Wednesday, August 31, 2011



Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology (New York: Ecco, 2007; rpt. HarperPerennial, 2008), p. 6:
Another box contained copies of reprints of his scientific papers: page after page, now coated in dust and yellowed. These were the culmination of his lifework—the work that had stood at the center of his entire existence—prepared with such painstaking devotion and sacrifice. I felt saddened to see them now discarded and decaying in the barn attic. Probably fewer than a dozen people had ever read any of these papers. Most people have never even heard of ichneumon wasps, and many of those who have would be likely to disparage them as "flies."
Id., pp. 8-9:
Looking at the boxes full of old, unreadable reprints in Mamusha's hayloft, I now felt a tinge of regret. Poking around, I noticed a book with a green cover. It was water-stained from snow that had come in through the open windows for decades. It was also garnished with gobs of dried bird manure, but underneath in gold lettering I read: "Burmesische Ichneumoninae, Part 1, by Gerd Heinrich, Dryden [referring to our one-room post office next to the town of Wilton], Maine, U.S.A." A second volume was labeled "Part 2."

To the undiscerning eye, these two books would have no more meaning than they did to the chickens that had scratched among their pages. Yet I knew what they had meant to Papa. He had been a combatant in two world wars. He understood all too well the fleeting nature of existence. Somehow, against all odds, he not only had survived, escaped, and started, with nothing, all over again, but had gone on to produce this work that would long outlive him. And here it was, covered in chicken shit, scattered in the dust and unread. I thought, How "immortal" is a lifework if the subject is so obscure that hardly a soul takes an interest in it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), Poems, Dialogues in Verse and Epigrams, ed. Charles G. Crump, vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1892), p. 167:
Ten thousand flakes about my windows blow,
Some falling and some rising, but all snow.
Scribblers and statesmen! are ye not just so?


No Votary Staunch as Thou

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), Poems, Dialogues in Verse and Epigrams, ed. Charles G. Crump, vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1892), p. 278:
'Twas far beyond the midnight hour
  And more than half the stars were falling,
And jovial friends, who lost the power
  Of sitting, under chairs lay sprawling;

Not Porson so; his stronger pate
  Could carry more of wine and Greek
Than Cambridge held; erect he sate;
  He nodded, yet could somehow speak.

"'Tis well, O Bacchus! they are gone,
  Unworthy to approach thy altar!
The pious man prays best alone,
  Nor shall thy servant ever falter."

Then Bacchus too, like Porson, nodded,
  Shaking the ivy on his brow,
And graciously replied the godhead,
  "I have no votary staunch as thou."
Richard Porson (1759-1808), famous Greek scholar, was also a renowned toper. See Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana, 2nd ed. (London: Edward Moxon, 1856), pp. 299-301 (footnote omitted):
At dinner, and after it, he preferred port to any other wine. He disliked both tea and coffee.

Porson would sit up drinking all night, without seeming to feel any bad effects from it. Home Tooke told me that he once asked Porson to dine with him in Richmond Buildings; and, as he knew that Porson had not been in bed for the three preceding nights, he expected to get rid of him at a tolerably early hour. Porson, however, kept Tooke up the whole night; and in the morning, the latter, in perfect despair, said, " Mr. Porson, I am engaged to meet a friend at breakfast at a coffee-house in Leicester Square."—" Oh," replied Porson, " I will go with you;" and he accordingly did so. Soon after they had reached the coffee-house, Tooke contrived to slip out, and running home, ordered his servant not to let Mr. Porson in, even if he should attempt to batter down the door. "A man," observed Tooke, "who could sit up four nights successively might have sat up forty."

Tooke used to say that " Porson would drink ink rather than not drink at all." Indeed, he would drink any thing. He was sitting with a gentleman, after dinner, in the chambers of a mutual friend, a Templar, who was then ill and confined to bed. A servant came into the room, sent thither by his master for a bottle of embrocation which was on the chimney-piece. "I drank it an hour ago," said Porson.

When Hoppner the painter was residing in a cottage a few miles from London, Porson, one afternoon, unexpectedly arrived there. Hoppner said that he could not offer him dinner, as Mrs. H. had gone to town, and had carried with her the key of the closet which contained the wine. Porson, however, declared that he would be content with a mutton-chop, and beer from the next alehouse; and accordingly stayed to dine. During the evening Porson said, "I am quite certain that Mrs. Hoppner keeps some nice bottle, for her private drinking, in her own bedroom; so, pray, try if you can lay your hands on it." His host assured him that Mrs. H. had no such secret stores; but Porson insisting that a search should be made, a bottle was at last discovered in the lady's apartment, to the surprise of Hoppner, and the joy of Porson, who soon finished its contents, pronouncing it to be the best gin he had tasted for a long time. Next day, Hoppner, somewhat out of temper, informed his wife that Porson had drunk every drop of her concealed dram. "Drunk every drop of it!" cried she: "my God, it was spirits-of-wine for the lamp!"

Sunday, August 28, 2011



John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 28-29:
We sat on a crate of oranges and thought what good men most biologists are, the tenors of the scientific world—temperamental, moody, lecherous, loud-laughing, and healthy. Once in a while one comes on the other kind—what used in the university to be called a "dry-ball"—but such men are not really biologists. They are the embalmers of the field, the picklers who see only the preserved form of life without any of its principle. Out of their own crusted minds they create a world wrinkled with formaldehyde. The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it, learns that the first rule of life is living. The dry-balls cannot possibly learn a thing every starfish knows in the core of his soul and in the vesicles between his rays. He must, so know the starfish and the student biologist who sits at the feet of living things, proliferate in all directions. Having certain tendencies, he must move along their lines to the limit of their potentialities. And we have known biologists who did proliferate in all directions: one or two have had a little trouble about it. Your true biologist will sing you a song as loud and off-key as will a blacksmith, for he knows that morals are too often diagnostic of prostatitis and stomach ulcers. Sometimes he may proliferate a little too much in all directions, but he is as easy to kill as any other organism, and meanwhile he is very good company, and at least he does not confuse a low hormone productivity with moral ethics.


Portrait of a Teacher

Excerpts from Eric Ormsby, The 'Born Schulmeister', in Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (The Porcupine's Quill, 2011), pp. 243-252 (on S.D. Goitein).

p. 245:
Once he told me that while making his rounds he used to carry a volume from a massive medieval biography of the Sufi saints in Arabic in his uniform pocket and would read this on his lunch break.
p. 247:
Goitein once said to me, 'I am a pugnacious man. I work out my pugnacity every day trying to figure out these medieval letters. I have to fight to understand them and in this way, I take out my aggressive instincts on paper and not on other people.'
p. 248:
I remember one class in which a student offered a novel translation of a difficult word. Goitein paused. With uplifted hand he said, 'Wait, let me taste that for a minute!' and he actually smacked his lips in a kind of lexical mastication.
p. 249:
What made him special as a teacher and why do I remember him so fondly, over thirty years since I first studied with him and over twenty years since his death?

Not for his idiosyncracies alone but for his genius in inspiring a love of passionate precision combined with an equal love of historical imagination. Before a text, whether it was a text on the love of God or a stanza of Bedouin poetry or a dunning letter from a medieval merchant, his whole being became engaged and magically expansive. And like a sorcerer he pulled surprise after surprise out of what to us seemed dry bones indeed. His knowledge was exceedingly exact. If he compared a word in an Arabic poem with a cognate term from the Book of Job, it was because there was a precise and demonstrable parallel to be drawn; he was never impressionistic and vague but spoke always on the basis of strict learning and scientific principle. At the same time he was seldom narrowly pedantic. He saw human history as a continuum in which present and past were connected. What we were reading, or attempting to read, had something to do with us too; not because it was 'relevant' in the narrow contemporary sense but because spiritually, intellectually and emotionally we were all still part of that continuous past.

Thus, in reading an author he would often refer to him as 'our friend'. Our friend Ibn Khaldun says this, our friend Maimonides says that. To him, through the force and beauty of the word, these men were still living presences and, in reading their works, we encountered them.
p. 251:
But what made Goitein a great teacher was not merely his own erudition, fabulous as it was, or the warmth of his personality or even his passionate convictions but his lifelong, incurable, and unquenchable curiosity. He was a perpetual student himself and in a state of concentrated delight at every new fact or hint of a fact....Nothing was too foreign, nothing was too insignificant, for notice; every person and every occasion and every object was valuable and instructive. When a passionate dog-lover married into his family, he promptly sat down and became a dazzling authority on dogs so as to be able to converse with his new in-law and make her feel at home; often he astonished us with his arcane knowledge of schnauzers and Bedlington terriers. In this too he embodied the teaching of the Sages. Does it not say in Avoth: 'Despise not any man and discard not any thing, for there is not a man who has not his hour and not a thing which has not its place?'
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


A Close Connection Between the Skin and the Memory

Thanks to Eric Thomson for what follows.

A volume of John Muir has just come to light this morning....I opened the book at random and came across this passage, which I thought you'd like.

