLORD'S SOLILOQUY, etc."

"Mr. Hopkinson's Columnal Orator" should be "Mr. Hopkinson's Columnar Orator." Mr. Hopkinson is Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. For Hopkinson's article, signed Silvester and first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1782), see The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq., vol. 1 (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792), pp. 252-273, with the following introductory note:
An act of assembly passed in April 1782, directing all the trees in the streets of Philadelphia to be cut down and removed; the following publication appeared in opposition.

The law was never executed, and soon after repealed.
Most of Hopkinson's article takes the form of a speech, supposedly made by one of the wooden columns in the assembly house, in opposition to the proposed act to cut down the trees. Here is an excerpt (pp. 269-270):
Having shewn, and I hope to the satisfaction of my hearers, the rank my fellow-trees hold in the scale of beings: their capacities of pleasure and pain, having also obviated the charges brought against them, and touched upon their sufferings in the great political revolution in this country, I come now to the last argument intended for their defence, I mean the great use and importance they are of to mankind. And here I shall be very concise, avoiding to mention those numerous circumstances in which trees obviously contribute to the pleasure, convenience, and profit of men, confining myself to one serious consideration, viz. How far the healths and lives of the citizens of Philadelphia may be concerned in the business you have now in hand. A few hours will be sufficient to execute this fatal law; but it will take many years to repair the damage when you shall have discovered your error. Consider, therefore, oh! rash and capricious mortals, what you are about to do; whilst consideration may be of any use, caution is never too late, repentance may be. Know that these trees, whom you are about to extirpate, are your best, your safest physicians; the health of your citizens depends upon their preservation and growth; and you are now to decide, not only upon the existence of a few trees, but possibly on the lives of hundreds of your fellow-creatures. I say, these trees are your best, your safest physicians. They have published no books, therefore they have no systems to defend. Their practice is ever uniform, dictated by nature, and established by success, and, therefore, they make no whimsical experiments, uncertain in every thing but misery and death. In a word, they have no occasion to kill one hundred in order to learn how to cure one.

Not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, but neverthless interesting exhibits in the annals of arboricide.

Charles Thévenin (1764-1838),
Figures Felling a Tree Outside a Building in Paris


Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Stationary Clouds

Stephen Pentz, on his fine blog First Known When Lost, has an interesting post about "Stationary Clouds": John Ruskin And Homer. He doesn't quote the passage from Homer (Iliad 5.519-527), so I thought I would do so, in William Cowper's translation, followed by the Greek:
Ulysses, either Ajax, Diomede—
These rous'd the Greeks to battle, who themselves
The force fear'd nothing, or the shouts of Troy,
But steadfast stood, like clouds by Jove amass'd
On some huge mountain's summit, while the force
Of Boreas sleeps, with all the whistling winds
That chase the gloomy vapours when they blow.
So stood the Grecians, waiting the approach
Of Ilium's powers, and neither fled nor fear'd.

Τοὺς δ᾽ Αἴαντε δύω καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς καὶ Διομήδης
ὄτρυνον Δαναοὺς πολεμιζέμεν· οἳ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
οὔτε βίας Τρώων ὑπεδείδισαν οὔτε ἰωκάς,
ἀλλ᾽ ἔμενον νεφέλῃσιν ἐοικότες ἅς τε Κρονίων
νηνεμίης ἔστησεν ἐπ᾽ ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν
ἀτρέμας, ὄφρ᾽ εὕδῃσι μένος Βορέαο καὶ ἄλλων
ζαχρειῶν ἀνέμων, οἵ τε νέφεα σκιόεντα
πνοιῇσιν λιγυρῇσι διασκιδνᾶσιν ἀέντες·
ὣς Δαναοὶ Τρῶας μένον ἔμπεδον οὐδὲ φέβοντο.
See also G.S. Kirk, in his commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) on Iliad 5.522-527 (p. 113):
Unyielding resistance is often described by a simile; the present one is striking and unusual, with the four warriors like still clouds set by Zeus over the high peaks of mountains (cf. Od. 19.205) in windless weather. One sees it often in the Aegean, each island peak topped by its own white cloud. The shrill winds that can blow up and scatter them suggest the tensions among which Aias and others remain sublimely unmoved.


