Thursday, March 31, 2011
It Is Sweet to Linger Here
Here are old trees, tall oaks and gnarled pines,
That stream with gray-green mosses; here the ground
Was never trenched by spade, and flowers spring up
Unsown, and die ungathered. It is sweet
To linger here, among the flitting birds
And leaping squirrels, wandering brooks, and winds
That shake the leaves, and scatter, as they pass,
A fragrance from the cedars, thickly set
With pale blue berries.
The clash of arms, which shook the Persian state,Quintus Curtius 4.1.19-26 (tr. John Yardley):
Did not disturb the peasant at his toil;
In his small garden-plot more truly great,
Than he who stretched his sceptre o'er its soil.
He wanted naught, but what his hands supplied,
Content with fruits, the bounty of his field;
There would he, in old age, in peace have died;
But worth and greatness could not be concealed!
O'erlooked were many, who would Sidon rule,
Ambitious princes, seeking kingly sway;
Who, trained in arms, had learned from War's proud school,
By fire and sword to win to thrones their way.
The crown and purple robe to him were sent,
Who peaceful lived, with poverty content.
 They could see that many viewed the prospect of such great power with a hopeful eye and from inordinate ambition for the throne were now flattering individual friends of Alexander. They decided, however, that none had a better claim than one Abdalonymus who, though distantly related to the royal family, was now reduced by poverty to tending a market garden in the suburbs, from which he derived a meagre income.
 As often happens, the cause of his reduced circumstances was his honesty, and now he was so preoccupied with his daily work that he failed to hear the clash of arms that had shaken the whole of Asia.
 So these two noblemen came without notice into his garden, which Abdalonymus happened to be clearing of weeds, carrying the robe with its royal insignia.
 They saluted him as king. 'These garments which you see in my hands,' said one of them, 'must now replace those dirty rags of yours. Wash from your body its perpetual coating of mud and earth. You must now assume the disposition of a king and carry your characteristic moderation with you into the estate which you merit. And when you take your seat on the throne with power of life and death over all your citizens, see that you do not forget these circumstances in whichno, indeed, because of whichyou receive your kingdom.'
 The whole thing was like a dream to Abdalonymus. Several times he asked if they were out of their minds, to mock him so shamelessly; but as he hesitated, the dirt was washed from him, the purple and gold embroidered robe was placed upon him, and he was reassured by their sworn protestations, so that it was in all seriousness that he came as king in their company to the palace.
 Rumour swiftly made its usual sweep of the whole city. Support began to emerge in some quarters, resentment in others, and the rich protested against Abdalonymus' low status and poverty to Alexander's friends.
 The king immediately had him brought before him, looked at him for some time, and then said: 'Your physical characteristics are not at odds with the reports of your ancestry, but I want to know how well you endured poverty.' 'Oh that I may be able to bear royal authority with the same equanimity!' answered Abdalonymus. 'These hands of mine satisfied my needs. I had nothing, but lacked nothing.'
 From what Abdalonymus said, Alexander gained an impression of a noble character. Accordingly he not only had Strato's royal appurtenances assigned to him but a large part of the Persian spoils as well, and he also added to his control the area adjoining the city.
The Legates of Alexander the Great
Investing the Gardener Abdalonymus with the
Insignia of the Kingship of Sidon
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.
The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines.
Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face.
My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects.
At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles.
Travelling is a fool's paradise.
The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.
The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude. Not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner.
Medical men, it seems, are interested in turtle blood, because turtles don't suffer from arteriosclerosis in old age. The doctors are wondering whether there is some special property of turtle blood that prevent the arteries from hardening. It could be, of course. But there is also the possibility that a turtle's blood vessels stay in nice shape because of the way turtles conduct their lives. Turtles rarely pass up a chance to relax in the sun on a partly submerged log. No two turtles ever lunched together with the idea of promoting anything. No turtles ever went around complaining that there is no profit in book publishing except from the subsidiary rights. Turtles do not work day and night to perfect explosive devices that wipe out Pacific islands and eventually render turtles sterile. Turtles never use the word "implementation" or the phrases "hard core" and "in the last analysis." No turtle ever rang another turtle back on the phone. In the last analysis, a turtle, although lacking know-how, knows how to live. A turtle, by its admirable habits, gets to the hard core of life. That may be why its arteries are so soft.Related post: Programmed for Optimism.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
The Wreckage of It All
I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet's differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush became a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.
Prince of the City of Books
"Hamilcar, somnolent Prince of the City of Booksthou guardian nocturnal! Like that Divine Cat who combated the impious in Heliopolisin the night of the great combatthou dost defend from vile nibblers those books which the old savant acquired at the cost of his slender savings and indefatigable zeal. Sleep, Hamilcar, softly as a sultana, in this library, that shelters thy military virtues; for verily in thy person are united the formidable aspect of a Tartar warrior and the slumbrous grace of a woman of the Orient. Sleep, thou heroic and voluptuous Hamilcar, while awaiting that moonlight hour in which the mice will come forth to dance before the 'Acta Sanctorum' of the learned Bolandists!"Lafcadio Hearn had more French in his little finger than I do in my whole body, but I think I'm correct in pointing out that, in this passage, the library does not shelter Hamilcar's virtues, but rather Hamilcar's virtues protect the librarythe subject of protègent (3rd person plural) is vertues and the object of the verb is que (with antecedent bibliothèque). Also, read Bollandists (the normal spelling) instead of Bolandists. In Hearn's defence, his biographer tells us that he made the translation in just a few weeks, at a time when he was "in sore distress for money," cause enough to explain mistakes of this sort.
"Hamilcar, prince somnolent de la cité des livres, gardien nocturne! Pareil au chat divin qui combattit les impies dans Héliopolis, pendant la nuit du grand combat, tu défends contre de vils rongeurs les manuscrits et les imprimés que le vieux savant acquit au prix d'un modique pécule et d'un zèle infatigable. Dans cette bibliothèque silencieuse, que protègent tes vertus militaires, Hamilcar, dors avec la mollesse d'une sultane! Car tu réunis en ta personne l'aspect formidable d'un guerrier tartare à la grâce appesantie d'une femme d'Orient. Héroïque et voluptueux Hamilcar, dors en attendant l'heure où les souris danseront, au clair de la lune, devant les Acta sanctorum des doctes Bollandistes."
If you're a book lover seeking a name for a cat, Hamilcar would be a good one, based on this passage.
On the events in Heliopolis, see e.g. The Book of the Dead, tr. E.A. Wallis Budge, vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. 1901), p. 103 (from the Papyrus of Nebseni, British Museum No. 9900, sheet 14, l. 16 ff.):
I am the Cat which fought (?) hard by the Persea tree (19) in Annu (Heliopolis), on the night when the foes of Neb-er-tcher were destroyed.Related posts:
Labels: typographical and other errors
Monday, March 28, 2011
A Natural Way to Make You Young
In Goethe’s Faust, the devil Mephistopheles is fulfilling some of the learned doctor’s wishes by means of witchcraft, which the doctor is finding unpleasant. The witches cook up a brew that promises to make him young, but Faust is nauseated by it. He asks (this is Randall Jarrell’s translation):I am indebted once again to R.E. Mason, who gave me a copy of Wendell Berry's excellent book. Thanks very much, Mr. Mason.Has neither Nature nor some noble mindMephistopheles, who is a truth-telling devil, replies:
Discovered some remedy, some balsam?There is a natural way to make you young...Faust, a true intellectual, unsurprisingly objects:
Go out in a field
And start right in to work: dig, hoe,
Keep your thoughts and yourself in that field,
Eat the food you raise...
Be willing to manure the field you harvest.
And that’s the best waytake it from me!
To go on being young at eighty.Oh, but to live spade in handAnd Mephistopheles replies:
I’m not used to it, I couldn’t stand it.
So narrow a life would not suit me.Well then, we still must have the witch.
Related post: Panacea.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
I prefer to strive in bravery with the bravest, rather than in wealth with the richest, and in greed for money with the greediest.