An exciting time came when at the age of seven or eight years I left the auld Davel Brae school for the grammar school. Of course I had a terrible lot of fighting to do, because a new scholar had to meet every one of his age who dared to challenge him, this being the common introduction to a new school. It was very strenuous for the first month or so, establishing my fighting rank, taking up new studies, especially Latin and French, getting acquainted with new classmates and the master and his rules. In the first few Latin and French lessons the new teacher, Mr. Lyon, blandly smiled at our comical blunders, but pedagogical weather of the severest kind quickly set in, when for every mistake, everything short of perfection, the taws was promptly applied. We had to get three lessons every day in Latin, three in French, and as many in English, besides spelling, history, arithmetic, and geography. Word lessons in particular, the wouldst-couldst-shouldst-have-loved kind, were kept up, with much warlike thrashing, until I had committed the whole of the French, Latin, and English grammars to memory, and in connection with reading-lessons we were called on to recite parts of them with the rules over and over again, as if all the regular and irregular incomprehensible verb stuff was poetry. In addition to all this, father made me learn so many Bible verses every day that by the time I was eleven years of age I had about three fourths of the Old Testament and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh. I could recite the New Testament from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation without a single stop. The dangers of cramming and of making scholars study at home instead of letting their little brains rest were never heard of in those days. We carried our school-books home in a strap every night and committed to memory our next day's lessons before we went to bed, and to do that we had to bend our attention as closely on our tasks as lawyers on great million-dollar cases. I can't conceive of anything that would now enable me to concentrate my attention more fully than when I was a mere stripling boy, and it was all done by whipping,—thrashing in general. Old-fashioned Scotch teachers spent no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy. We were simply driven pointblank against our books like soldiers against the enemy, and sternly ordered, "Up and at 'em. Commit your lessons to memory!" If we failed in any part, however slight, we were whipped; for the grand, simple, all-sufficing Scotch discovery had been made that there was a close connection between the skin and the memory, and that irritating the skin excited the memory to any required degree.
John Muir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913), pp. 30-33.

It struck me that round about the same time (they were born within three years of each other, the one in 1838 and the other in 1835), and only fifty miles away (the distance from Dunbar to Dunfermline), another Scot and very different future American was being subjected to a similar regime:

[The school] was housed in a one-room school-house, with a tiny fireplace near the front door that barely removed the chill. Martin's desk was on an elevated podium. On it sat his "lum", or satin high hat, and his "tawse", a leather strap employed regularly on those he found sleeping or slovenly or just stupid. The classroom was arrayed in "forms", rows of stiff-backed benches on which scholars sat, ranged in order of age and accomplishment. Each form was ruled by an older student who acted as form monitor or dictator. Martin, whom his daughter later described as "tall, though stoop-shouldered," provided the monitors with words or sums which they dictated to their forms, each member of which was expected to copy the dictation on his or her slate and/or recite it in unison to the "dictator". While the instruction proceeded on the floor below, Martin watched from his perch, on the ready to hurl his tawse at a recalcitrant scholar, who was bidden to retrieve it, return it to the podium, and receive a lash across his hands.
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie (New York: Penguin, 2006), pp. 16-17.

Readers will wait in vain for damning verdicts from either:

Muir: "All these various thrashings were admirably influential in developing not only memory but fortitude as well." Ibid., p. 29.

Carnegie: "The school was a perfect delight to me and if anything occurred which prevented my attendance I was unhappy." Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920), p. 20.

Henry Edward Lamson, A Country School

Related post: Plagosus Orbilius.


The Murder Trait

John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 16-17:
We have looked into the tide pools and seen the little animals feeding and reproducing and killing for food. We name them and describe them and, out of long watching, arrive at some conclusion about their habits, so that we say, "This species typically does thus and so." But we do not objectively observe our own species as a species, although we know the individuals fairly well. When it seems that men may be kinder to men, that wars may not come again, we completely ignore the record of our species. If we used the same smug observation on ourselves that we do on hermit crabs, we would be forced to say, with the information at hand, "It is one diagnostic trait of Homo sapiens that groups of individuals are periodically infected with a feverish nervousness which causes the individuals to turn on and destroy, not only his own kind, but the works of his own kind. It is not known whether this be caused by a virus, some airborne spore, or whether it be a species reaction to some meteorological stimulus as yet undetermined." Hope, which is another species diagnostic trait —the hope that this may not always be—does not in the least change the observable past and present. When two crayfish meet, they usually fight. One would say that perhaps they might not at a future time, but without some mutation it is not likely that they will lose this trait. And perhaps our species is not likely to forgo war without some psychic mutation which at present, at least, does not seem imminent. And if one places the blame for killing and destroying on economic insecurity, on inequality, on injustice, he is simply stating the proposition in another way. We have what we are. Perhaps the crayfish feels the itch of jealousy, or perhaps he is sexually insecure. The effect is that he fights. When in the world there shall come twenty, thirty, fifty years without evidence of our murder trait, under whatever system of justice or economic security, then we may have a contrasting habit pattern to examine. So far there is no such situation. So far the murder trait of our species is as regular and observable as our various sexual habits.
Related post: Two Men.

Friday, August 26, 2011


A Joy

I.F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1988; rpt. New York: Anchor Books), p. xi:
In my day, even in a country high school, one had four years of Latin to prepare for college, and Catullus and Lucretius were among my early enthusiasms. But I had only one semester of Greek in college before I dropped out in my junior year.

I decided in retirement to learn enough Greek to be able to grapple with conceptual terms for myself. I started on my own with a bilingual edition of the Gospel of St. John, then went on to the first book of the Iliad. But the study of Greek soon led me far afield into the Greek poets and Greek literature generally. Their exploration continues to be a joy.
Johann Hamza, An Old Man Reading


Thursday, August 25, 2011



Greek Anthology 9.161 (Marcus Argentarius, tr. W.R. Paton, with Paton's note):
As I was turning over the pages of a volume of Hesiod, I suddenly saw Pyrrhe approaching. Throwing the book on the ground I exclaimed: "Why should I be bothered by your works,2 old Hesiod?"

2There is a play on the title Works and Days of one of Hesiod's poems.

Ἡσιόδου ποτὲ βίβλον ἐμαῖς ὑπὸ χερσὶν ἑλίσσων
  Πύρρην ἐξαπίνης εἶδον ἐπερχομένην·
βίβλον δὲ ῥίψας ἐπὶ γῆν χερί, τοῦτ᾽ ἐβόησα:
  "ἔργα τί μοι παρέχεις, ὦ γέρον Ἡσίοδε;"
Arthur William Ryder, Original Poems, together with Translations from the Sanskrit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), p. 67 (this poem is a translation from the Sanskrit):
How long may subtle logic play its part
In science and theology and art?
  So long as no young fawn-eyed maiden's glance
Shall find its way to the logician's heart.
Jean Jacques Henner, La Liseuse

Wednesday, August 24, 2011



The Day-Book of John Stuart Blackie (London: Grant Richards, 1902), pp. 62-63:
1. Lies of carelessness, from loose observation and hasty generalisation—any hour's talk full of them.

2. Lies of cowardice, from fear of facing the truth, as when a man, labouring under a dangerous disease, reasons himself into the belief that he is quite well.

3. Lies of politeness, very common with women; taking the sting out of the truth, for fear of giving offence.

4. Lies of flattery, from a benevolent desire to please, or from a selfish desire to gain something by pleasing.

5. Lies of self-glorification, magnifying our own virtues, or the virtues of the class to which we belong. This includes patriotic lies, sectarian lies, and almost every kind of lie that masks selfishness under a grand name.

6. Lies of malevolent hostility, consciously intended to deceive an adversary, as in war.

7. Lies of self-defence, to save Nature when a force is put upon her; or to save one's life, where honour is not concerned.

8. Lies of benevolence, as to save another person's life, as when a righteous man flies to you for concealment, hounded by his persecutors, and you say he is not in your house.

9. Lies of convention, as when you call a man a gentleman who is not a gentleman in any proper sense of the word; or when you call the king, in the prayer-book, a most religious and gracious sovereign, when he may be a great blackguard; or when you call yourself 'your humble servant,' when you are as proud as Lucifer.

10. Lies of modesty, when you say you cannot do what you can do, to avoid the appearance of forwardness.

11. Lies.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Decline and Fall of Mr. Gibbon

William Beckford (1759-1844), written in his copy of Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The time is not far distant, Mr. Gibbon, when your almost ludicrous self-complacency, your numerous, and apparently wilful mistakes, your frequent distortions of historical Truth to provoke a gibe, or excite a sneer at everything most sacred and venerable, your ignorance of the oriental languages, your limited and far from acutely critical knowledge of the Latin and the Greek, and in the midst of all the prurient and obscene gossip of your notes—your affected moral purity perking up every now and then from the corrupt mass like artificial roses shaken off in the dark by some Prostitute on a heap of manure, your heartless scepticism, your unclassical fondness for meretricious ornament, your tumid diction, your monotonous jingle of periods, will be still more scouted and exposed than they have been. Once fairly kicked off from your lofty, bedizened stilts, you will be reduced to your just level and true standard.