Education and Instruction

Kingsley Amis, The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), p. 236:
What constitutes a university, and how that might differ from what constitutes a polytechnic or other establishment for vocational training, it is not my present business to expound. Nevertheless it cannot be said too often that education is one thing and instruction, however worthy, necessary and incidentally or momentarily educative, another.


The Vanity of Human Hopes

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 106 (Saturday, March 23, 1751):
No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes, than a publick library; for who can see the wall crouded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditation, and accurate enquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to encrease the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavours, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists, and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power?
Georg Balthasar Probst (after Georg Daniel Heumann),
Bibliotheca Büloviana Academiae Georgiae Augustae donata

Monday, September 13, 2010


Innocent Curiosity

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler 83 (Tuesday, January 1, 1751):
Between men of different studies and professions, may be observed a constant reciprocation of reproaches. The collector of shells and stones derides the folly of him who pastes leaves and flowers upon paper, pleases himself with colours that are perceptibly fading, and amasses with care what cannot be preserved. The hunter of insects stands amazed that any man can waste his short time upon lifeless matter, while many tribes of animals yet want their history. Every one is inclined not only to promote his own study, but to exclude all others from regard, and having heated his imagination with some favourite pursuit, wonders that the rest of mankind are not seized with the same passion.

There are, indeed, many subjects of study which seem but remotely allied to useful knowledge, and of little importance to happiness or virtue; nor is it easy to forbear some sallies of merriment, or expressions of pity, when we see a man wrinkled with attention, and emaciated with solicitude, in the investigation of questions, of which, without visible inconvenience, the world may expire in ignorance. Yet it is dangerous to discourage well-intended labours or innocent curiosity; for he who is employed in searches, which by any deduction of consequences tend to the benefit of life, is surely laudable, in comparison of those who spend their time in counteracting happiness, and filling the world with wrong and danger, confusion and remorse. No man can perform so little as not to have reason to congratulate himself on his merits, when he beholds the multitudes that live in total idleness, and have never yet endeavoured to be useful.
Charles Spencelayh, The Collector

Related post: Intellectual Curiosity.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


We Bangle Away Our Best Days

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 10:
Thus between hope and fear, suspicions, angers, Inter spemque metumque, timores inter et iras, betwixt falling in, falling out, &c., we bangle away our best days, befool out our times, we lead a contentious, discontent, tumultuous, melancholy, miserable life; insomuch, that if we could foretell what was to come, and it put to our choice, we should rather refuse than accept of this painful life. In a word, the world itself is a maze, a labyrinth of errors, a desert, a wilderness, a den of thieves, cheaters, &c., full of filthy puddles, horrid rocks, precipitiums, an ocean of adversity, an heavy yoke, wherein infirmities and calamities overtake, and follow one another, as the sea waves; and if we scape Scylla, we fall foul on Charybdis, and so in perpetual fear, labour, anguish, we run from one plague, one mischief, one burden to another, duram servientes servitutem, and you may as soon separate weight from lead, heat from fire, moistness from water, brightness from the sun, as misery, discontent, care, calamity, danger from a man.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. bangle, v. (definitions 1 and 2):
1. Orig. of hawks: To beat about, flutter aimlessly, in the air, instead of making direct for the quarry. See BANGLING ppl. a.

2. to bangle (away): to fritter away, squander.

1621 BURTON Anat. Mel. I. ii. III. x. (1651) 107 We bangle away our best days, befool out our times. 1636 W. SAMPSON Vow Breaker (N.) Thy titles are so bangld with thy debts. 1658 Whole Duty Man xvi. §18 (1684) 134 If we wilfully bangle away this so precious a Legacy. [In Lanc. (Halliwell).]