βούλομαι μᾶλλον περὶ ἀρετῆς τοῖς ἀρίστοις ἢ περὶ χρημάτων τοῖς πλουσιωτάτοις ἁμιλλᾶσθαι καὶ τοῖς φιλαργυρωτάτοις περὶ φιλαργυρίας.
Work Paid out of Proportion
"I'll take no employment that obliges me to prop up my chin with a high cravat, and wear straps, and pass the live-long day with a set of fellows who spend their spare money on shirt-pins. That sort of work is really lower than many handicrafts; it only happens to be paid out of proportion....I mean to stick to the class I belong topeople who don't follow the fashions."
Growing the Economy
[T]he religion of endless growthlike any religion based on blind faith rather than reasonis a kind of mania, a form of lunacy, indeed a disease. And the one disease to which the growth mania bears an exact analogical resemblance is cancer. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Cancer has no purpose but growth; but it does have another resultthe death of the host.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Freedom, Simplicity, and Leisure
In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance. I had found, too, a comradeship inherent in the circumstances, and the belief that tranquillity was to be found there. I had learnt the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which springs from abstinence: the contentment of a full belly; the richness of meat; the taste of clean water; the ecstasy of surrender when the craving for sleep becomes a torment; the warmth of a fire in the chill of dawn.Id., p. 265:
I wondered why people ever cluttered up their rooms with furniture, for this bare simplicity seemed to me infinitely preferable.Id., p. 276:
Here life moved in time with the past. These people still valued leisure and courtesy and conversation. They did not live their lives at second hand, dependent on cinemas and wireless.
Friday, March 25, 2011
A Blessed Thing
What was that about potatoes? Were they just a thing from foreign parts, like coffee; a luxury, an extra? Oh, the potato is a lordly fruit; drought or downpour, it grows and grows all the same. It laughs at the weather, and will stand anything; only deal kindly with it, and it yields fifteen-fold again. Not the blood of a grape, but the flesh of a chestnut, to be boiled or roasted, used in every way. A man may lack grain to make bread, but give him potatoes and he will not starve. Roast them in the embers, and there is supper; boil them in water, and there’s a breakfast ready. As for meat, it’s little is needed beside. Potatoes can be served with what you please; a dish of milk, a herring, is enough. The rich eat them with butter; poor folk manage with a tiny pinch of salt. Isak could make a feast of them on Sundays, with a mess of cream from Goldenhorns’ milk. Poor despised potatoa blessed thing!
LG., Du. slim, repr. MLG. slim(m), MDu. slim(p) slanting, cross, bad = MHG. slimp (-b) slanting, G. schlimm grievous, awkward, bad:Gmc. *slimbaz.I've always been fond of the etymological fallacy, and now I'm glad to learn that (etymologically, at least) there is something bad in being slim. Cf. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 1.2.192-195:
Let me have men about me that are fat,I was once slim and dangerous. Throughout high school, I weighed less than a hundred pounds. But now I am "omo de panza," if not "omo de sostanza."
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Come Out to Ramble
'Tis spring; come out to ramble
The hilly brakes around,
For under thorn and bramble
About the hollow ground
The primroses are found.
And there's the windflower chilly
With all the winds at play,
And there's the Lenten lily
That has not long to stay
And dies on Easter day.
And since till girls go maying
You find the primrose still,
And find the windflower playing
With every wind at will,
But not the daffodil,
Bring baskets now, and sally
Upon the spring's array,
And bear from hill and valley
The daffodil away
That dies on Easter day.
Different Notions of Charity
"You and I," said Peter, "have different notions of charity. I own, as it is generally used, I do not like the word, nor do I think it becomes one of us gentlemen; it is a mean parsonlike quality; though I would not infer many parsons have it neither." "Sir," said Adams, "my definition of charity is, a generous disposition to relieve the distressed." "There is something in that definition," answered Peter, "which I like well enough; it is, as you say, a disposition, and does not so much consist in the act as in the disposition to do it; but, alas! Mr. Adams, who are meant by the distressed? Believe me, the distresses of mankind are mostly imaginary, and it would be rather folly than goodness to relieve them." "Sure, sir," replied Adams, "hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, and other distresses which attend the poor, can never be said to be imaginary evils." "How can any man complain of hunger," said Peter, "in a country where such excellent salads are to be gathered in almost every field? or of thirst, where every river and stream produces such delicious potations? And as for cold and nakedness, they are evils introduced by luxury and custom. A man naturally wants clothes no more than a horse or any other animal; and there are whole nations who go without them..."Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749), II.v (Captain Blifil and Squire Allworthy):
He was one day engaged with Mr Allworthy in a discourse on charity: in which the captain, with great learning, proved to Mr Allworthy, that the word charity in Scripture nowhere means beneficence or generosity.
"The Christian religion," he said, "was instituted for much nobler purposes, than to enforce a lesson which many heathen philosophers had taught us long before, and which, though it might perhaps be called a moral virtue, savoured but little of that sublime, Christian-like disposition, that vast elevation of thought, in purity approaching to angelic perfection, to be attained, expressed, and felt only by grace. Those," he said, "came nearer to the Scripture meaning, who understood by it candour, or the forming of a benevolent opinion of our brethren, and passing a favourable judgment on their actions; a virtue much higher, and more extensive in its nature, than a pitiful distribution of alms, which, though we would never so much prejudice, or even ruin our families, could never reach many; whereas charity, in the other and truer sense, might be extended to all mankind."
He said, "Considering who the disciples were, it would be absurd to conceive the doctrine of generosity, or giving alms, to have been preached to them. And, as we could not well imagine this doctrine should be preached by its Divine Author to men who could not practise it, much less should we think it understood so by those who can practise it, and do not."
"But though," continued he, "there is, I am afraid, little merit in these benefactions, there would, I must confess, be much pleasure in them to a good mind, if it was not abated by one consideration. I mean, that we are liable to be imposed upon, and to confer our choicest favours often on the undeserving, as you must own was your case in your bounty to that worthless fellow Partridge: for two or three such examples must greatly lessen the inward satisfaction which a good man would otherwise find in generosity; nay, may even make him timorous in bestowing, lest he should be guilty of supporting vice, and encouraging the wicked; a crime of a very black dye, and for which it will by no means be a sufficient excuse, that we have not actually intended such an encouragement; unless we have used the utmost caution in chusing the objects of our beneficence. A consideration which, I make no doubt, hath greatly checked the liberality of many a worthy and pious man."
Mr Allworthy answered, "He could not dispute with the captain in the Greek language, and therefore could say nothing as to the true sense of the word which is translated charity; but that he had always thought it was interpreted to consist in action, and that giving alms constituted at least one branch of that virtue."
"As to the meritorious part," he said, "he readily agreed with the captain; for where could be the merit of barely discharging a duty? which," he said, "let the word charity have what construction it would, it sufficiently appeared to be from the whole tenor of the New Testament. And as he thought it an indispensable duty, enjoined both by the Christian law, and by the law of nature itself; so was it withal so pleasant, that if any duty could be said to be its own reward, or to pay us while we are discharging it, it was this."
"To confess the truth," said he, "there is one degree of generosity (of charity I would have called it), which seems to have some show of merit, and that is, where, from a principle of benevolence and Christian love, we bestow on another what we really want ourselves; where, in order to lessen the distresses of another, we condescend to share some part of them, by giving what even our own necessities cannot well spare. This is, I think, meritorious; but to relieve our brethren only with our superfluities; to be charitable (I must use the word) rather at the expense of our coffers than ourselves; to save several families from misery rather than hang up an extraordinary picture in our houses or gratify any other idle ridiculous vanitythis seems to be only being human creatures. Nay, I will venture to go farther, it is being in some degree epicures: for what could the greatest epicure wish rather than to eat with many mouths instead of one? which I think may be predicated of any one who knows that the bread of many is owing to his own largesses."