In Cities Never Seen

The Works of Henry Vaughan, ed. Leonard Cyril Martin, vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914), p. 635 (translation of Claudian, Carmina Minora 20, with the title The old man of Verona out of Claudian):
Most happy man! who in his own sweet fields
Spent all his time; to whom one Cottage yields
In age and youth a lodging; who grown old
Walks with his staff on the same soil and mold
Where he did creep an infant, and can tell
Many fair years spent in one quiet Cell!
No toils of fate made him from home far known,
Nor foreign waters drank, driv'n from his own.
No loss by Sea, no wild lands wasteful war
Vex'd him; not the brib'd Coil of gowns at bar.
Exempt from cares, in Cities never seen
The fresh field-air he loves, and rural green.
The years set turns by fruits, not Consuls knows;
Autumn by apples: May by blossom'd boughs.
Within one hedg his Sun doth set and rise,
The world's wide day his short Demeasnes comprise.
Where he observes some known, concrescent twig
Now grown an Oak, and old, like him, and big.
Verona he doth for the Indies take,
And as the red Sea counts Benacus lake.
Yet are his limbs and strength untir'd, and he
A lusty Grandsire three descents doth see.
Travel and sail who will, search sea or shore;
This man hath liv'd, and that hath wander'd more.
Claudian's Latin:
Felix, qui propriis aevum transegit in arvis,
  ipsa domus puerum quem videt, ipsa senem;
qui baculo nitens in qua reptavit harena
  unius numerat saecula longa casae.
illum non vario traxit fortuna tumultu,
  nec bibit ignotas mobilis hospes aquas.
non freta mercator tremuit, non classica miles,
  non rauci lites pertulit ille fori.
indocilis rerum, vicinae nescius urbis
  adspectu fruitur liberiore poli.
frugibus alternis, non consule computat annum:
  autumnum pomis, ver sibi flore notat.
idem condit ager soles idemque reducit,
  metiturque suo rusticus orbe diem,
ingentem meminit parvo qui gemine quercum
  aequaevumque videt consenuisse nemus,
proxima cui nigris Verona remotior Indis
  Benacumque putat litora Rubra lacum.
sed tamen indomitae vires firmisque lacertis
  aetas robustum tertia cernit avum.
erret et extremos alter scrutetur Hiberos:
  plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae.
I haven't seen "Claudian's Old Man of Verona: An Anthology of English Translations with a New Poem by Edwin Morgan," Translation and Literature 2 (1993) 87-97, but for some other translations see
Walter Langley,
The Sunny South

Monday, August 22, 2011


Thinking and Speaking in Elegant Latin

John Stuart Blackie, Notes of a Life (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1910), pp. 19-22:
Of Dr Mearns' learning, in the technical sense of the word, I can, however, say nothing, but so far as Greek and Latin were concerned, my other theological instructor, Dr Laurence Brown, was a man, most unquestionably, rigged out classically in a style of which our Scottish Divinity Halls have still too few examples. Dr Brown had been educated in Holland, and acquired there that familiar habit of thinking and speaking in elegant Latin which the perverse pedantic methods stereotyped in the great English schools render it so difficult even now for the best English scholars to attain. Dr Brown's example acted as a useful spur to me in carrying on that course of Greek and Latin reading, without which no thorough theological training is possible. Every student in those days, and I believe still, had to compose a theological discourse in the Latin language, and this is done by the Divinity student bonâ fide, not pro forma only through a grinder, as used to be the case with young advocates and medical men in Edinburgh. Being a born enemy of all hollow work, I, of course, worked up my Latin so high as to make a very respectable appearance in this exercise, and not only so, but I ventured on speaking Latin publicly, with some measure of success, which made me a sort of marked man in that department. As I have always maintained, and see more clearly every day, that the English and Scottish schoolmasters and professors make a great mistake in dropping the old element of conversation and free speaking out of their method of teaching the learned languages, I will mention here how it was that I acquired that habit myself. Dr Brown, as I said, could think and speak Latin quite as readily as English, and had the habit of always criticising in Latin the Latin discourses delivered by the students. He had the habit also of insisting that no criticism should be made on the Latin exercise of any student except in the Latin language. The consequence of this was that no criticism was ever given on Latin discourses at all, except by the Professor. To me this appeared rather a cowardly and inglorious procedure, so I determined, when a convenient opportunity should arise, to redeem the honour of the class from this blot. One day the usual appeal was made by the Professor, "Tam vero, si quis habet quae de hac oratione dicat, in medium proferat!" whereupon I rose up and began to make some observations in English, but the old Doctor, immediately striking his hand emphatically on the table, said, " At hoc non fas est, domine; quae Latine scripta, ea et Latine judicanda sunt," an observation for which I was perfectly prepared, and came out at once with a few sentences of well-worded Ciceronian Latin, which elicited the admiration of the venerable old divine, and made me a notable man, even among Aberdeen Latinists. This habit of thinking and speaking readily in Latin I have never since lost, and have also applied the same method of learning to all languages whatsoever; for I have not the slightest doubt of its being the only rational and philosophical method: a method at once the most natural, and, if properly managed, the most easy and the most accurate. I do not think I fell upon this method merely from the Doctor's example; it must have had its root in the plastic activity of my own mind, which always leads me to adopt a method of proceeding in everything, acting from within outwards. The mere receptive operation of reading I instinctively converted into a gymnastic of thinking and speaking: and I remember distinctly that, after reading several chapters of my favourite author Cicero, I used to spout his phrases, and form them on the spot into new sentences of my own, which, to fix them more vividly in my mind, I scrawled out upon the broad white wooden mantelpiece of the room where I studied. These things I have set down minutely for the benefit of those who may imagine that there is a peculiar organ or faculty by which languages are acquired. I believe there is no such thing. All that is necessary to acquire one, or two, or half a dozen languages, is only common-sense, favourable circumstances, a fair amount of mental activity, and a natural pleasure in utterance.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Oikos Philos, Oikos Aristos

Aesop, Fable 125 Chambry (tr. Laura Gibbs, with her note):
Zeus invited all the animals to his wedding. The tortoise alone was absent, and Zeus did not know why, so he asked the tortoise her reason for not having come to the feast. The tortoise said, 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.' Zeus got angry at the tortoise and ordered her to carry her house with her wherever she went.

The fable shows that people often prefer to live simply at home than to live lavishly at someone else's house.

Note: The Greek maxim pronounced by the tortoise can be translated literally as 'home is dear, home is best,' oikos philos, oikos aristos.

Ζεὺς γαμῶν πάντα τὰ ζῷα εἱστία. Μόνης δὲ χελώνης ὑστερησάσης, διαπορῶν τὴν αἰτίαν, τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ ἐπυνθάνετο αὐτῆς διὰ τά μόνη ἐπὶ τὸ δεῖπνον οὐκ ἦλθε. Τῆς δὲ εἰπούσης· Οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος, ἀγανακτήσας κατ' αὐτῆς παρεσκεύασεν αὐτὴν τὸν οἶκον αὐτὸν βαστάζουσαν περιφέρειν. Οὕτω πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων αἱροῦνται μᾶλλον λιτῶς οἰκεῖν ἢ παρ' ἄλλοις πολυτελῶς διαιτᾶσθαι.
A case could be made for translating φίλος here as "one's own" (Liddell & Scott, s.v., sense I.2.c), i.e. "one's own home is [the] best home." Note the medieval Latin version (Hans Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi #6259)—Domus propria, domus optima.

Eric Thomson sent me a photocopy of Renzo Tosi, Dicionário de Sentenças Latinas e Gregas, tr. Ivone Castilho Benedetti (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1996), pp. 487-488 (#1047 = Οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος), in which the Portuguese translation of the proverb is "Casa nossa, casa ótima."

On the other hand, another Latin version is Domus amica, domus optima, which is the translation adopted by Erasmus. See The Adages of Erasmus, selected by William Barker (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 268-270 (III iii 38, on Οἶκος φίλος οἶκος ἄριστος, tr. R.A.B. Mynors, footnotes omitted):
A loved home is always the best home. Nowhere can a lucky man live in more convenience, more freedom, and more comfort than at home. Some people with humorous distortion apply this to the tortoise, of which the following tale is told. Jupiter once invited animals of all kinds to attend his wedding, and all the others came, but not the tortoise. He was much surprised, and when she turned up (which was not until the feast was over), he asked her what the reason was for the delay. And she replied 'A loved home is the best home.' Jupiter was angry, and gave orders that wherever she went in future, she should carry her home about with her. Hence the tortoise is described in the second book of his On Divination, with deliberate and humorous obscurity, as 'Earth's tardigrade, home-carrying. bloodless creature.' (For we must, I take it, read terrae, earth's, for terrigenam, earth-born).

Besides which, the privacy of home has the support of the civil law. This Gaius in the Pandects, book 4, title De in jus vocando: 'It has been commonly held that no man may be summoned to court from his own home, because each man's home is his safest refuge and place of resort, and he therefore who should summon him to court from his home was thought to commit a violent assault.' Similarly Paulus in Book I, title De regulis juris. Cicero alludes to the fable in one of his letters, writing to Dolabella: 'This place is pretty, or at any rate remote, and if you have something to write, free from interruption. But somehow, "a loved home," you know.' This corresponds with one I have placed elsewhere: 'He for whom all goes well should stay at home,' for to him alone a loved home is the best home. Otherwise, to the man whose home contains a quarrelsome wife and nothing to eat, home is a prison. On the other hand, Plutarch has a word for this idle sort of man who is happy indoors and in the shade, and loves to be always sitting motionless at home. he calls them oikouroi, home-keepers. And in his essay 'On Tranquillity of Mind' he disapproves of this stay-at-home lack of activity. Again in his 'Advice to Bride and Groom' he records that Phidias made a stuatue of Venus for the people of Elis with her foot on a tortoise, as a tacit suggestion that wives should stay at home and hold their peace. Plutarch also tells of a custom in Egypt that newly wedded wives should not wear sandals, to prevent them of course from ever leaving the house. All the same, this ideal would have little chance of acceptance by our own countrywomen, as they flit busily round all the markets and all the wine-shops and everywhere on earth by land or sea.

This seems the place to add a remark recorded by Plutarch in his life of Titus Flaminius. When seeking to persuade the Achains that they should not lay claim to the island of Zacynthos, 'They would' he said 'run risks like tortoises, if they struck their heads out beyond the Peloponnese.' Livy has simething very like this in book six of his Macedonian War, where Quinctius speaks as follows: 'If I thought that the possession of that island was of any value to the Achaeans, I would recommend the Roman government to let you have it. But I have my eye on the tortoise: gathered into its shell, it is safe from all attacks, but when it puts out any part of itself, whatever it exposes is at risk and defenceless. It is much the same with you Achaeans: you are enclosed on all sides by the bounds of the sea, and what lies within the Peloponnese, you can add to your own, and easily defend what you have added; but if you exceed those limits in your greed for further acquisitions, all your overseas possessions are naked and exposed to all attacks.'
One of the earliest references to this proverb seems to be by the poet Philoxenus (died 380 B.C.), as preserved in Suda 291 (Εἰς λατομίας, cited by Tosi, tr. Tony Natoli):
To the quarries: Philoxenos the dithyrambic poet could not stand the poetry of the tyrant Dionysius because it was so bad. On one occasion Dionysius sent him to the quarries, but later decided to have him brought back up. However, upon enquiring the reason [sc. for the tyrant's change of heart] Philoxenus replied, 'How much better it is to stay there than to suffer his [i.e. Dionysius'] poetry'; and he added, 'Truly, home is dear, home is best', just as it is for the tortoise.