Saturday, September 11, 2010


My Old Liddell and Scott

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Summer, IX):
My old Liddell and Scott still serves me, and if, in opening it, I bend close enough to catch the scent of the leaves, I am back again at that day of boyhood (noted on the fly-leaf by the hand of one long dead) when the book was new and I used it for the first time. It was a day of summer, and perhaps there fell upon the unfamiliar page, viewed with childish tremor, half apprehension and half delight, a mellow sunshine, which was to linger for ever in my mind.
See Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1950; rpt. New York: Avenel Books, 1981), pp. 611-614 (Part XXXI: The Five Ports of Book Love, Section III: Smelling) for more quotations by Gissing (p. 613) and others on the smell of books. Jackson doesn't cite W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician (New York: Duffield & Company, 1909) p. 69:
Susie was enchanted with that strange musty smell of old books, and she took a first glance at them in general. For the most part they were in paper bindings, some of them neat enough, but more with broken backs and dingy edges; they were set along the shelves in serried rows, untidily, without method or plan. There were many older ones also in bindings of calf and pigskin, treasure from half the bookshops in Europe; and there were huge folios like Prussian grenadiers; and tiny Elzevirs, which had been read by patrician ladies in Venice.
Yves Trevedy, Elderly Man at a Window

Related posts:


Unwanted Praise

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 6.5 (Life of Antisthenes, tr. R.D. Hicks):
Once, when he was applauded by rascals, he remarked, "I am horribly afraid I have done something wrong."

ἐπαινούμενός ποτε ὑπὸ πονηρῶν, ἔφη, "ἀγωνιῶ μή τι κακὸν εἴργασμαι."
Id. 6.8:
"Many men praise you," said one. "Why, what wrong have I done?" was his rejoinder.

πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα "πολλοί σε ἐπαινοῦσι," "τί γάρ," ἔφη, "κακὸν πεποίηκα;"
Charlotte Brontë, Shirley (chapter 30):
On abuse, on reproach, on calumny, it is easy to smile; but painful indeed is the panegyric of those we contemn.
C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967), p. 44:
Fatuous praise from a manifest fool may hurt more than any depreciation.

Friday, September 10, 2010


A Hideous Neologism?

Roger Cohen, "Harvest of Anger," New York Times (September 9, 2010, speaking of events after September 11, 2001):
A hideous neologism, the "homeland," was coined to describe a country that now needed vigilant protection from within and without.
The word isn't a neologism—the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is
1670 R. BLOME Treat. Trav. & Traff. 53 Another sort of Merchants, which may be termed Homeland-Traders..who drive a trade to Scotland and Ireland.
However, most of the supposed early examples in Google Books are the result of faulty optical character recognition of the phrases "home and" and "Homer and".

De gustibus non est disputandum, but to my ear and sensibility the word isn't hideous either. On the contrary, it has a comforting sound.


Read I Shall, Persistently, Rejoicingly

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Spring, XVII):
Scholarship in the high sense was denied me, and now it is too late. Yet here am I gloating over Pausanias, and promising myself to read every word of him. Who that has any tincture of old letters would not like to read Pausanias, instead of mere quotations from him and references to him? Here are the volumes of Dahn's Die Könige der Germanen: who would not like to know all he can about the Teutonic conquerors of Rome? And so on, and so on. To the end I shall be reading—and forgetting. Ah, that's the worst of it! Had I at command all the knowledge I have at any time possessed, I might call myself a learned man. Nothing surely is so bad for the memory as long-enduring worry, agitation, fear. I cannot preserve more than a few fragments of what I read, yet read I shall, persistently, rejoicingly. Would I gather erudition for a future life? Indeed, it no longer troubles me that I forget. I have the happiness of the passing moment, and what more can mortal ask?
My happiness was considerably increased yesterday by the receipt of volume 1 of Martial, Epigrams, edited and translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, and G.S. Kirk's commentary on books 5-8 of the Iliad, the very generous gifts of "David F." Thank you, David—these books will give me weeks of unalloyed enjoyment.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 94 Degrees in the Shade