"As to the apprehension of bestowing bounty on such as may hereafter prove unworthy objects, because many have proved such; surely it can never deter a good man from generosity. I do not think a few or many examples of ingratitude can justify a man's hardening his heart against the distresses of his fellow-creatures; nor do I believe it can ever have such effect on a truly benevolent mind. Nothing less than a persuasion of universal depravity can lock up the charity of a good man; and this persuasion must lead him, I think, either into atheism, or enthusiasm; but surely it is unfair to argue such universal depravity from a few vicious individuals; nor was this, I believe, ever done by a man, who, upon searching his own mind, found one certain exception to the general rule."
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Thus it is that they whom we denominate "savages" are made to deserve the title. When the inhabitants of some sequestered island first descry the "big canoe" of the European rolling through the blue waters towards their shores, they rush down to the beach in crowds, and with open arms stand ready to embrace the strangers. Fatal embrace! They fold to their bosom the vipers whose sting is destined to poison all their joys; and the instinctive feeling of love within their breast is soon converted into the bitterest hate.Id.:
How often is the term "savages" incorrectly applied! None really deserving of it were ever yet discovered by voyagers or by travellers. They have discovered heathens and barbarians whom by horrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages. It may be asserted without fear of contradictions that in all the cases of outrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time or other been the aggressors, and that the cruel and bloodthirsty disposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed to the influence of such examples.Id.:
At what an immeasurable distance, thought I, are these two beings removed from each other. In the one is shown the result of long centuries of progressive Civilization and refinement, which have gradually converted the mere creature into the semblance of all that is elevated and grand; while the other, after the lapse of the same period, has not advanced one step in the career of improvement, "Yet, after all," quoth I to myself, "insensible as he is to a thousand wants, and removed from harassing cares, may not the savage be the happier man of the two?"Chapter XVII:
As I extended my wanderings in the valley and grew more familiar with the habits of its inmates, I was fain to confess that, despite the disadvantages of his condition, the Polynesian savage, surrounded by all the luxurious provisions of nature, enjoyed an infinitely happier, though certainly a less intellectual existence than the self-complacent European.Id.:
In a primitive state of society, the enjoyments of life, though few and simple, are spread over a great extent, and are unalloyed; but Civilization, for every advantage she imparts, holds a hundred evils in reserve;—the heart-burnings, the jealousies, the social rivalries, the family dissentions, and the thousand self-inflicted discomforts of refined life, which make up in units the swelling aggregate of human misery, are unknown among these unsophisticated people.Id.:
The fiend-like skill we display in the invention of all manner of death-dealing engines, the vindictiveness with which we carry on our wars, and the misery and desolation that follow in their train, are enough of themselves to distinguish the white civilized man as the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth.Id.:
The term "savage" is, I conceive, often misapplied, and indeed, when I consider the vices, cruelties, and enormities of every kind that spring up in the tainted atmosphere of a feverish civilization, I am inclined to think that so far as the relative wickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five Marquesan Islanders sent to the United States as Missionaries might be quite as useful as an equal number of Americans despatched to the Islands in a similar capacity.Id.:
There were none of those thousand sources of irritation that the ingenuity of civilized man has created to mar his own felicity. There were no foreclosures of mortgages, no protested notes, no bills payable, no debts of honour in Typee; no unreasonable tailors and shoemakers perversely bent on being paid; no duns of any description and battery attorneys, to foment discord, backing their clients up to a quarrel, and then knocking their heads together; no poor relations, everlastingly occupying the spare bed-chamber, and diminishing the elbow room at the family table; no destitute widows with their children starving on the cold charities of the world; no beggars; no debtors' prisons; no proud and hard-hearted nabobs in Typee; or to sum up all in one wordno Money! "That root of all evil" was not to be found in the valley.Chapter XXIV:
In this secluded abode of happiness there were no cross old women, no cruel step-dames, no withered spinsters, no lovesick maidens, no sour old bachelors, no inattentive husbands, no melancholy young men, no blubbering youngsters, and no squalling brats. All was mirth, fun and high good humour. Blue devils, hypochondria, and doleful dumps, went and hid themselves among the nooks and crannies of the rocks.
They are either too lazy or too sensible to worry themselves about abstract points of religious belief. While I was among them, they never held any synods or councils to settle the principles of their faith by agitating them. An unbounded liberty of conscience seemed to prevail. Those who pleased to do so were allowed to repose implicit faith in an ill-favoured god with a large bottle-nose and fat shapeless arms crossed upon his breast; whilst others worshipped an image which, having no likeness either in heaven or on earth, could hardly be called an idol. As the islanders always maintained a discreet reserve with regard to my own peculiar views on religion, I thought it would be excessively ill-bred of me to pry into theirs.Chapter XXV:
When I remembered that these islanders derived no advantage from dress, but appeared in all the naked simplicity of nature, I could not avoid comparing them with the fine gentlemen and dandies who promenade such unexceptionable figures in our frequented thoroughfares. Stripped of the cunning artifices of the tailor, and standing forth in the garb of Eden—what a sorry, set of round-shouldered, spindle-shanked, crane-necked varlets would civilized men appear! Stuffed calves, padded breasts, and scientifically cut pantaloons would then avail them nothing, and the effect would be truly deplorable.Chapter XXVI:
The penalty of the Fall presses very lightly upon the valley of Typee; for, with the one solitary exception of striking a light, I scarcely saw any piece of work performed there which caused the sweat to stand upon a single brow. As for digging and delving for a livelihood, the thing is altogether unknown. Nature has planted the bread-fruit and the banana, and in her own good time she brings them to maturity, when the idle savage stretches forth his hand, and satisfies his appetite.Id.:
Ill-fated people! I shudder when I think of the change a few years will produce in their paradisaical abode; and probably when the most destructive vices, and the worst attendances on civilization, shall have driven all peace and happiness from the valley, the magnanimous French will proclaim to the world that the Marquesas Islands have been converted to Christianity! and this the Catholic world will doubtless consider as a glorious event. Heaven help the "Isles of the Sea!" The sympathy which Christendom feels for them, has, alas! in too many instances proved their bane.
In short, missionary undertaking, however it may blessed of heaven, is in itself but human; and subject, like everything else, to errors and abuses. And have not errors and abuses crept into the most sacred places, and may there not be unworthy or incapable missionaries abroad, as well as ecclesiastics of similar character at home? May not the unworthiness or incapacity of those who assume apostolic functions upon the remote islands of the sea more easily escape detection by the world at large than if it were displayed in the heart of a city? An unwarranted confidence in the sanctity of its apostlesa proneness to regard them as incapable of guileand an impatience of the least suspicion to their rectitude as men or Christians, have ever been prevailing faults in the Church. Nor is this to be wondered at: for subject as Christianity is to the assaults of unprincipled foes, we are naturally disposed to regard everything like an exposure of ecclesiastical misconduct as the offspring of malevolence or irreligious feeling. Not even this last consideration, however shall deter me from the honest expression of my sentiments.Chapter XXVII:
During the time I lived among the Typees, no one was ever put upon his trial for any offence against the public. To all appearance there were no courts of law or equity. There was no municipal police for the purpose of apprehending vagrants and disorderly characters. In short, there were no legal provisions whatever for the well-being and conservation of society, the enlightened end of civilized legislation. And yet everything went on in the valley with a harmony and smoothness unparalleled, I will venture to assert, in the most select, refined, and pious associations of mortals in Christendom.Id.:
Civilization does not engross all the virtues of humanity: she has not even her full share of them. They flourish in greater abundance and attain greater strength among many barbarous people. The hospitality of the wild Arab, the courage of the North American Indian, and the faithful friendship of some of the Polynesian nations, far surpass anything of a similar kind among the polished communities of Europe.Chapter XXXI:
I am convinced that it is as natural for a human being to swim as it is for a duck. And yet in civilized communities how many able-bodied individuals die, like so many drowning kittens, from the occurrence of the most trivial accidents!
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Don Colacho's Aphorisms
A Sort of Arcadian Fanaticism
We had in this region, twenty years ago, among our educated men, a sort of Arcadian fanaticism, a passionate desire to go upon the land, and unite farming to intellectual pursuits. Many effected their purpose, and made the experiment, and some became downright ploughmen; but all were cured of their faith that scholarship and practical farming (I mean, with one's own hands) could be united.In the first paragraph quoted, Emerson alludes to the Brook Farm experiment in the 1840s.