Εἰς λατομίας: Φιλόξενος ὁ διθυραμβοποιὸς οὐκ ἀνεχόμενος τῶν Διονυσίου τοῦ τυράννου ποιημάτων ὡς φαύλων, ποτὲ πέμψαντος αὐτὸν εἰς λατομίας τοῦ Διονυσίου, τὸ δὲ ὕστερον αὐτὸς ἑκὼν ἐξανέστη, τοῦ δὲ ἐπερωτωμένου τὴν αἰτίαν, τοῦτο εἰπεῖν, ὡς κρεῖττον εἶναι ἐκεῖ διατρίβειν ἢ τῶν αὐτοῦ ποιημάτων ἀνέχεσθαι, τοῦτο ἐπειπόντα: ἦ οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος: ἅπερ ἐστὶ τῆς χελώνης.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Shady Oak

Greek Anthology 9.71 (Antiphilus of Byzantium, tr. W.R. Paton):
Overhanging branches of the spreading oak, that from on high shade well men seeking shelter from the untempered heat, leafy boughs roofing closer than tiles, the home of wood-pigeons, the home of cicadas, O noontide branches, guard me, too, who lie beneath your foliage, taking refuge from the rays of the sun.

κλῶνες ἀπῃόριοι ταναῆς δρυός, εὔσκιον ὕψος
  ἀνδράσιν ἄκρητον καῦμα φυλασσομένοις,
εὐπέταλοι, κεράμων στεγανώτεροι, οἰκία φαττῶν,
  οἰκία τεττίγων, ἔνδιοι ἀκρεμόνες,
κἠμὲ τὸν ὑμετέραισιν ὑποκλινθέντα κόμαισιν
  ῥύσασθ᾽, ἀκτίνων ἠελίου φυγάδα.
Asher Brown Durand,
In the Shade of the Old Oak Tree


Aliens and Outcasts

Walter Savage Landor, Poems, Dialogues in Verse and Epigrams, ed. Charles G. Crump, vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1892), p. 127:
Boastfully call we all the world our own:
What are we who would call it so? the form
Erect, the eye that pierces stars and suns,
Droop and decay; no beast so piteously.
More mutable than wind-worn leaves are we:
Yea, lower are we than the dust's estate;
The very dust is as it was before;
Dissever'd from ourselves, aliens and outcasts
From what our pride dared call inheritance,
We only live to feel our fall and die.
Eastman Johnson, Old Man Seated

Saturday, August 20, 2011


They Kill Us for Their Sport

John Leicester Warren, Philoctetes: A Metrical Drama after the Antique (London: Strahan & Co., 1871), pp. 27-33 (Chorus):
Throned are the gods, and in
Lordliest precinct
Eternally seated.
And under their dwellings
Of amber the beautiful
Clouds go for ever.

Who shall dethrone them,
Who bring them to weeping?
Tho' all earth cry to them
Shall they reply?
"Dust are the nations,
They wail for a little:
Why should we meddle
With these, whom to-morrow
Blinds into silence,
And where is their anguish?
But our immortal
Beatitudes always
Remain, and our spirits
Are nourished on ichor
Divinely eternal,
From pleasure to pleasure
Renewed. Like a mighty
Great music advancing
To climax of ardours,
Thro' vistas of ages
We know we must be:
And we ponder far-thoughted
Beyond them, beyond them,
On cloudy diminishing
Eons, half moulded
To time from the nebulous
Skirts of the darkness."

Can sorrow penetrate
Even the blest abodes
Where they have builded them
Halls without care,
Citadels azurine
Up in the fleecy sphere?
Can that immortal sleep
Own unfulfilled desire,
Aping imperfect
Unexcellent men?

Gently the daylight goes
Out in the pastures,
Spring comes like a bee
To brush open the flowers.
Care they up there, if
We perish or flourish?
Sucking the dregs of
An exquisite sleep,
How should they heed
The mere anguish of slaves?

Mighty our masters and
Very revengeful,
Throned in the eminent
Ambers of twilight,
Helming the seasons in
Pastime they sit;
Tossing a plague on some
Fortunate island,
Carelessly tossing it,
Watching it go
Strike and exterminate—
Sweet is the cry to them—
As when some hunter
Exultingly hears
The scream of the hare as
His arrow bites under
The fur to the vitals.

O, mightily seated and
Throned are our masters,
And steadily rooted;
Their heels they have set
On Titans in anguish
And trodden the faces
Of these at their mercy
Down into the marl-pits
Of fiery darkness,
As men into clay tread
A worm's throbbing rings.

They cry to the nations,
"We strike, if ye pray not.
We bend down our eyes along
Temple and grove,
Searching the incense-curl
And the live smell of blood;
Hating the worshipper,
Craving his prayer."

And the earth answers them
Moaning, and drowsily
Smile they with slow blue orbs,
But the smile reaches
Scarce down to their lip-line.
They care not what comes
To the creature below them.
To a god can it matter
What mortals endure?
We pity the ant-toil
And bless the bees gathering,
But these compassionate
Nothing of ours.

Throned are the gods and in
Lordly dominion
Eternally seated.
And under their dwellings
Of amber the beautiful
Clouds climb for ever.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Two Prayers of Socrates

Plato, Phaedrus 279b8-c3 (tr. R. Hackforth):
Dear Pan, and all ye other gods that dwell in this place, grant that I may become fair within, and that such outward things as I have may not war against the spirit within me. May I count him rich who is wise, and as for gold, may I possess so much of it as a temperate man might bear and carry with him.

ὦ φίλε Πάν τε καὶ ἄλλοι ὅσοι τῇδε θεοί, δοίητέ μοι καλῷ γενέσθαι τἄνδοθεν: ἔξωθεν δὲ ὅσα ἔχω, τοῖς ἐντὸς εἶναί μοι φίλια. πλούσιον δὲ νομίζοιμι τὸν σοφόν: τὸ δὲ χρυσοῦ πλῆθος εἴη μοι ὅσον μήτε φέρειν μήτε ἄγειν δύναιτο ἄλλος ἢ ὁ σώφρων.
Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.3.2 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
And again, when he prayed he asked simply for good gifts, "for the gods know best what things are good." To pray for gold or silver or sovereignty or any other such thing, was just like praying for a gamble or a fight or anything of which the result is obviously uncertain.

καὶ ηὔχετο δὲ πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς ἁπλῶς τἀγαθὰ διδόναι, ὡς τοὺς θεοὺς κάλλιστα εἰδότας ὁποῖα ἀγαθά ἐστι: τοὺς δ᾽ εὐχομένους χρυσίον ἢ ἀργύριον ἢ τυραννίδα ἢ ἄλλο τι τῶν τοιούτων οὐδὲν διάφορον ἐνόμιζεν εὔχεσθαι ἢ εἰ κυβείαν ἢ μάχην ἢ ἄλλο τι εὔχοιντο τῶν φανερῶς ἀδήλων ὅπως ἀποβήσοιτο.
John Stuart Blackie, Messis Vitae: Gleanings of Song from a Happy Life (London: Macmillan and Co., 1886), p. 70, quotes part of the passage from Xenophon and paraphrases as follows, under the title The Prayer of Socrates:
Grant, O Olympian Jove supreme,
Not my wish, and not my dream;
Grant me neither gold that shines,
Nor ruddy copper in the mines,
Nor power to wield the tyrant's rod,
And be a fool, and seem a god,
Nor precious robe with jewelled fringe
Splendid with sea-born purple tinge,
Nor silken vest on downy pillow,
Nor hammock hard on heaving billow;
But give all goodly things that be
Good for the whole and best for me.
My thoughts are foolish, blind, and crude;
Thou only knowest what is good.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Renaissance Men versus Modern Men

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols: Skirmishes of an Untimely Man (Götzen-Dämmerung: Streifzüge eines Unzeitgemässen) 37 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
We modern men, very tender, very easily hurt, and offering as well as receiving consideration a hundredfold, really have the conceit that this tender humanity which we represent, this attained unanimity in sympathetic regard, in readiness to help, in mutual trust, represents positive progress; and that in this respect we are far above the men of the Renaissance. But that is how every age thinks, how it must think. What is certain is that we may not place ourselves in Renaissance conditions, not even by an act of thought: our nerves would not endure that reality, not to speak of our muscles. But such incapacity does not prove progress, only another, later constitution, one which is weaker, frailer, more easily hurt, and which necessarily generates a morality rich in consideration. Were we to think away our frailty and lateness, our physiological senescence, then our morality of "humanization" would immediately lose its value too (in itself, no morality has any value)—it would even arouse disdain. On the other hand, let us not doubt that we moderns, with our thickly padded humanity, which at all costs wants to avoid bumping into a stone, would have provided Cesare Borgia's contemporaries with a comedy at which they could have laughed themselves to death. Indeed, we are unwittingly funny beyond all measure with our modern "virtues."