Cheer Up, Cheery, Wake Up, Weary

David Culross Peattie, An Almanach for Moderns (September 10):
In autumn some of the sweetness of spring steals back again. There are the blessed rains, the sharp nights, the mornings smelling of wet loam and winy air as if blown from the mountains. The woods are filling up with clouds of asters. And best of all, the birds return. Few are the voices of the forest, but the robin has taken to singing again his old "Cheer up, cheery, Wake up, weary!" The grackles gather in the wet woods just as they do in March, and from the fields comes a slender, wistful whistling of all songs I know the most poignant except the farewell whistling of the white-throat sparrow. But there is something sad about these songs, something that merely reminds us of a happiness we once knew, that is gone.
Asters are now flowering in my garden. Most of them I planted, but I do notice one interloper this fall, what looks to me like Ageratina altissima, commonly known as white snakeroot:

Some regard it as a noxious weed, but I'm letting it stay for now, as the bees are fond of it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


A Pungent Smell of Smoke

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.23.63 (tr. H. Rackham):
Since as for Protagoras of Abdera, the greatest sophist of that age, to whom you just now alluded, for beginning a book with the words 'About the gods I am unable to affirm either how they exist or how they do not exist,' he was sentenced by a decree of the Athenian assembly to be banished from the city and from the country, and to have his books burnt in the market-place: an example that I can well believe has discouraged many people since from professing atheism, since the mere expression of doubt did not succeed in escaping punishment.

Nam Abderites quidem Protagoras, cuius a te modo mentio facta est, sophistes temporibus illis vel maximus, cum in principio libri sic posuisset: 'De divis, neque ut sint neque ut non sint, habeo dicere', Atheniensium iussu urbe atque agro est exterminatus librique eius in contione combusti; ex quo equidem existimo tardiores ad hanc sententiam profitendam multos esse factos, quippe cum poenam ne dubitatio quidem effugere potuisset.
Clarence A. Forbes, "Books for the Burning," Transactions of the American Philological Association 67 (1936) 114-125 (at 118):
The book of Protagoras was only the first of a long line that were burned for religious reasons. Religion has always been the chief cause for the deliberate destruction of books, and the histories of western religion have about them a pungent smell of smoke.
Forbes, p. 125:
For the true art of unjust censorship to develop, the world had to wait until the modern era. We of the twentieth century live in glass houses, and had best be chary of throwing stones.
Burning Books (May 10, 1933)


A Dreary Aspect of Modern Life

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Winter, XV):
It is one of the dreary aspects of modern life that natural symbolism has all but perished. We have no consecrated tree. The oak once held a place in English hearts, but who now reveres it?—our trust is in gods of iron. Money is made at Christmas out of holly and mistletoe, but who save the vendors would greatly care if no green branch were procurable? One symbol, indeed, has obscured all others—the minted round of metal. And one may safely say that, of all the ages since a coin first became the symbol of power, ours is that in which it yields to the majority of its possessors the poorest return in heart's contentment.
John Crome (1768-1821), The Poringland Oak


Reply When Someone Says "Excuse Me"

Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II (Act V, Scene 1):
I will not excuse you; you shall not be excused; excuses shall not be admitted; there is no excuse shall serve; you shall not be excused.


Good Citizenship

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Winter, XXV):
For me, it is a virtue to be self-centred; I am much better employed, from every point of view, when I live solely for my own satisfaction, than when I begin to worry about the world....Living as I do now, I deserve better of my country than at any time in my working life; better, I suspect, than most of those who are praised for busy patriotism.

Not that I regard my life as an example for any one else; all I say is, that it is good for me, and in so far an advantage to the world. To live in quiet content is surely a piece of good citizenship.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


The Indispensables

George Gissing (1857-1903), letter to his sister Ellen (August 2, 1885):
Let us think: Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides among the Greeks: Virgil, Catullus, Horace, among the Latins: in Italian, Dante and Boccaccio: in Spanish, Don Quixote: in German, Goethe, Jean Paul, Heine: in French, Molière, George Sand, Balzac, De Musset: in English, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Browning and Scott. These are the indispensables. I rejoice to say I can read them all in the original, except Cervantes, and I hope to take up Spanish next year, just for that purpose.
William Stott (1857–1900), CMS Reading by Gaslight

Related posts:



Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2003; rpt. New York: Anchor Books, 2005), p. 36:
Von Igelfeld looked out of the window. Little droplets of rain coursed across the glass and made the countryside quiver. He had been thinking of how landscape moulds a language. It was impossible to imagine these hills giving forth anything but the soft syllables of Irish, just as only certain forms of German could be spoken on the high crags of Europe; or Dutch in the muddy, guttural, phlegmish lowlands. How sad it was that the language had been so largely lost; that it should survive only in these small pockets of the countryside. This was happening everywhere. The crudities of the modern world were simplifying or even destroying linguistic subtleties. Irregular verbs were becoming regular, the imperfect subjunctive was becoming the present subjunctive or, more frequently, disappearing altogether. Where previously there might have been four adjectives to describe a favoured hill, or the scent of new-mown hay, or the action of threading the warp of a loom, now there would only be one, or none. And as we lost the words, von Igelfeld thought, we lost the texture of the world.
Note the pun in "phlegmish lowlands."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010



Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, Book I (tr. Barbara Foxley):
Men are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together, the more corrupt they become. Disease and vice are the sure results of over-crowded cities. Of all creatures man is least fitted to live in herds. Huddled together like sheep, men would very soon die. Man's breath is fatal to his fellows. This is literally as well as figuratively true.

Les hommes ne sont point faits pour être entassés en fourmilières, mais épars sur la terre qu'ils doivent cultiver. Plus ils se rassemblent, plus ils se corrompent. Les infirmités du corps, ainsi que les vices de l'âme, sont l'infaillible effet de ce concours trop nombreux. L'homme est de tous les animaux celui qui peut le moins vivre en troupeaux. Des hommes entassés comme des moutons périraient tous en très-peu de temps. L'haleine de l'homme est mortelle à ses semblables: cela n'est pas moins vrai au propre qu'au figuré.
Sebastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres Choisies, I (Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale, 1866), p. 14 (my translation):
If someone had said to Adam, the day after Abel's death, that in a few centuries there would be places where, within the space of four square leagues, there would be found joined and crammed together seven or eight hundred thousand men, would he have believed that these crowds could ever live together? Would he not have had an even more horrible idea of crimes and monstrosities than what is actually perpetrated there? This is the thought that we must keep in mind in order to console ourselves for the evils attendant on such amazing agglomerations of men.

Si l'on avoit dit à Adam, le lendemain de la mort d'Abel, que dans quelques siècles il y auroit des endroits où, dans l'enceinte de quatre lieues carrées, se trouveroient réunis et amoncelés sept ou huit cent mille hommes, auroit-il cru que ces multitudes pussent jamais vivre ensemble? Ne se seroit-il pas fait une idée encore plus affreuse de ce qui s'y commet de crimes et de monstruosités? C'est la réflexion qu'il faut faire pour se consoler des abus attachés à ces étonnantes réunions d'hommes.
Id., p. 18 (my translation):
Men shrink when they gather together in a crowd: they are Milton's devils, compelled to turn themselves into pygmies in order to enter into Pandemonium.

Les hommes deviennent petits en se rassemblant: ce sont les diables de Milton, obligés de se rendre pygmées, pour entrer dans le pandaemonion.
Chamfort is referring to Paradise Lost, 1.777-781:
Behold a wonder! They but now who seemed
In bigness to surpass Earth's giant sons,
Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless—like that pygmean race
Beyond the Indian mount...

Monday, September 06, 2010



Will Broadhead, "Colonization, Land Distribution, and Veteran Settlement," in Paul Erdkamp, ed., A Companion to the Roman Army (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 148-163 (at 161):
Traditional colonization began with ager publicus, land confiscated from Rome's defeated enemies or rebellious allies. The land expropriated by the triumvirs for the settlement of 41 was nothing of the kind. The 18 towns chosen for the confiscations were Roman towns, whose Roman citizens would suffer from the arbitrary judgment of the triumvirs. The towns had committed no crime, displayed no particular disloyalty; they were chosen simply for their wealth and the quality of their fields and houses....The 18 towns whose land was distributed to veterans in 41 were offered as a reward, dangled before the soldiers as payment for what consequently amounted to mercenary service under the triumvirs.
This is the background behind Vergil's first Eclogue, in which Tityrus wins an exemption from Octavian (one of the triumvirs) and saves his land from confiscation.