With brow bent, with firm intent, the pale scholar leaves his desk to draw a freer breath, and get a juster statement of his thought, in the garden-walk. He stoops to pull up a purslain, or a dock, that is choking the young corn, and finds there are two: close behind the last, is a third; he reaches out his hand to a fourth; behind that, are four thousand and one. He is heated and untuned, and, by and by, wakes up from his idiot dream of chickweed and red-root, to remember his morning thought, and to find, that, with his adamantine purposes, he has been duped by a dandelion. A garden is like those pernicious machineries we read of, every month, in the newspapers, which catch a man's coat-skirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg, and his whole body to irresistible destruction. In an evil hour he pulled down his wall, and added a field to his homestead. No land is bad, but land is worse. If a man own land, the land owns him. Now let him leave home, if he dare. Every tree and graft, every hill of melons, row of corn, or quickset hedge, all he has done, and all he means to do, stand in his way, like duns, when he would go out of his gate. The devotion to these vines and trees he finds poisonous. Long free walks, a circuit of miles, free his brain, and serve his body. Long marches are no hardship to him. He believes he composes easily on the hills. But this pottering in a few square yards of garden is dispiriting and drivelling. The smell of the plants has drugged him, and robbed him of energy. He finds a catalepsy in his bones. He grows peevish and poor-spirited. The genius of reading and of gardening are antagonistic, like resinous and vitreous electricity. One is concentrative in sparks and shocks: the other is diffuse strength; so that each disqualifies its workman for the other's duties.
When Mr. Cockayne takes a cottage in the country, and will keep his cow, he thinks a cow is a creature that is fed on hay, and gives a pail of milk twice a day. But the cow that he buys gives milk for three months; then her bag dries up. What to do with a dry cow? who will buy her? Perhaps he bought also a yoke of oxen to do his work; but they get blown and lame. What to do with blown and lame oxen? The farmer fats his, after the spring-work is done, and kills them in the fall. But how can Cockayne, who has no pastures, and leaves his cottage daily in the cars, at business hours, be pothered with fatting and killing oxen? He plants trees; but there must be crops, to keep the trees in ploughed land. What shall be the crops? He will have nothing to do with trees, but will have grass. After a year or two, the grass must be turned up and ploughed: now what crops? Credulous Cockayne!
Monday, March 21, 2011
Chapter III (on Defoe's Robinson Crusoe):
Reader, is it necessary to name the book which now stood open in my hand, and whose very prints, feeble expounders of its wondrous lines, had produced within me emotions strange and novel? Scarcely, for it was a book which has exerted over the minds of Englishmen an influence certainly greater than any other of modern times; which has been in most people's hands, and with the contents of which even those who cannot read are to a certain extent acquainted; a book from which the most luxuriant and fertile of our modern prose writers have drunk inspiration; a book, moreover, to which, from the hardy deeds which it narrates, and the spirit of strange and romantic enterprise which it tends to awaken, England owes many of her astonishing discoveries both by sea and land, and no inconsiderable part of her naval glory.Chapter VII (on the Scotch):
From what I have heard and seen, I should say that upon the whole they are a very decent set of people; they seem acute and intelligent, and I am told that their system of education is so excellent that every person is learnedmore or less acquainted with Greek and Latin. There is one thing, however, connected with them, which is a great drawbackthe horrid jargon which they speak. However learned they may be in Greek and Latin, their English is execrable; and yet I'm told it is not so bad as it was. I was in company, the other day, with an Englishman who has resided here many years. We were talking about the country and the people. 'I should like both very well,' said I, 'were it not for the language. I wish sincerely our Parliament, which is passing so many foolish acts every year, would pass one to force these Scotch to speak English.'Chapter IX:
Oh yes! It is easier to apply epithets of opprobrium to people than to make yourself acquainted with their history and position.Chapter XI:
Ah, that Irish! How frequently do circumstances, at first sight the most trivial and unimportant, exercise a mighty and permanent influence on our habits and pursuits!how frequently is a stream turned aside from its natural course by some little rock or knoll, causing it to make an abrupt turn! On a wild road in Ireland I had heard Irish spoken for the first time; and I was seized with a desire to learn Irish, the acquisition of which, in my case, became the stepping-stone to other languages. I had previously learnt Latin, or rather Lilly; but neither Latin nor Lilly made me a philologist. I had frequently heard French and other languages, but had felt little desire to become acquainted with them; and what, it may be asked, was there connected with the Irish calculated to recommend it to my attention?Chapter XIII:
First of all, and principally, I believe, the strangeness and singularity of its tones; then there was something mysterious and uncommon associated with its use. It was not a school language, to acquire which was considered an imperative duty; no, no; nor was it a drawing-room language, drawled out occasionally, in shreds and patches, by the ladies of generals and other great dignitaries, to the ineffable dismay of poor officers' wives. Nothing of the kind; but a speech spoken in out-of-the-way desolate places, and in cut-throat kens, where thirty ruffians, at the sight of the king's minions, would spring up with brandished sticks and an 'ubbubboo like the blowing up of a powder-magazine.' Such were the points connected with the Irish, which first awakened in my mind the desire of acquiring it; and by acquiring it I became, as I have already said, enamoured of languages. Having learnt one by choice, I speedily, as the reader will perceive, learnt others, some of which were widely different from Irish.
Ah, that Irish! I am much indebted to it in more ways than one. But I am afraid I have followed the way of the world, which is very much wont to neglect original friends and benefactors. I frequently find myself, at present, turning up my nose at Irish when I hear it in the street; yet I have still a kind of regard for it, the fine old language:A labhair Padruic n'insefail nan riogh.
It has been said, I believe, that the more languages a man speaks, the more a man is he; which is very true, provided he acquires languages as a medium for becoming acquainted with the thoughts and feelings of the various sections into which the human race is divided; but, in that case, he should rather be termed a philosopher than a philologistbetween which two the difference is wide indeed! An individual may speak and read a dozen languages, and yet be an exceedingly poor creature, scarcely half a man; and the pursuit of tongues for their own sake, and the mere satisfaction of acquiring them, surely argues an intellect of a very low order; a mind disposed to be satisfied with mean and grovelling things; taking more pleasure in the trumpery casket than in the precious treasure which it contains; in the pursuit of words, than in the acquisition of ideas.Id.:
I might, otherwise, have become a mere philologist; one of those beings who toil night and day in culling useless words for some opus magnum which Murray will never publish, and nobody ever read...Chapter XVII:
'I call God Duvel, brother.'Id.:
'It sounds very like Devil.'
'It doth, brother, it doth.'
'And what do you call divine, I mean godly?'
'Oh! I call that duvelskoe.'
'I am thinking of something, Jasper.'
'What are you thinking of, brother?'
'Would it not be a rum thing if divine and devilish were originally one and the same word?'