The decrease in instincts which are hostile and arouse mistrust—and that is all our "progress" amounts to —represents but one of the consequences attending the general decrease in vitality: it requires a hundred times more trouble and caution to make so conditional and late an existence prevail. Hence each helps the other; hence everyone is to a certain extent sick, and everyone is a nurse for the sick. And that is called "virtue." Among men who still knew life differently—fuller, more squandering, more overflowing—it would have been called by another name: "cowardice" perhaps, "wretchedness," "old ladies' morality."


Strong ages, noble cultures, all consider pity, "neighbor-love," and the lack of self and self-assurance as something contemptible. Ages must be measured by their positive strength—and then that lavishly squandering and fatal age of the Renaissance appears as the last great age; and we moderns, with our anxious self-solicitude and neighbor-love, with our virtues of work, modesty, legality, and scientism—accumulating, economic, machinelike—appear as a weak age.

Wir modernen Menschen, sehr zart, sehr verletzlich und hundert Rücksichten gebend und nehmend, bilden uns in der That ein, diese zärtliche Menschlichkeit, die wir darstellen, diese erreichte Einmüthigkeit in der Schonung, in der Hülfsbereitschaft, im gegenseitigen Vertrauen sei ein positiver Fortschritt, damit seien wir weit über die Menschen der Renaissance hinaus. Aber so denkt jede Zeit, so muss sie denken. Gewiss ist, dass wir uns nicht in Renaissance-Zustände hineinstellen dürften, nicht einmal hineindenken: unsre Nerven hielten jene Wirklichkeit nicht aus, nicht zu reden von unsern Muskeln. Mit diesem Unvermögen ist aber kein Fortschritt bewiesen, sondern nur eine andre, eine spätere Beschaffenheit, eine schwächere, zärtlichere, verletzlichere, aus der sich nothwendig eine rücksichtenreiche Moral erzeugt. Denken wir unsre Zartheit und Spätheit, unsre physiologische Alterung weg, so verlöre auch unsre Moral der "Vermenschlichung" sofort ihren Werth—an sich hat keine Moral Werth—: sie würde uns selbst Geringschätzung machen. Zweifeln wir andrerseits nicht daran, dass wir Modernen mit unsrer dick wattirten Humanität, die durchaus an keinen Stein sich stossen Will, den Zeitgenossen Cesare Borgia's eine Komödie zum Todtlachen abgeben würden. In der That, wir sind über die Maassen unfreiwillig spasshaft, mit unsren modernen "Tugenden."

Die Abnahme der feindseligen und misstrauenweckenden Instinkte—und das wäre ja unser "Fortschritt"—stellt nur eine der Folgen in der allgemeinen Abnahme der Vitalität dar: es kostet hundert Mal mehr Mühe, mehr Vorsicht, ein so bedingtes, so spätes Dasein durchzusetzen. Da hilft man sich gegenseitig, da ist Jeder bis zu einem gewissen Grade Kranker und Jeder Krankenwärter. Das heisst dann "Tugend"—: unter Menschen, die das Leben noch anders kannten, voller, verschwenderischer, überströmender, hätte man's anders genannt, "Feigheit" vielleicht, "Erbärmlichkeit," "Altweiber-Moral."


Die starken Zeiten, die vornehmen Culturen sehen im Mitleiden, in der "Nächstenliebe," im Mangel an Selbst und Selbstgefühl etwas Verächtliches.— Die Zeiten sind zu messen nach ihren positiven Kräften—und dabei ergiebt sich jene so verschwenderische und verhängnissreiche Zeit der Renaissance als die letzte grosse Zeit, und wir, wir Modernen mit unsrer ängstlichen Selbst-Fürsorge und Nächstenliebe, mit unsren Tugenden der Arbeit, der Anspruchslosigkeit, der Rechtlichkeit, der Wissenschaftlichkeit—sammelnd, ökonomisch, machinal—als eine schwache Zeit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


The British Character: Determination

From Ian Jackson:
I was browsing through, not for the first time, but with a fresh attention to arboricide, The British Character (London, Collins, 1938), a collection of cartoons by "Pont" i.e. Graham Laidler (1908-40), the most brilliant British cartoonist of the generation before Ronald Searle. I attach the illustration on page 87, not however, from the book itself, but from a recent exhibition catalogue, Pont: observing the British at home and abroad, with a foreword by Richard Ingrams (London, The Cartoon Museum, 2008), p.38, as the reproduction is better. The date of the original appearance in Punch is given in the caption.
Click on the image for a better view.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Where to Read Vergil's Bucolics

In Part XII of The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1931; rpt. New York: Avenel Books, 1981), Holbrook Jackson asks and answers the question How Bookmen Conquer Time and Place. Topics include Of Reading Places (section II, pp. 236-239) and The Association of Book and Place (section III, pp. 239-241).

D.B.Wyndham Lewis, On Straw and Other Conceits (1927; rpt. Hartford: Edwin Valentine Mitchell; New York, Coward-McCann Incorporated [1929]), pp. 30-32, has some thoughts on this question:
It is evident that to extract the essential soul and flavour of certain books one should endeavour to read them in the exact surroundings in which they were conceived, or in surroundings as nearly similar as may be; for the clear air, the sky, the water are, as it were, mixed with the writer's mind and woven into the very stuff of his imaginings. But whereas there are plenty of books pointing out What To Read and Why To Read, there is as yet, I think, no guide showing Where To Read. I have therefore drawn up from my own experience, haphazard, a modest and sketchy list which may serve as the foundation for such a Guide, though it clearly touches only the edge of the fringe of a vast and absorbing subject.

SHAKESPEARE. One would naturally read Shakespeare in a Warwickshire meadow in buttercup time; or else in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel.

RONSARD. To derive the greatest solace from the poetry of Ronsard one must read him lying on the banks of the Loire, at about sunset of a June evening, upon the grass, with a flask of the wine of Vouvray, or Chinon, or Bourgueil at hand; and with the soft air and the murmur of flowing water there should be mixed the gracious voices of girls.

Some demand, in addition, a lute, and a distant voice singing "Bonjour mon coeur, bonjour ma douce vie," the words by Ronsard, the music by Orlando de Lassus.This seems (as Samuel Butler said about dumb-bells — see above) academic.

KIPLING (MR.). The works of this famous author are most profitably read in the Crystal Palace on Empire Day, during a massed Brass Band Contest; if that can be arranged.

CONGREVE naturally demands to be read in the Sunken Garden at Hampton Court, on the William-and-Mary side of the palace — not the Cardinal's.

HERRICK should be read in a Devon lane in the time of violets.

TCHEHOV. To extract the best from this author and his English imitators, their work should be read in a dimly lighted dissecting-room; the corpse rather damp and the surgeon and his assistants rather sick of it, in a moody, gaga sort of way.

RABELAIS must be read among the rich lands of the Chionnais in Touraine, on the edge of a white road with cornfields and vineyards on either side. But let there be a farmyard near, with a ripe and aromatic muck-heap in it, the scent of which must be borne to you on the wind; and let there be also loud bursts of rustic laughter and a bottle of Chinon.

One could swell the list indefinitely, in many cases with two, three, or four alternatives each. There is one English man of letters, for example, who holds stoutly that the only place to read the Bucolics of Vergil is at a café-table opposite the Bourse in Paris, when the money-grubbers are howling their damnedest. My own theory is that the Bucolics are best read in the barber's parlour at the Cosmopole, with a menial squirting costly unguents on the hair and the Rich all round one being polished and trimmed. Again, most of the modern "analytical" novelists need nothing better than a room filled with stale tobacco-smoke: but what kind of room? And again, there may be a law against reading Mr. M******* M***'s prose in the Elephant House at the Zoo.
M.M. is probably John Middleton Murry.

Robert Collinson, Absorbed in Robinson Crusoe

Monday, August 15, 2011


Miss Marrable's Theory

Anthony Trollope, The Vicar of Bullhampton, Chapter IX:
She had an idea that the son of a gentleman, if he intended to maintain his rank as a gentleman, should earn his income as a clergyman, or as a barrister, or as a soldier, or as a sailor. Those were the professions intended for gentlemen. She would not absolutely say that a physician was not a gentleman, or even a surgeon; but she would never allow to physic the same absolute privileges which, in her eyes, belonged to law and the church. There might also possibly be a doubt about the Civil Service and Civil Engineering; but she had no doubt whatever that when a man touched trade or commerce in any way he was doing that which was not the work of a gentleman. He might be very respectable, and it might be very necessary that he should do it; but brewers, bankers, and merchants, were not gentlemen, and the world, according to Miss Marrable's theory, was going astray, because people were forgetting their landmarks.
James Gillray, The Inexpressible Air of Dignity


The Whorish Mother of All Harlot Lexicons

Gail Riplinger, Hazardous Materials: Greek and Hebrew Study Dangers (Ararat: A.V. Publications 2008), p. 83:
The Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon is the whorish MOTHER of all harlot lexicons.
I owe the reference to Christopher Stray, "Liddell and Scott: Myths and Markets," in Christopher Stray, ed., Classical Dictionaries: Past, Present and Future (London: Duckworth, 2010), pp. 94-118 (at 101).


A Little Classics Is a Dangerous Thing

L.J.D. Richardson, "A Little Classics Is a Dangerous Thing," Greece & Rome 16 (1947) 41:
It is a strange fact that, despite the spread of education and the great number of cultural vade meca in the hands of the public nowadays, there should still be found so many ignorami among the hoi polloi. Too often you will hear people saying 'octopuses' when they should, of course, have said 'octopi': and we fear that to use the forms 'platypi' and 'rhinoceri' is only to incur the reproach of pedantry. The times are out of joint: we worship at the shrine of universal education, but this ideal is the very antipode of the actual fact. Slipshod and inaccurate utterance pervades every strata of society. In particular, exactness and precision in classical quotation, instead of being regarded as the desideratae and, we may almost say. the necessary sine quae non of polite intercourse, are only laughed at as ridiculous refinements. Cui bono?, 'for what good?', is the false standard applied to mere elegancies of style. If faults are noticed at all, they are dismissed as trivial lapsi linguae.