It is probably also the historical background of a poem attributed to Vergil, the Dirae (Curses), in which the speaker curses his own confiscated land, in the bitter hope that it will bring no pleasure or profit to the veteran to whom it was assigned. The dispossessed farmer grieves that the veteran will cut down the trees on his land, and also prays that the resulting timber will go up in flames before the veteran can use it (lines 26-36, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
O thou best of woods, oft sung in our playful songs and verses, thou beauteous in thy wealth of green, thou shalt shear thy green shade: neither shalt thou boast of thy soft boughs' joyous leafage, as the breezes blow among them, nor, O Battarus, shall it oft resound for me with my song. When with his axe the soldier's impious hand shall fell it, and the lovely shadows fall, thyself, more lovely than they, shalt fall, the old owner's happy timber. Yet all for naught! Rather, accursed by our verses, thou shalt burn with heaven's fires. O Jupiter ('twas Jupiter himself nurtured this wood), this must thou turn into ashes!

Lusibus et nostris multum cantata libellis
optima silvarum, formosis densa virectis,
tondebis viridis umbras: nec laeta comantis
iactabis mollis ramos inflantibus auris,
nec mihi saepe meum resonabit, Battare, carmen.   30
militis impia cum succidet dextera ferro
formosaeque cadent umbrae, formosior illis
ipsa cades, veteris domini felicia ligna.
nequiquam! nostris potius devota libellis,
ignibus aetheriis flagrabis. Iuppiter (ipse   35
Iuppiter hanc aluit), cinis haec tibi fiat oportet.

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), Der Holzfäller


Sunday, September 05, 2010


The Fruit of Peace

Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia 192 (tr. Christopher Maurer):
A peaceable person is a long-lived one. To live, let live. Peaceable people not only live, they reign. Listen and see, but keep quiet. A day without contention means a night of rest. To live much and to take pleasure in life is to live twice: the fruit of peace. You can have everything if you care little for what matters nothing. Nothing is sillier than to take everything seriously. It is just as foolish to let something wound you when it doesn't concern you as not to be wounded when it does.

Hombre de gran paz, hombre de mucha vida. Para vivir, dejar vivir. No sólo viven los pacíficos, sino que reinan. Hase de oír y ver, pero callar. El día sin pleito hace la noche soñolienta. Vivir mucho y vivir con gusto es vivir por dos, y fruto de la paz. Todo lo tiene a quien no se le da nada de lo que no le importa. No hay mayor despropósito que tomarlo todo de propósito. Igual necedad que le passe el corazón a quien no le toca, y que no le entre de los dientes adentro a quien le importa.


Men Not To Be Lightly Spoken Of

Richard Chenevix Trench, On the Study of Words, 18th ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1882), pp. 143-144 (Lecture IV):
Certain theologians in the Middle Ages were termed Schoolmen; having been formed and trained in the cloister and cathedral schools which Charlemagne and his immediate successors had founded. These were men not to be lightly spoken of, as they often are by those who never read a line of their works, and have not a thousandth part of their wit; who moreover little guess how many of the most familiar words which they employ, or misemploy, have descended to them from these. 'Real,' 'virtual,' 'entity,' 'nonentity,' 'equivocation,' 'objective,' 'subjective,' with many more unknown to classical Latin, but now almost necessities to us, were first coined by the Schoolmen; and, passing over from them into the speech of others more or less interested in their speculations, have gradually filtered through the successive strata of society, till now some of them have reached to quite the lowest.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


With Plutarch and Horace

Walter Pope (1628-1714), The Old Man's Wish:
If I live to grow old (for I find I go down),
Let this be my fate in a Country Town;
Let me have a warm house, with a stone at the gate,
And a cleanly young girl to rub my bald pate:
  May I govern my passion with an absolute sway,
  And grow wiser and better, as my strength wears away,
  Without gout or stone, by a gentle decay.