'It would, brother, it would'
'We'll no longer call you Sap-engro, brother,' said he; but rather Lav-engro, which in the language of the gorgios meaneth Word-master.'Chapter XXI:
O ye gifted ones, follow your calling, for, however various your talents may be, ye can have but one calling capable of leading ye to eminence and renown; follow resolutely the one straight path before you, it is that of your good angel, let neither obstacles nor temptations induce ye to leave it; bound along if you can; if not, on hands and knees follow it, perish in it, if needful; but ye need not fear that; no one ever yet died in the true path of his calling before he had attained the pinnacle. Turn into other paths, and for a momentary advantage or gratification ye have sold your inheritance, your immortality. Ye will never be heard of after death.Chapter XXII:
But I toiled in vain, for I had neither grammar nor dictionary of the language; and when I sought for them could procure neither; and I was much dispirited, till suddenly a bright thought came into my head, and I said, although I cannot obtain a dictionary or grammar, I can perhaps obtain a Bible in this language, and if I can procure a Bible, I can learn the language, for the Bible in every tongue contains the same thing, and I have only to compare the words of the Danish Bible with those of the English, and, if I persevere, I shall in time acquire the language of the Danes...Chapter XXIII:
'I like that every one should have an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual; 'and, what is more, declare it. Nothing displeases me more than to see people assenting to everything that they hear said; I at once come to the conclusion that they are either hypocrites, or there is nothing in them.'Id.:
'I respect a man for entertaining an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual. 'I hold certain opinions; but I should not respect an individual the more for adopting them. All I wish for is tolerance, which I myself endeavour to practise. I have always loved the truth, and sought it; if I have not found it, the greater my misfortune.'Chapter XXIV:
'He kept school there, I was his first scholar; he flogged Greek into me till I loved himand he loved me: he came to see me last year, and sat in that chair; I honour Parrhe knows much, and is a sound man.'Chapter XXV:
Translation is at best an echo, and it must be a wonderful echo to be heard after the lapse of a thousand years.Id.:
'When a man dies, he is cast into the earth, and his wife and child sorrow ovr him. If he has neither wife nor child, then his father and mother, I suppose; and if he is quite alone in the world, why, then, he is cast into the earth, and there is an end of the matter.'Chapter XXX:
'And do you think that is the end of a man?'
'There's an end of him, brother, more's the pity.'
'Why do you say so?'
'Life is sweet, brother.'
'Do you think so?'
'Think so!There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?'
'But, sir, surely you would not pander to a scoundrelly taste?'Chapter XXXVI:
'Then, sir, I must give up business altogether.'
...to translate from a foreign language into your own is a widely different thing from translating from your own into a foreign language...Id.:
I never could understand why reviews were instituted; works of merit do not require to be reviewed, they can speak for themselves, and require no praising; works of no merit at all will die of themselves, they require no killing.Id.:
It is no easy thing to tell a story plainly and distinctly by mouth; but to tell one on paper is difficult indeed, so many snares lie in the way. People are afraid to put down what is common on paper, they seek to embellish their narratives, as they think, by philosophic speculations and reflections; they are anxious to shine, and people who are anxious to shine can never tell a plain story.Chapter XL:
'...every heart has its bitters.'Chapter XLI:
Homer himself has never yet entirely recovered from the injury he received by Lord Chesterfield's remark that the speeches of his heroes were frequently exceedingly low.Chapter XLVII:
'Learning without money is anything but desirable,' said the Armenian, 'as it unfits a man for humble occupations.'Chapter LXIII:
'I come from some distance,' said I; 'indeed, I am walking for exercise, which I find as necessary to the mind as the body. I believe that by exercise people would escape much mental misery.'Chapter LXVIII:
Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and proper drink of Englishmen. He is not deserving of the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is good ale, like that which has just made merry the hearts of this poor family; and yet there are beings, calling themselves Englishmen, who say that it is a sin to drink a cup of ale, and who, on coming to this passage will be tempted to fling down the book and exclaim, 'The man is evidently a bad man, for behold, by his own confession, he is not only fond of ale himself, but is in the habit of tempting other people with it.' Alas! alas! what a number of silly individuals there are in this world...Chapter LXXIII:
'Then thou, doubtless, meanest to go to church,' said Peter, again addressing me; 'there is a church on the other side of that wooded hill.' 'No,' said I, 'I do not mean to go to church.' 'May I ask thee wherefore?' said Peter. 'Because,' said I, 'I prefer remaining beneath the shade of these trees, listening to the sound of the leaves and the tinkling of the waters.'Chapter LXXXIII:
There was one thing, however, which stood me in good stead in my labour, the same thing which through life has ever been of incalculable utility to me, and has not unfrequently supplied the place of friends, money, and many other things of almost equal importanceiron perseverance, without which all the advantages of time and circumstance are of very little avail in any undertaking.Chapter XC:
'What do you take me for?' said I.Chapter XCIII (free translation from Luigi Pulci's Morgante):
'Why,' said the man in black, 'I should consider you to be a philologist, who, for some purpose, has taken up a gypsy life; but I confess to you that your way of answering questions is far too acute for a philologist.'
'And why should not a philologist be able to answer questions acutely?' said I.
'Because the philological race is the most stupid under heaven,' said the man in black; 'they are possessed, it is true, of a certain faculty for picking up words, and a memory for retaining them; but that any one of the sect should be able to give a rational answer, to say no hing of an acute one, on any subjecteven though the subject were philologyis a thing of which I have no idea.'
To which Margutte answered with a sneer,
I like the blue no better than the black,
My faith consists alone in savoury cheer,
In roasted capons, and in potent sack;
But above all, in famous gin and clear,
Which often lays the Briton on his back;
With lump of sugar, and with lymph from well,
I drink it, and defy the fiends of hell.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Nature will not have us fret and fume. She does not like our benevolence or our learning much better than she likes our frauds and wars. When we come out of the caucus, or the bank, or the Abolition-convention, or the Temperance-meeting, or the Transcendental club into the fields and woods, she says to us, "So hot? my little Sir."
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Reaction to an Invitation
"A man," said he, "must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdityActually snowing at this moment!The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at homeand the folly of people's not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it;and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can;here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man's house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse;four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home."
Friday, March 18, 2011
Let Them Talk
Yet, whence proceeds this weight we lay
On what detracting people say?
For let mankind discharge their tongues
In venom, till they burst their lungs,
Their utmost malice cannot make
Your head, or tooth, or finger ache;
Nor spoil your shape, distort your face,
Or put one feature out of place;
Nor, will you find your fortune sink
By what they speak, or what they think;
Nor can ten hundred thousand lies
Make you less virtuous, learned, or wise.
The most effectual way to balk
Their malice, isto let them talk.
The Way to Preferment
An engraving, showing an entrance gateway, the road of which is stopped by a Colossus (Sir Robert Walpole) standing with his back to the spectator, bending down, and exposing his naked posteriors. Between his legs is seen a long arcade leading to "St (James's) Place", "The Treasury." "The Exchequer." and "The Admiralty." Between the legs of the giant a courtier is driving a hoop, inscribed, "Wealth Pride Vanity Folly Luxury Want Dependance Servility Venality Corruption Prostitution". In his hand he carries a "Petition for", i.e. for anything. Such, it is intimated, is the courtier's object, and the course he pursues to obtain it. Another courtier has raised himself on a post in order that he may salute Sir Robert's posteriors.I spent much of my life working in the lower echelons of large corporations, where my observations led me to conclude that this is the quickest way to advancement in the business world, as well as in the political world. I suspect it's no different in other walks of life.
Beneath the print is engraved:—
"And Henry the KING made unto himself a great IDOL, the likeness of which was not in Heaven above, nor in the Earth beneath; and he reared up his Head unto ye Clouds, & extended his Arm over all ye Land; His Legs also were as ye Posts of a Gate, or as an Arch stretched forth over ye Doors of all ye Publick Offices in ye Land, & whosoever went out, or whosoever came in, passed beneath, & with Idolatrous Reverence lift up their Eyes, & kissed ye Cheeks of ye Postern."—"Chronicle of the Kings, page 51."
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Study of Greek
But I came late to Greece, at the age of thirty-two, in 1963. I had started to learn ancient Greek as a schoolboy, at a school where Greek was hardly taught. All I knew about Greece then was the Elgin Marbles, of which I treasured some sepia-tinted and forbidding postcards, and the fact that Oscar Wilde, who in the summer of my fourteenth birthday had just become my literary idol, said the Greek text of the Gospels was the most beautiful book in the world. So I demanded to learn Greek, and changed schools in consequence. From that time I have never ceased to study the Greek language.Did Wilde really say that, and, if so, where?
Update: Thanks to Dennis, who cites the following from Oscar Wilde, De Profundis:
At Christmas I managed to get hold of a Greek Testament, and every morning, after I had cleaned my cell and polished my tins, I read a little of the Gospels, a dozen verses taken by chance anywhere. It is a delightful way of opening the day. Every one, even in a turbulent, ill-disciplined life, should do the same. Endless repetition, in and out of season, has spoiled for us the freshness, the naivete, the simple romantic charm of the Gospels. We hear them read far too often and far too badly, and all repetition is anti-spiritual. When one returns to the Greek, it is like going into a garden of lilies out of some narrow and dark house.