How is this lamentable situation to be improved? The classical teacher is, no doubt, partially responsible; he can plead no alibum in the matter. But he can effect little improvement by himself. He is no dictator, whose cujus is mightier than any quorum of democratic committeemen. We, the enlightened, must therefore band ourselves together and form a militant Society for Purer Latin. We must begin at Jerusalem and purge ourselves first. Let us pay our own final adieux to those errors and say, each and all of us, our several valia to inelegant solecisms. It is by such effort, in speech as in all else, that men attain perfection—sic euntur ad astra! Then, when we have won through to our own satisfaction and can express our mutual paces vobisca, we can turn our attention to others, our pupils. We shall now be in a strong position. We cannot be told that our arguments are vitiated by a fallacy, that our quod erat demonstranda involve too many non sequuntur: we cannot even be told that our campaign represents a policy of perfections, of unattainable ne plus ultrae. We, the primi mobilia, shall have proved the case in our own persons. Our next duty, then, will be to supply the hiati and lacunata in the cultural armoury of those whom we teach or influence. This is best done by directing their constant attention to the great writers of the past. Let them, ever bearing in mind the proverb de mortuis nil nisi bonum, 'nothing but good has come from us from the dead', model themselves on those great exemplars, and try, however imperfectly, to become their facsimilia.

Two familiar quotations from Ovid will express, with admirable succinctness, the moral of my brief homily:
in medio tutissimus ... Ibis
omnia suspendens ... Naso.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Rules for Language Learning

John Stuart Blackie, On Self-Culture, 4th ed. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874), pp. 32-36:
(1.) If possible always start with a good teacher. He will save you much time by clearing away difficulties that might otherwise discourage you, and preventing the formation of bad habits of enunciation, which must afterwards be unlearned.

(2.) The next step is to name aloud, in the language to be learned, every object which meets your eye, carefully excluding the intervention of the English: in other words, think and speak of the objects about you in the language you are learning from the very first hour of your teaching; and remember that the language belongs to the first place to your ear and to your tongue, not in your book merely and to your brain.

(3.) Commit to memory the simplest and most normal forms of the declension of nouns, such as the us and a declension in Latin, and the A declension in Sanscrit.

(4.) The moment you have learned the nominative and accusative cases of these nouns take the first person of the present indicative of any common verb, and pronounce aloud some short sentence according to the rules of syntax belonging to active verbs, as—ὁρῶ τὸν Ἥλιον, I see the sun.

(5.) Enlarge this practice by adding some epithet to the substantive, declined according to the same noun, as—ὁρῶ τὸν λαμπρὸν Ἥλιον, I see the bright sun.

(6.) Go on in this manner progressively, committing to memory the whole present indicative, past and future indicative, of simple verbs, always making short sentences with them, and some appropriate nouns, and always thinking directly in the foreign language, excluding the intrusion of the English. In this essential element of every rational system of linguistic training there is no real, but only an imaginary difficulty to contend with, and, in too many cases, the pertinacity of a perverse practice.

(7.) When the ear and tongue have acquired a fluent mastery of the simpler forms of nouns, verbs, and sentences, then, but not till then, should the scholar be led, by a graduated process, to the more difficult and complex forms.

(8.) Let nothing be learned from rules that is not immediately illustrated by practice; or rather, let the rules be educed from the practice of ear and tongue, and let them be as few and as comprehensive as possible.

(9.) Irregularities of various kinds are best learned by practice as they occur; but some anomalies, as in the conjugation of a few irregular verbs, are of such frequent occurrence, and are so necessary for progress, that they had better be learned specially by heart as soon as possible. Of this the verb to be, in almost all languages, is a familiar example.

(10.) Let some easy narrative be read, in the first place, or better, some familiar dialogue, as, in Greek, Xenophon's Anabasis and Memorabilia, Cebetis Tabula, and Lucian's Dialogues; but reading must never be allowed, as is so generally the case, to be practised as a substitute for thinking and speaking. To counteract this tendency, the best way is to take objects of natural history, or representations of interesting objects, and describe their parts aloud in simple sentences, without the intervention of the mother tongue.

(11.) Let all exercises of reading and describing be repeated again, and again, and again. No book fit to be read in the early stages of language-learning should be read only once.

(12.) Let your reading, if possible, be always in sympathy with your intellectual appetite. Let the matter of the work be interesting, and you will make double progress. To know some thing of the subject beforehand will be an immense help. For this reason, with Christians who know the Scriptures, as we do in Scotland, a translation of the Bible is always one of the best books to use in the acquisition of a foreign tongue.

(13.) As you read, note carefully the difference between the idioms of the strange language and those of the mother tongue; underscore these distinctly with pen or pencil, in some thoroughly idiomatic translation, and after a few days translate back into the original tongue what you have before you in the English form.

(14.) To methodise, and, if necessary, correct your observations, consult some systematic grammar so long as you may find it profitable. But the grammar should, as much as possible, follow the practice, not precede it.

(15.) Be not content with that mere methodical generalisation of the practice which you find in many grammars, but endeavour always to find the principle of the rule, whether belonging to universal or special grammar.

(16.) Study the theory of language, the organism of speech, and what is called comparative philology or Glossology. The principles there revealed will enable you to prosecute with a reasoning intelligence a study which would otherwise be in a great measure a laborious exercise of arbitrary memory.

(17.) Still, practice is the main thing; language must, in the first plaoe, be familiar; and this familiarity can be attained only by constant reading and constant conversation. Where a man has no person to speak to he may declaim to himself; but the ear and the tongue must be trained, not the eye merely and the understanding. In reading, a man must not confine himself to standard works. He must devour everything greedily that he can lay his hands on. He must not merely get up a book with accurate precision; that is all very well as a special task; but he must learn to live largely in the general element of the language; and minute accuracy in details is not to be sought before a fluent practical command of the general currency of the language has been attained. Shakspeare, for instance, ought to be read twenty times before a man begins to occupy himself with the various readings of the Shaksperian text, or the ingenious conjectures of his critics.

(18.) Composition, properly so called, is the culmination of the exercises of speaking and reading, translation and re-translation, which we have sketched. In this exercise the essential thing is to write from a model, not from dictionaries or phrase-books. Choose an author who is a pattern of a particular style—say Plato in philosophical dialogue, or Lucian in playful colloquy—steal his phrases, and do something of the same kind yourself, directly, without the intervention of the English. After you have acquired fluency in this way you may venture to put more of yourself into the style, and learn to write the foreign tongue as gracefully as Latin was written by Erasmus, Wyttenbach, or Ruhnken. Translation from English classics may also be practised, but not in the first place; the ear must be tuned by direct imitation of tbe foreign tongue, before the more difficult art of transference from the mother tongue can be attempted with success.


Our Mother England

H.G. Wells, The History of Mr. Polly (1910), I.4:
There is no country-side like the English country-side for those who have learnt to love it; its firm yet gentle lines of hill and dale, its ordered confusion of features, its deer parks and downland, its castles and stately houses, its hamlets and old churches, its farms and ricks and great barns and ancient trees, its pools and ponds and shining threads of rivers; its flower-starred hedgerows, its orchards and woodland patches, its village greens and kindly inns. Other country-sides have their pleasant aspects, but none such variety, none that shine so steadfastly throughout the year. Picardy is pink and white and pleasant in the blossom time, Burgundy goes on with its sunshine and wide hillsides and cramped vineyards, a beautiful tune repeated and repeated, Italy gives salitas and wayside chapels and chestnuts and olive orchards, the Ardennes has its woods and gorges — Touraine and the Rhineland, the wide Campagna with its distant Apennines, and the neat prosperities and mountain backgrounds of South Germany, all clamour their especial merits at one's memory. And there are the hills and fields of Virginia, like an England grown very big and slovenly, the woods and big river sweeps of Pennsylvania, the trim New England landscape, a little bleak and rather fine like the New England mind, and the wide rough country roads and hills and woodland of New York State. But none of these change scene and character in three miles of walking, nor have so mellow a sunlight nor so diversified a cloudland, nor confess the perpetual refreshment of the strong soft winds that blow from off the sea as our Mother England does.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Opulent Summer