In a Country Town, by a murmuring brook,
The ocean at distance, on which I may look;
With a spacious plain, without hedge or stile,
And an easy pad-nagg to ride out a mile:
  May I govern my passion, etc.

With a pudding on Sunday, and stout humming liquor,
And remnants of Latine to puzzle the Vicar;
With a hidden reserve of Burgundy-wine
To drink the King's health as oft as I dine:
  May I govern my passion, etc.

With Plutarch, and Horace, and one or two more
Of the best Wits that liv'd in the ages before;
With a dish of roast mutton, not venison nor teal,
And clean (tho' coarse) linnen at every meal:
  May I govern my passion, etc.

And if I should have Guests, I must add to my wish,
On Fridays a mess of good buttered fish;
For full well I do know, and the truth I reveal,
I had better do so than come short of a meal:
  May I govern my passion, etc.

With breeches and jerkin of good country gray,
And live without working, now my strength doth decay;
With a hog's-head of Sherry, for to drink when I please,
With Friends to be merry, and to live at my ease;
  May I govern my passion, etc.

Without molestation may I spend my last days
In sweet recreation, and sound forth the praise
Of all those that are true to the King and his Laws,
Since it be their due, they shall have my applause:
  May I govern my passion, etc.

When the days are grown short, and it freezes and snows,
May I have a Coal-fire as high as my nose;
A fire which (once stirr'd up with a prong)
Will keep the Room temperate all the night long.
  May I govern my passion, etc.

With courage undaunted may I face my last Day;
And when I am dead, may the better sort say,
"In the morning when sober, in the evening when mellow,
He is gone, and has left not behind him his Fellow.
  For he governed his passion with an absolute sway,
  And grew wiser and better, as his strength wore away,
  Without gout or stone, by a gentle decay.
Charles Spencelayh, Morning Chapter

Friday, September 03, 2010


The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm

Wallace Stevens, The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm:
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
Van Gogh, Farmer Sitting at the Fireside, Reading

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland:
But it must be remembered, that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease, as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Beat the Curse of Babel

Peter Green, Classical Bearings: Interpreting Ancient History and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989; rpt. 1998), p. 270 (footnote omitted):
But as a lifelong student of Greek and Latin I beseech all those who can, by hook or crook, make the effort, to beat the curse of Babel by mastering the languages in which two of the greatest, and most influential, literatures the world has ever known are written, and by so doing to break free from the tyranny imposed by their own culture. 'For even'—to quote Ascham again—'as a hauke flieth not hie with one wing: even so a man reacheth not to excellency with one tong.' This is a hard investment; but once made, it will reward the investor a thousandfold, until his dying day.
Ozias Leduc, The Young Student


It Is Now September

Nicholas Breton (1545?-1626?), Fantasticks (September), from The Works in Verse and Prose of Nicholas Breton, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, Vol. II: Prose (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1879):
It is now September, and the Sunne begins to fall much from his height, the medowes are left bare, by the mouthes of hungry Cattell, and the Hogges are turned into the Corne fields: the windes begin to knocke the Apples heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill the Pyes for the Household: the Saylers fall to worke to get afore the winde, and if they spy a storme, it puts them to prayer: the Souldier now begins to shrug at the weather, and the Campe dissolved, the Companie are put to Garison: the Lawyer now begins his Harvest, and the Client payes for words by waight: the Innes now begin to provide for ghests, and the night-eaters in the stable, pinch the Travailer in his bed: Paper, pen, and inke are much in request, and the quarter Sessions take order with the way-layers: Coales and wood make toward the Chimney, and Ale and Sacke are in account with good fellowes: the Butcher now knocks downe the great Beeves, and the Poulters feathers make toward the Upholster: Walflet Oysters are the Fish wives wealth, and Pippins are the Costermongers rich merchandise: the flayle and the fan fall to worke in the Barne, and the Corne market is full of the Bakers: the Porkets now are driven to the Woods, and the home-fed Pigges make porke for the market. In briefe, I thus conclude of it, I hold it the Winters forewarning, and the Summers farewell. Adieu.
Levi Wells Prentice, Apples Under a Tree