Contempt for Books and Letters
In the words of his own vice-chamberlain [Lord Hervey] heAnother, later George II said during a speech at the Al Smith Memorial Dinner in 2000, while pointing to William F. Buckley in the audience: "He wrote a book at Yale. I read one."used often to brag of the contempt he had for books and letters; to say how he hated all that stuff from his infancy; and that he remembered when he was a child he did not hate reading and learning merely as other children do, upon account of the confinement, but because he despised it and felt as if he were doing something mean and below him.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House, chap. XXI:
"Don't you read, or get read to?"
The old man shakes his head with sharp sly triumph. "No, no. We have never been readers in our family. It don't pay. Stuff. Idleness. Folly. No, no!"
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The Garden, Full of Great Delight
The issue of great Ioue, draw nere, you Muses nine,This is a translation of Asmenius, De Laude Horti (no. 635 in Riese's Anthologia Latina):
help vs to praise the blisfull plott of garden ground so fine.
The garden giues good food, and ayd for leaches' cure;
the garden, full of great delite, his master dothe allure.
Sweet sallet herbs bee here, and herbs of euery kinde;
the ruddy grapes, the seemly frutes, bee here at hand to finde.
Here pleasans wanteth not, to make a man [full] fayn;
here marueilous the mixture is of solace and of gain.
To water sondry seeds, the sorow by the waye,
a ronning riuer, trilling down with liquor, can conuay.
Beholde, with liuely heew, fayr flowrs that shyne so bright;
with riches, like the orient gems, they paynt the molde in sight.
Beez, humming with soft sound—their murmur is so small—
of blooms and blossoms suck the topps, on dewed leaues they fall.
The creping vine holds down her own bewedded elms,
and, wandering out with branches thick, reeds folded ouerwhelms.
Trees spred their couerts wyde, with shadows fresh and gaye;
full well their branched bowz defend the feruent sonne awaye.
Birds chatter, and some chirp, and some sweet tunes doo yeeld;
all mirthfull, with their songs so blithe, they make both ayre and feeld.
The garden, it allures, it feeds, it glads the sprite;
from heauy hartes all doolfull dumps the garden chaseth quite.
Strength it restores to lims; draws, and fulfils, the sight;
with chere reuiues the senses all, and maketh labour light.
O! what delites to vs the garden ground dothe bring!
seed, leaf, flowr, frute, herb, bee, and tree, and more then I may sing.
Adeste Musae, maximi proles Iovis,I've tried to piece together another translation, by Jack Lindsay, from Google Books' snippet view of his Song of a Falling World: Culture during the Break-up of the Roman Empire (A.D. 350-600) (London: Andrew Dakers Limited, 1948), p. 220, but there seems to be a missing line towards the end, as there is no line rhyming with adored:
Laudes feracis praedicemus hortuli.
Hortus salubres corpori praebet cibos
Variosque fructus saepe cultori refert:
Holus suave, multiplex herbae genus,
Uvas nitentes atque fetus arborum.
Non defit hortis et voluptas maxima
Multisque mixta commodis iocunditas.
Aquae strepentis vitreus lambit liquor
Sulcoque ductus irrigat rivus sata.
Flores nitescunt discolore germine
Pinguntque terram gemmeis honoribus.
Apes susurro murmurant gratae levi,
Cum summa florum vel novos rores legunt.
Fecunda vitis coniuges ulmos gravat
Textasve inumbrat pampinis harundines.
Opaca praebent arbores umbracula
Prohibentque densis fervidum solem comis.
Aves canorae garrulos fundunt sonos
Et semper aures cantibus mulcent suis.
Oblectat hortus, avocat pascit tenet
Animoque maesto demit angores graves.
Membris vigorem reddit et visus capit.
Refert labori pleniorem gratiam,
Tribuit colenti multiforme gaudium.
Come, Muse, the child of Jove. Disclose
the merits of a garden-close.
A garden gives us food for health
and yields its owner apple-wealth:
delightful greens and herbs enough,
gleaming grapes and orchard-stuff.
Joy within a garden strays
and jocund profitable days.
Crystal springs send tinkling jets
that feed the plants with rivulets.
Flowers shine in grassy borders,
prinking earth with jewelled orders.
Bees, with grateful murmurs, sip
the fresh dew from each flower-tip.
Fruitful vines on elms are laid;
reeds and vine leaves wear one shade;
trees spread arbours everywhere
and check the heat with tangled hair.
The singing-birds express their joys
and soothe the ears with pretty noise.
the garden charms; it feeds, diverts,
and calms the heart that sorrow hurts.
Health is restored. Once seen, adored
pleasure for labour it returns.
Manifold sweets the gardener earns.
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis
After a painful life in study spent,
The learn'd themselves their ignorance lament;
And aged men, whose lives exceed the space,
Which seems the bound prescrib'd to mortal race,
With hoary heads, their short experience grieve,
As doom'd to die before they've learn'd to live.
So hard it is true knowledge to attain,
So frail is life, and fruitless human pain!
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Pastoral Outlook
Nowadays, pastoral, like satire, survives mainly as an outlooka cluster of attitudes and feelings. At its center beats a sophisticated longing for something that is experienced as "missing": a way of life, a power of seeing, a desired condition of things now viewed as lost (though possibly recoverable), even though it may never have existed or been in fact enjoyed. Explanations of this state of affairs abound. Some see in it the normal cantankerous human addiction to whatever it is we do not presently have: the grass in the last pasture, the good old days, the Golden Age, the Earthly Paradise, the security of the womb (Boethius's sixth-century lament, "O that our times would go back to the old ways!"Utinam modo nostra redirent In mores tempora priscosseems to be a cultural constant since earliest times); or, alternatively, if the orientation of the moment is toward the future, the grass in the next pasture, the millennium, the City of God, Utopia, matriarchy, the triumph of the proletariat. Other analysts, remembering Freud, locate in this habit of mind "the discontent of the civilized with civilization," an ineradicable malaise contracted from the repressions and inhibitions necessary to the socializing of the individual and the development of a stable personality. Still others associate it with a primal urge to be rebornto recover, or discover, some such wholeness of being as Matthew Arnold, in a "pastoral" of his own, ascribes to a seventeenth-century wandering scholar, whom he imagines living on through the centuries in the byways of Oxfordshire untouched by Victorian angst:Thanks very much to the generous reader who kindly sent me Mack's biography of Pope as a gift. I am reading the book with great enjoyment.O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,On this view, such events as the flight to the woods of the 1960s, the multiplication of communes, the assiduous application to handicrafts, even the regression of several generations of youth to a costume derived largely from the American "Western" (itself an expression of nostalgia for the vanished simplicities and hardihoods of the frontier) may be claimed to be as solid symptoms of the pastoralizing impulse as the games that Marie Antoinette used to play with her court shepherdesses in La Bergerie at Versailles.
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o'ertax'd, its palsied hearts, was rife
Fly hence, our contact fear!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Art, as I saw it one day when I helped hang a National Academy show while I was a student there, was about cows. In those days, early in the twenties, there were many cow paintings. More than that, the cows always stood knee-deep in purple shadows. For the life of me I never learned to see purple where there was no purpleand I detested cows. I was frankly distressed at the prospects for me as an artist.A bit impolite, as Katharine Kuh's last name means cow in German. As for me, I'd much rather see a painting of cows than one of humans.
Henry David Thoreau, Journals (October 5, 1856):
It is well to find your employment and amusement in simple and homely things. These wear best and yield most. I think I would rather watch the motions of these cows in their pasture for a day, which I now see all headed one way and slowly advancing,watch them and project their course carefully on a chart, and report all their behavior faithfully,than wander to Europe or Asia and watch other motions there; for it is only ourselves that we report in either case, and perchance we shall report a more restless and worthless self in the latter case than in the first.John Burroughs, Phases of Farm Life:
Indeed, all the ways and doings of cattle are pleasant to look upon, whether grazing in the pasture, or browsing in the woods, or ruminating under the trees, or feeding in the stall, or reposing upon the knolls. There is virtue in the cow; she is full of goodness; a wholesome odor exhales from her; the whole landscape looks out of her soft eyes; the quality and the aroma of miles of meadow and pasture lands are in her presence and products. I had rather have the care of cattle than be the keeper of the great seal of the nation. Where the cow is, there is Arcadia; so far as her influence prevails, there is contentment, humility, and sweet, homely life.