Theocritus 7.135-147 (tr. T.F. Higham):
Dangling above our heads hung canopies
Of whispering elms and rustling poplar-trees;
Near us the water of the sacred well
Dropped from the Nymphs' cave, tinkling as it fell;
On every twig in shadow sat with glee
The sunburnt crickets, chattering busily;
And murmuring afar off in solitude,
Bowered in the deep thorn-brake, the turtle cooed.
All rich delight and luxury was there:
Larks and bright finches singing in the air;
The brown bees flying around the well;
The ring-dove moaning; everywhere the smell
Of opulent summer and of ripening-tide:
Pears at our feet and apples at our side
Rolling in plenteousness; in piles around
Branches, with damsons burdening to the ground,
Strewn for our feast; and from the full wine-tun
Wax of a four-years-aged seal undone.
The same, tr. C.S. Calverley:
A wealth of elm and poplar shook o'erhead;
Hard by, a sacred spring flowed gurgling on
From the Nymphs' grot, and in the sombre boughs
The sweet cicada chirped laboriously.
Hid in the thick thorn-bushes far away
The treefrog's note was heard; the crested lark
Sang with the goldfinch; turtles made their moan,
And o'er the fountain hung the gilded bee.
All of rich summer smacked, of autumn all:
Pears at our feet, and apples at our side
Rolled in luxuriance; branches on the ground
Sprawled, overweighed with damsons; while we brushed
From the cask's head the crust of four long years.
The same, in Andrew Lang's prose version:
And high above our heads waved many a poplar, many an elm tree, while close at hand the sacred water from the nymphs' own cave welled forth with murmurs musical. On shadowy boughs the burnt cicalas kept their chattering toil, far off the little owl cried in the thick thorn brake, the larks and finches were singing, the ring-dove moaned, the yellow bees were flitting about the springs. All breathed the scent of the opulent summer, of the season of fruits; pears at our feet and apples by our sides were rolling plentiful, the tender branches, with wild plums laden, were earthward bowed, and the four-year-old pitch seal was loosened from the mouth of the wine-jars.
The Greek:
πολλαὶ δ᾽ ἄμμιν ὕπερθε κατὰ κρατὸς δονέοντο
αἴγειροι πτελέαι τε· τὸ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ἱερὸν ὕδωρ
Νυμφᾶν ἐξ ἄντροιο κατειβόμενον κελάρυζε.
τοὶ δὲ ποτὶ σκιαραῖς ὀροδαμνίσιν αἰθαλίωνες
τέττιγες λαλαγεῦντες ἔχον πόνον· ἁ δ᾽ ὀλολυγών
τηλόθεν ἐν πυκιναῖσι βάτων τρύζεσκεν ἀκάνθαις·
ἄειδον κόρυδοι καὶ ἀκανθίδες, ἔστενε τρυγών,
πωτῶντο ξουθαὶ περὶ πίδακας ἀμφὶ μέλισσαι.
πάντ᾽ ὦσδεν θέρεος μάλα πίονος, ὦσδε δ᾽ ὀπώρας.
ὄχναι μὲν πὰρ ποσσί, παρὰ πλευραῖσι δὲ μᾶλα
δαψιλέως ἁμῖν ἐκυλίνδετο· τοὶ δ᾽ ἐκέχυντο
ὄρπακες βραβίλοισι καταβρίθοντες ἔραζε.
τετράενες δὲ πίθων ἀπελύετο κρατὸς ἄλειφαρ.
Claude Monet, Déjeuner sur l'herbe


Wounded Bodies

Charles Dickens, American Notes (1842), Chapter X:
The eye was pained to see the stumps of great trees thickly strewn in every field of wheat, and seldom to lose the eternal swamp and dull morass, with hundreds of rotten trunks and twisted branches steeped in its unwholesome water. It was quite sad and oppressive, to come upon great tracts where settlers had been burning down the trees, and where their wounded bodies lay about, like those of murdered creatures, while here and there some charred and blackened giant reared aloft two withered arms, and seemed to call down curses on his foes.
Chapter XI:
For miles, and miles, and miles, these solitudes are unbroken by any sign of human life or trace of human footstep; nor is anything seen to move about them but the blue jay, whose colour is so bright, and yet so delicate, that it looks like a flying flower. At lengthened intervals a log cabin, with its little space of cleared land about it, nestles under a rising ground, and sends its thread of blue smoke curling up into the sky. It stands in the corner of the poor field of wheat, which is full of great unsightly stumps, like earthy butchers'-blocks. Sometimes the ground is only just now cleared: the felled trees lying yet upon the soil: and the loghouse only this morning begun. As we pass this clearing, the settler leans upon his axe or hammer, and looks wistfully at the people from the world. The children creep out of the temporary hut, which is like a gipsy tent upon the ground, and clap their hands and shout. The dog only glances round at us; and then looks up into his master's face again, as if he were rendered uneasy by any suspension of the common business, and had nothing more to do with pleasurers. And still there is the same, eternal foreground. The river has washed away its banks, and stately trees have fallen down into the stream. Some have been there so long, that they are mere dry grizzly skeletons. Some have just toppled over, and having earth yet about their roots, are bathing their green heads in the river, and putting forth new shoots and branches. Some are almost sliding down, as you look at them. And some were drowned so long ago, that their bleached arms start out from the middle of the current, and seem to try to grasp the boat, and drag it under water.
Chapter XI:
The night is dark, and we proceed within the shadow of the wooded bank, which makes it darker. After gliding past the sombre maze of boughs for a long time, we come upon an open space where the tall trees are burning. The shape of every branch and twig is expressed in a deep red glow, and as the light wind stirs and ruffles it, they seem to vegetate in fire. It is such a sight as we read of in legends of enchanted forests: saving that it is sad to see these noble works wasting away so awfully, alone; and to think how many years must come and go before the magic that created them will rear their like upon this ground again. But the time will come: and when, in their changed ashes, the growth of centuries unborn has struck its roots, the restless men of distant ages will repair to these again unpeopled solitudes; and their fellows, in cities far away, that slumber now, perhaps, beneath the rolling sea, will read, in language strange to any ears in being now, but very old to them, of primeval forests where the axe was never heard, and where the jungled ground was never trodden by a human foot.
Chapter XIV:
These stumps of trees are a curious feature in American travelling. The varying illusions they present to the unaccustomed eye as it grows dark, are quite astonishing in their number and reality. Now, there is a Grecian urn erected in the centre of a lonely field; now there is a woman weeping at a tomb; now a very commonplace old gentleman in a white waistcoat, with a thumb thrust into each arm-hole of his coat; now a student poring on a book; now a crouching negro; now, a horse, a dog, a cannon, an armed man; a hunchback throwing off his cloak and stepping forth into the light. They were often as entertaining to me as so many glasses in a magic lantern, and never took their shapes at my bidding, but seemed to force themselves upon me, whether I would or no; and strange to say, I sometimes recognised in them counterparts of figures once familiar to me in pictures attached to childish books, forgotten long ago.


Friday, August 12, 2011


A Counterpoise

William Wordsworth, The Prelude 12.29-34:
So neither were complacency, nor peace,
Nor tender yearnings, wanting for my good
Through these distracted times; in Nature still
Glorying, I found a counterpoise in her,
Which, when the spirit of evil reached its height,
Maintained for me a secret happiness.
John Constable, Wooded Landscape

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Greatest and Highest of Gods

Euripides, fragment 928a (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
The man who first established for us altars of the heavenly gods, and fashioned lifelike images of them in artfully carved sculptures, neglected one thing when he did so in my opinion: he established no garlanded altar for Wealth, the greatest and highest of gods.

ὁ πρῶτος ἡμῖν τῶν ἐν οὐρανῷ θεῶν
βωμοὺς ἱδρύσας εὐαγῆ τ' ἀγάλματα
γλ[υ]πτοῖσι τέχνης ζωοποιήσα[ς] τύποις
ἑνὸς κατημέλησεν ὡς οἶμαι τότε,
ὃς τοῦ μεγίστου καὶ θεῶν ὑπερτάτου
Πλούτου σ̣τ̣εφή̣ρη βωμὸν οὐχ ἱδρύσατο.
Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. VII: 1845-1848 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912), pp. 288-289:
Channing proposed that there should be a magnified Dollar, say as big as a barrel-head, made of silver or gold, in each village, and Colonel Shattuck or other priest appointed to take care of it and not let it be stolen; then we should be provided with a local deity, and could bring it baked beans or other offerings and rites, as pleased us.
Cartoon by William Gropper

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


High Up

Han Yu (768-824), tr. by Kenneth Rexroth in One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese (New York: New Directions, 1970), pp. 69-70:
Amongst the Cliffs

The path up the mountain is hard
To follow through the tumbled rocks.
When I reach the monastery
The bats are already flying.
I go to the guest room and sit
On the steps. The rain is over.
The banana leaves are broad.
The gardenias are in bloom.
The old guest master tells me
There are ancient painting on the
Walls. He goes and gets a light.
I see they are incomparably
Beautiful. He spreads my bed
And sweeps the mat. He serves me
Soup and rice. It is simple
Food but nourishing. The night
Goes on as I lie and listen
To the great peace. Insects chirp
And click in the stillness. The
Pure moon rises over the ridge
And shines in my door. At daybreak
I get up alone. I saddle
My horse myself and go my way.
The trails are all washed out.
I go up and down, picking my
Way through storm clouds on the mountain.
Red cliffs, green waterfalls, all
Sparkle in the morning light.
I pass pines and oaks ten men
Could not reach around. I cross
Flooded streams. My bare feet stumble
On the cobbles. The water roars.
My clothes whip in the wind. This
Is the only life where a man
Can find happiness. Why do I
Spend my days bridled like a horse
With a cruel bit in his mouth?
If I only had a few friends
Who agreed with me we'd retire
To the mountains and stay till our lives end.


Saints and Sinners

John Stuart Blackie, Saintship, from The Day-Book of John Stuart Blackie (London: Grant Richards, 1902), p. 148:
If to unmake the work so grandly made
By God, to turn self-torture to a trade,
Be saintship; to hate all things fair and fine,
And, with my back turned to the bright sunshine,
To mope in mouldy cell or grimy shrine;
To hear with horror when a tuneful fiddle
Calls nimble legs to trip it down the middle;
To count it sin to kiss a pretty maid
When eyes are blind, or neath a leafy shade;
To put peas in my shoes and drink no wine,
And teach my stomach to despise my dinner;
If to such saintship your chaste heart incline,
Be you the saint, and let me be the sinner.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Man Was Never Made for Books

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Gaudeamus!, from his Musa Burschicosa: A Book of Songs for Students and University Men (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1869), pp. 100-103:
To be sung at the close of the Winter Session.

AIR—'Gaudeamus igitur!'

'The end of woman or of man, I think,
Is not a book.'—MRS. BROWNING.