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Comes Viae Vitaeque Dulcis et Utilis

Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1950; rpt. New York: Avenel Books, 1981), p. 537:
How many bookmen have wished a favourite book to go with them into oblivion I have no means of knowing, but that there are many I have no doubt: among them, certainly, is Sir Thomas Browne, who expressed such a wish in his will: On my coffin when in the grave I desire may be deposited in its leather case or coffin my Elzevir's Horace, 'Comes Viae Vitaeque dulcis et utilis', worn out with and by me.3

3Qt., Life of Osler. Cushing. ii, 681.
For the love I bear to Horace and Sir Thomas Browne, I wish this anecdote were true, but it isn't, at least not entirely.

Harvey Cushing, The Life of Sir William Osler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925), is unavailable to me, but from a snippet view in Google Books it appears that Osler referred to Sir William Browne (1692-1774), not Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682). See "Will of Sir William Browne, Knight, M.D., dated 11 February, 1772," in John Willis Clark, Endowments of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: The University Press, 1904), pp. 98-101 (at 98):
On my Coffin, when in the Grave, I desire may be deposited in its Leather Case or Coffin my Pocket-Elzivir-Horace comes viae vitaeque dulcis et utilis, worn out with, and by me.
Title Page of Elzevir Horace

Update: Thanks to Eric Thomson for sending me the following excerpt from [William Warburton], Letters from a Late Eminent Prelate to One of his Friends, 2nd ed. (London. T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1809), pp.404-405 (Letter CXCIX, Prior-Park, November 8, 1767):
When you see Dr. Heberden, pray communicate to him an unexpected honour I have lately received. The other day, word was brought me from below, that one Sir William Browne sent up his name, and should be glad to kiss my hand. I judged it to be the famous Physician, whom I had never seen, nor had the honour to know. When I came down into the drawing-room, I was accosted by a little, round, well-fed gentleman, with a large muff in one hand, a small Horace, open, in the other, and a spying glass dangling in a black ribbon at his button.

After the first salutation, he informed me that his visit was indeed to me; but principally, and in the first place, to Prior-Park, which had so inviting a prospect from below; and he did not doubt but, on examination, it would sufficiently repay the trouble he had given himself of coming up to it on foot. We then took our chairs; and the first thing he did or said, was to propose a doubt to me concerning a passage in Horace, which all this time he had still open in his hand. Before I could answer, he gave me the solution of this long misunderstood passage: and, in support of his explanation, had the charity to repeat his own paraphrase of it, in English verse, just come hot, as he said, from the brain. When this and chocolate were over, having seen all he wanted of me, he desired to see something more of the seat; and particularly what he called the monument, by which I understood him to mean, the Prior's tower, with your inscription. Accordingly I ordered a servant to attend him thither; and, when he had satisfied his curiosity, either to let him out from the park above into the down, or from the garden below into the road. Which he chose, I never asked; and so this honourable visit ended. Hereby you will understand that the design of all this was, to be admired. And, indeed, he had my admiration to the full; but for nothing so much, as for his being able, at past eighty, to perform this expedition on foot, in no good weather, and with all the alacrity of a boy, both in body and mind.
Related post: Funeral of a Lover of Horace.



Taking Over the World

Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (1992; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993), pp. 210-211:
Entomologists are often asked whether insects will take over if the human race extinguishes itself. This is an example of a wrong question inviting an irrelevant answer: insects have already taken over. They originated on the land 400 million years ago. By Carboniferous times, 100 million years later, they had radiated into forms nearly as diverse as those existing today. They have dominated terrestrial and freshwater habitats around the world ever since. They easily survived the great extinction spasm at the end of the Paleozoic era, when life survived more than the equivalent of a total nuclear war. Today about a billion billion insects are alive at any given time around the world. At nearest order of magnitude, this amounts to a trillion kilograms of living matter, somewhat more than the weight of humanity. Their species, most of which lack a scientific name, number into the millions. The human race is a newcomer dwelling among the six-legged masses, less than two million years old, with a tenuous grip on the planet. Insects can thrive without us, but we and most other land organisms would perish without them.

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