The Apocalyptic Style
The apocalyptic style means the habitual use of the most solemn appeals on behalf of trivial, or at any rate inadequate, causes. Its favourite counters are conscience, honour, patriotism, morality, righteousness, and religion. It seeks to raise every question to that exalted plane where the ultimate battles of humanity are fought. It cannot discriminate between pedestrian matters which belong properly to the sphere of opportunism and common-sense and those grave problems which are in their essence spiritual, and to which no consideration of expediency or practical wisdom can ever apply. It is a misplaced seriousness, which stales by foolish use the weightiest sanctions of life.Id. (at 332):
There is a danger, in a word, of our forgetting commonsensewhich we may define as a wise appreciation of the working rules of human society. To drag those alien immensities into a prosaic argument is to be guilty not only of silliness but of impiety.Id. (at 334-335):
To call a man unpatriotic when you mean that he is stupid, is to be guilty of the central fault of the apocalyptic style. It is to use a solemn appeal on an inadequate occasion.Id. (at 335):
The humblest of the questions of the day is turned into a case of conscience. By a strange and most shortsighted intolerance, difference of opinion is assumed to involve a difference of moral code.Id. (at 336-337):
In it all there is the same prostitution of sacred things to trivial purposes. It is not the ordinary rhetoric of politics. That may be often vulgar, but it is never impious. That confines itself to mundane things, and does not paw the ultimate verities. The apocalyptic manner declines to deal with questions on the plane to which they naturally belong. It declines to give them, therefore, their logical and legitimate consideration. It insists on elevating them to a moral or religious plane with which they have, for the practical purposes of life, no earthly connection.
Dolce Far Niente
For to my mind he is no free man, who is not sometimes doing nothing.
mihi enim liber esse non videtur, qui non aliquando nihil agit.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Revenge of the Dryads
Of old the DRYADS near Edina's walls
Their mansions rear'd, and groves unnumber'd rose
Of branching oak, spread beech, and lofty pine,
Under whose shade, to shun the noontide blaze,
Did Pan resort, with all his rural train
Of shepherds and of nymphs.The Dryads pleas'd,
Would hail their sports, and summon echo's voice,
To send her greetings thro' the waving woods;
But the rude ax, long brandish'd by the hand
Of daring innovation, shav'd the lawns;
Then not a thicket or a copse remain'd
To sigh in concert with the breeze of eve.
Edina's mansions with lignarian art
Were pil'd and fronted.Like an ARK she seem'd
To lie on mountain's top, with shapes replete,
Clean and unclean, that daily wander o'er
Her streets, that once were spacious, once were gay.
To JOVE the Dryads pray'd, nor pray'd in vain,
For vengeance on her sons.At midnight drear
Black show'rs descend, and teeming myriads rise
Of Bugs abhorrent, who by instinct steal
Thro' the diseased and corrosive pores
Of sapless trees, that late in forest stood
With all the majesty of summer crown'd.
By Jove's command dispers'd, they wander wide
O'er all the city.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Reading from Inclination or Duty
Bedside books. Dippable-into.Boswell's Life of Johnson is eminently such a dippable-into, bedside book. But recently, instead of merely dipping into it, I re-read it from cover to cover. While doing so, I particularly noted the following passages in which reading is discussed.
Anno 1728, aetat. 19 (Boswell's observation):
The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?Anno 1763, aetat. 54:
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge."Id.:
"Sir, in my early years I read very hard. It is a sad reflection, but a true one, that I knew almost as much at eighteen as I do now. My judgement, to be sure, was not so good; but I had all the facts. I remember very well, when I was at Oxford, an old gentleman said to me, 'Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task.'"Anno 1773, aetat. 64:
Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it . JOHNSON. "I have looked into it." "What (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through?" Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, "No, Sir, do you read books through?"Anno 1775, aetat. 66 (on Twiss' Travels in Spain):
"I have not, indeed, cut the leaves yet; but I have read in them where the pages are open, and I do not suppose that what is in the pages which are closed is worse than what is in the open pages."Id.:
No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library, than Johnson ran eagerly to one side of the room, intent on poring over the backs of the books. Sir Joshua observed, (aside,) "He runs to the books, as I do to the pictures: but I have the advantage. I can see much more of the pictures than he can of the books." Mr. Cambridge, upon this, politely said, "Dr. Johnson, I am going, with your pardon, to accuse myself, for I have the same custom which I perceive you have. But it seems odd that one should have such a desire to look at the backs of books." Johnson, ever ready for contest, instantly started from his reverie, wheeled about, and answered, "Sir, the reason is very plain. Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. When we enquire into any subject, the first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This leads us to look at catalogues, and the backs of books in libraries."Anno 1776, aetat. 67:
He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, "what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read." He told us, he read Fielding's Amelia through without stopping. He said, "if a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He may perhaps not feel again the inclination."Anno 1777, aetat. 68:
Dr. Johnson advised me to-day to have as many books about me as I could, that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time. "What you read then (said he), you will remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you have again a desire to study it." He added, "If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination."Anno 1778, aetat. 69:
Before dinner Dr. Johnson seized upon Mr. Charles Sheridan's Account of the late Revolution in Sweden, and seemed to read it ravenously, as if he devoured it, which was to all appearance his method of studying. "He knows how to read better than any one (said Mrs. Knowles); he gets at the substance of a book directly; he tears out the heart of it." He kept it wrapped up in the tablecloth in his lap during the time of dinner, from an avidity to have one entertainment in readiness, when he should have finished another; resembling (if I may use so coarse a simile) a dog who holds a bone in his paws in reserve, while he eats something else which had been thrown to him.Anno 1780, aetat. 71:
A gentleman, by no means deficient in literature, having discovered less acquaintance with one of the Classicks than Johnson expected, when the gentleman left the room, he observed, "You see, now, how little any body reads."Id.:
"Snatches of reading (said he) will not make a Bentley or a Clarke. They are, however, in a certain degree advantageous. I would put a child into a library (where no unfit books are) and let him read at his choice. A child should not be discouraged from reading any thing that he takes a liking to, from a notion that it is above his reach. If that be the case, the child will soon find it out and desist; if not, he of course gains the instruction; which is so much the more likely to come, from the inclination with which he takes up the study."Anno 1783, aetat. 74:
He said, "It is strange that there should be so little reading in the world, and so much writing. People in general do not willingly read, if they can have any thing else to amuse them. There must be an external impulse; emulation, or vanity, or avarice. The progress which the understanding makes through a book, has more pain than pleasure in it. Language is scanty, and inadequate to express the nice gradations and mixtures of our feelings. No man reads a book of science from pure inclination. The books that we do read with pleasure are light compositions, which contain a quick succession of events. However, I have this year read all Virgil through. I read a book of the Aeneid every night, so it was done in twelve nights, and I had great delight in it. The Georgicks did not give me so much pleasure, except the fourth book. The Eclogues I have almost all by heart. I do not think the story of the Aeneid interesting. I like the story of the Odyssey much better; and this not on account of the wonderful things which it contains; for there are wonderful things enough in the Aeneid;the ships of the Trojans turned to sea-nymphs,the tree at Polydorus's tomb dropping blood. The story of the Odyssey is interesting, as a great part of it is domestick."Anno 1784, aetat. 75:
In the morning of Tuesday, June 15, while we sat at Dr. Adams's, we talked of a printed letter from the Reverend Herbert Croft, to a young gentleman who had been his pupil, in which he advised him to read to the end of whatever books he should begin to read. JOHNSON. "This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep to them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?"