Gaudeamus, Burschen brave,
Tune your throats and blithely sing!
Where the hedge is greenly sprouting,
Where the angler goes a-trouting,
Walk we forth and greet the Spring!

Man was never made for books;
Books may not give law to him:
Not Agamemnon, nor old Homer,
Nor Ulysses, that wise roamer,
Made their eyes with reading dim.

Happy birds, that to the sky
Rise, and sing in tuneful bands,
While we sit in dingy places,
Polishing the rusted graces
Of dead men in distant lands!

Why should I disturb the dead?
Let the slain lie where he fell!
Why revive forgotten squabbles?
Feuds of Greek and Roman rabbles
From the mouldy record spell?

Shake the dust out from your ears;
Hear the vernal chorus swell!
Thrush and blackbird, lark and swallow,
While you ponder o'er the tallow
That from last night's candle fell!

What's the fruit of learned pains?
Value stock, and you will find
Thorny problem, prosy lecture,
Subtle substanceless conjecture,
Swelling systems big with wind!

Men from thistles cull no grapes,
Reap no health from bookish toil;
Blinking eyes, and bad digestion,
Sleepless nights and brain-congestion,
That's the fruit of midnight oil!

Fare-ye-well, ye old grey walls,
Inky benches, dusty chairs,
Learnèd tutors, grave professors,
Chancellor, rector, and assessors,
You are named in all my prayers!

Fare-ye-well, old Attic plays,
Whose cross-readings tortured me,
Grindings, crammings, preparations,
Saturday examinations,
When the student should be free!

Vivat home, and home's dear haunts,
Wooded walk and flowery dell!
Welcome father, sister, mother,
Everything that makes no bother,
And the girl that loves me well!

Vivat Highland glen and ben,
Sweeping breeze and sunny sky,
Rapid torrent grandly swirling,
Deep broad current darkly curling,
Where the big trout gulps the fly!

Vivat all that frees the soul
From the cumbrous chains of art,
All the living founts of knowledge
Which no books at school or college
Ever gave to thirsting heart!

Pereat who sneaks to-day
In dull rooms and sunless nooks!
Who, devoid of rummelgumption,
Courts dyspepsy and consumption,
Poring over bloodless books!

You have heard my song, brave boys!
Let no pedants clip your wing;
While green life is all before us,
March we forth and swell the chorus
Of blithe birds that greet the Spring!
Henrik Nordenberg, Interior with Boy at Window


Do Not Go to Cambridge, Sir

Remarks upon Remarques (1673), quoted in C.H. Wilkinson, More Diversions: An Anthology (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), p. 30:
Do not go to Cambridge, Sir, there are Alehouses, in which you will be drunk; and there are in those houses notable prinking Wenches, that will captivate you into Marriage, or somewhat like it. There are Tennis-Courts, and Bowling-Greens that will heat you to an excess, and then you will drink cold small Beer and die. There is a River too, in which you will be drowned; and you will study yourself into a Consumption, or break your Brain; and will you go to such a place?


Not Altogether Vulgar or Bad

H.G. Wells, The Autocracy of Mr. Parham (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1930), p. 35:
There was something in this experience that reminded Mr. Parham of Horace and the naughtier side of the Latin poets, and anything that reminded him of Horace and the naughtier side of the Latin poets could not, he felt, be altogether vulgar or bad.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Who'll Buy My Wares, My Old Greek Wares?

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), A Song of Good Greeks, from his Musa Burschicosa: A Book of Songs for Students and University Men (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1869), pp. 5-11:
AIR—Seit Vater Noah in Becher goss.

Since Martin Luther the ink-horn threw,
Which worked the Devil much woe,
The power of Greek in Europe grew,
And groweth and ever shall grow;
For never was language at all,
So magical-swelling,
So spirit-compelling,
As Homer rolled,
In billows of gold,
And Plato, and Peter, and Paul.

Etruscan, Hebrew, and Sanscrit are dead,
And Latin will die with the Pope,
But Greek still blooms like a thymy bed,
On brown Hymettus' slope;
For never was language at all,
That billowed so grandly,
And flowed out so blandly,
And never will die
Till men deny
The faith both of Plato and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares!
Here's Homer, who sang of old Troy,
A sunny sprite all robed in light,
And crowned with beauty and joy;
For surely no minstrel at all
E'er poured such a river,
Of verses that never
Will cease to flow,
While men shall know
The Gospel of Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's Pindar, the eagle sublime,
Who soars where Jove's red lightning flares,
And his awful thunders chime;
For never was poet at all,
In boxing and racing,
And pedigree-tracing,
So learned as he,
And worthy to be
Canonized both with Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares? here's Socrates,
Who first by logical spell
From Olympus' crown brought wisdom down,
With mortal men to dwell;
And sure never sage was at all,
Who mingled sound reason
With such pleasant season
Of mirth and fun,
And died like one
Well gospelled by Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's Plato will pass for a god,
Who for new worlds new men prepares,
On a plan both pleasant and odd;
For sure never sage was at all
So loftily soaring,
So lavishly pouring
Of nectar fine,
The draught divine,
Only second to Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's Aristotle, the wise,
Who sniffs about with learnèd snout,
And scans with critical eyes;
And sure never sage was at all
So crammed with all knowledge,
A walking college,
Who many things knew,
I tell you true,
Unknown both to Peter and Paul!

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's mighty Demosthenes, who,
When traitors sold fair Greece for gold,
Alone stood faithful and true;
For sure never man was at all
Who flung his oration
With such fulmination
Of scorching power
'Gainst the sins of the hour,
Like epistles of Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's Zeno, Cleanthes, and all,
Who set their face, with a manly grace,
To follow where duty might call;
For sure never men were at all
So steeled in all virtue
That flesh may be heir to,
And ready to die,
With never a sigh,
For the truth, just like Peter and Paul.

Who'll buy my wares, my old Greek wares?
Here's Proclus, Plotinus, and all,
Who clomb on Plato's golden stairs
To the super-celestial hall;
And sure never men were at all
Who lived so devoutly,
And grappled so stoutly
With flesh and blood,
And tramped in the mud
The Devil, like Peter and Paul.

Come, buy my wares, each learned elf,
Who culls Parnassian herbs,
And swears by Liddell and Scott, and Jelf,
And Veitch's irregular verbs!
For this I declare to you all,
Greek gives you a station
Sublime with the nation
Of gods above,
All hand and glove
With Plato, and Peter, and Paul.

Of all the thoughtful sons of Time,
The Greeks were wisest, that's clear;
The Germans preach a lore sublime,
But it smells of tobacco and beer;
And this I declare to you all,
Though Kant, and such fellows
Know something, they tell us,
They never will do
To tie the shoe
To Plato, or Peter, or Paul.

Some think that man from a monkey grew
By steps of long generation,
When, after many blunders, a few
Good hits were made in creation;
But I can't comprehend this at all;
Of blind-groping forces
Though Darwin discourses,
I rather incline
To believe in design,
With Plato, and Peter, and Paul.

There's one Thomas Buckle, a London youth,
Who taught that the world was blind
Till he was born to proclaim the truth,
That matter is moulder of mind;
But I really can't fancy at all
How wheat, rice, and barley,
Made Dick, Tom, and Charlie
So tidy and trim,
Without help from Him
Who was preached both by Plato and Paul.

There's one John Bright, a Manchester man,
Who taught the Tories to rule
By setting their stamp on his patent plan
For renewing the youth of John Bull;
But I say that it won't do at all.
To seek for salvation
By mere numeration
Of polls would surprise,
If they were to rise,
Not a little both Plato and Paul.

Then praise with me the old Greek times,
When men were lusty and strong,
And gods laughed merry in sunny climes,
And wisdom was wedded to song;
For this I declare to you all,
Bright may tickle your palate
With suffrage and ballot,
But you'll die a fool
If you don't go to school
With Plato, and Peter, and Paul.
Blackie was professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh. The tune for the song can be found on p. 129 of Musa Burschicosa.


More on Small Houses

From Ian Jackson:
Your latest reminds me of one of the most familiar Italian nursery rhymes, which exists in various readings. I'll give the two I remember. (For lazy people, the wonderful thing about quoting nursery rhymes is that one need not go and look them up somewhere: I am — we are all — the authority!)

Casa mia, casa mia,
Benchè piccola tu sia,
Tu mi sembri una badia!

My house, my house,
tiny though you may be,
you seem like an abbey to me!

Casa mia, casetta mia,
per piccina che tu sia,
per il brutto o per il bello
mi sei più cara del più gran castello!

My house, my little house,
small as you are,
beauty spots and warts and all,
you are dearer to me than the most magnificent castle.

The former is much the more common. And I suppose in English idiom, we'd say "palace" rather than "castle" in the second.
Eric Thomson also sent much more material on this theme, including the following from Mathias Holtzwart's Emblematum Tyrocinia (1581):

Here are my transcription and translation of the Latin verses:
Natura exemplo nobis ipsa indicat, esse
  Nil melius, propria quam latitare domo.
Cernimus ut terris serpat testudo, suamque
  Conseruet tergo sustineatque domum.
Deserit hanc nunquam, coeli dum uescitur aura,
  Dulceque subiecto corpore gestat onus,
Sic felix, partis qui nouit parcere rebus,
  Nilque alios curat, uiuat ut ipse sibi.

Nature itself by example shows us, there is
Nothing better than to hide in one's own house.
We see how the tortoise creeps on the earth and
Maintains and upholds its own house on its back.
It never leaves this house, while it feeds on heaven's air,
And it carries the sweet burden on top of its body.
Thus is that man happy, who knows how to use sparingly what he has acquired,
And who cares nothing for others, so that he may live for himself.

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