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
These words don't appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, although they are in use by scholars. Apparently the first person to use one of these words (enantiosemia) was Johann Arnold Kanne, in his Prolusio Academica de Vocabulorum Enantiosemia, sive Observationum de Confusione in Linguis Babylonicis Specimen (Nuremberg 1819), a book unavailable to me and also not cited by Finkin in his bibliography (pp. 385-386). The roots of the words are the Greek adjective ἐναντίος (enantios = opposite) and the Greek noun σῆμα (sēma = sign).
Etymology of Hebrew Qohelet
Ephraimites and Gileadites alike evidently had trouble with the shibboleth 'google it', hence 'qohel it', which later qohelesced into 'Qohelet'.
Monday, March 07, 2011
The Most Difficult Book in the World
MRS. KNOWLES. "She had the New Testament before her." JOHNSON. "Madam, she could not understand the New Testament, the most difficult book in the world, for which the study of a life is required."
Liberal and Servile Arts
An education without the humanities prepares one only for servile occupations.On the other hand, remember the old joke:
Una educación sin humanidades prepara sólo para los oficios serviles.
Q. What did the liberal arts graduate say to the engineering graduate?
A. Would you like fries with that?
the Hieronomite monastery and Portuguese national pantheon where Fernando Pessoa and a triumvirate of his heteronyms are buried. Unquiet the grave of Bernardo Soares; his name is unrecorded there, but Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro Campos and Ricardo Reis each have verses inscribed on three of the four faces of the column marking FP's grave. Reis's readsThe translation from Cavafy's Greek is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. The translation from the Portuguese of Pessoa can be found here.Para ser grande, sê inteiro: nadaJust two words occurred to me when reading it'oso boreis''as much as you can'. The following, mutatis mutandis language-wise, could almost be the second and third verses of a single poem.
Teu exagera ou exclui.
Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és
No mínimo que fazes.
Assim em cada lago a lua toda
Brilha, porque alta vive.
Ricardo Reis, 14-2-1933
In order to be great, be whole. Exclude
or exaggerate nothing of yours.
Be everything in each thing. Put all of yourself
into the slightest thing that you do.
So in every lake the full moon
shines, because it lives on high.And if you can't shape your life the way you want,Not a bad precept for the eve of Lent, from two retiring, bespectacled clerks from coastal cities, who as emblems of their cities have usurped Alexander and Ulysses.
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.
Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Advice to the Young
I am still convinced that a fair amount of modern work with a theoretical basis has not helped us in any way to understand the texts. Reception theory, for instance, is concerned with the theory of reading, a theory which leads nowhere, or with the history of the reception of texts in later periods. As distinct from general interest, which may be intense, the classical scholar's only duty towards, say the medieval reception of Virgil's Aeneid, is to peruse it for surviving evidence and for medieval insights which help our understanding of the ancient text in its historical context. Medieval history is for medievalists. Or take intertextuality. In the study of Latin literature this has not produced any new knowledge, but new terms to describe old practices, and with these terms nothing except obscurity and banality, pretentious writing and penitential reading. My advice to the young would be to cast out theory, and get down to real work on the texts, the monuments, the surviving objects, the evidence.West's presidential address to the Classical Association was also printed separately as Cast Out Theory: Horace Odes 1.4 and 4.7 (London: Classical Association, 1995). I don't have access to either of these publications, but I've pieced together the quotation above from various snippets on the Internet.
Saturday, March 05, 2011
Grapes of Wrath
"Ever know a guy that said big words like that?"Chapter 5:
"Preacher," said Joad.
"Well, it makes you mad to hear a guy use big words."
"The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it."Chapter 6:
The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.
"Yes, you should talk," he said. "Sometimes a sad man can talk the sadness right out through his mouth. Sometimes a killin' man can talk the murder right out of his mouth an' not do no murder."Chapter 11:
And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation. For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates and the length of fiber is not the land. Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. That man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself. When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land.Chapter 12:
[E]ver' time since then when I hear a business man talkin' about service, I wonder who's gettin' screwed. Fella in business got to lie an' cheat, but he calls it somepin else. That's what's important. You go steal that tire an' you're a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business.Chapter 13:
"Besides, us folks takes a pride holdin' in. My pa used to say, 'Anybody can break down. It takes a man not to.' We always try to hold in."Chapter 14:
"Makes a fella kinda feellike a little kid, when he can't fix nothin'."
And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other.Chapter 15:
Beside them, little pot-bellied men in light suits and panama hats; clean, pink men with puzzled, worried eyes, with restless eyes. Worried because formulas do not work; hungry for security and yet sensing its disappearance from the earth. In their lapels the insignia of lodges and service clubs, places where they can go and, by a weight of numbers of little worried men, reassure themselves that business is noble and not the curious ritualized thievery they know it is; that business men are intelligent in spite of the records of their stupidity; that they are kind and charitable in spite of the principles of sound business; that their lives are rich instead of the thin tiresome routines they know; and that a time is coming when they will not be afraid any more.Chapter 19:
Notice one thing? They ain't no vegetables nor chickens nor pigs at the farms. They raise one thingcotton, say, or peaches, or lettuce. 'Nother place'll be all chickens. They buy the stuff they could raise in the dooryard.Chapter 20:
"Look," the young man said. "S'pose you got a job a work, an' there's jus' one fella wants the job. You got to pay 'im what he asts. But s'pose they's a hunderd men." He put down his tool. His eyes hardened and his voice sharpened. "S'pose they's a hunderd men wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box a mush for them kids. S'pose a nickel'll buy at leas' somepin for them kids. An' you got a hunderd men. Jus' offer 'em a nickelwhy, they'll kill each other fightin' for that nickel."Chapter 21:
"Don' go burdenin' other people with your sins. That ain't decent."
"They're a-eatin' on me," said John.
"Well, don' tell 'em. Go down the river an' stick your head under an' whisper 'em in the stream."
"Easy," she said. "You got to have patience. Why, Tomus people will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the peoplewe go on."
"We take a beatin' all the time."
"I know." Ma chuckled. "Maybe that makes us tough. Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good, an' they die out. But, Tom, we keep a-comin'. Don' you fret none, Tom. A different time's comin'."
There in the Middle and Southwest had lived a simple agrarian folk who had not changed with industry, who had not farmed with machines or known the power and danger of machines in private hands. They had not grown up in the paradoxes of industry. Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial life.Chapter 22:
When there was work for a man, ten men fought for itfought with a low wage. If that fella'll work for thirty cents, I'll work for twenty-five.
If he'll take twenty-five, I'll do it for twenty.
No, me, I'm hungry. I'll work for fifteen.
Well, they were a young fella jus' come out west here, an' he's listenin' one day. He kinda scratched his head an' he says, 'Mr. Hines, I ain't been here long. What is these goddamn reds?' Well, sir, Hines says, 'A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five!' Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an' he scratches his head, an' he says, 'Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain't a son-of-a-bitch, but if that's what a red iswhy, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever'body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we're all reds.'Chapter 24:
They was a little fella, an' he says, 'What you mean, relief?'Chapter 26:
'I mean reliefwhat us taxpayers put in an' you goddamn Okies takes out.'
'We pay sales tax an' gas tax an' tobacco tax,' this little guy says. An' he says, 'Farmers get four cents a cotton poun' from the gov'mentain't that relief?' An' he says, 'Railroads an' shippin' companies draws subsidiesain't that relief?'
"Take a man, he can get worried an' worried, an' it eats out his liver, an' purty soon he'll jus' lay down and die with his heart et out. But if you can take an' make 'im mad, why, he'll be awright."Chapter 28:
"I'm learnin one thing good," she said. "Learnin' it all a time, ever' day. If you're in trouble or hurt or in needgo to poor people. They're the only ones that'll helpthe only ones."
"Funny thing. I wanta buy stuff. Stuff I don't need. Like to git one a them safety razors. Thought I'd like to have some a them gloves over there. Awful cheap."
"Can't pick no cotton with gloves," said Pa.
"I know that. An' I don't need no safety razor, neither. Stuff settin' out there, you jus' feel like buyin' it whether you need it or not."