Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It Isn't Going to Last

Philip Larkin (1922-1985), Going, Going:
I thought it would last my time—
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there'd be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
—But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more—
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer...
                It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn't going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts—
First slum of Europe: a role
It won't be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won't be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
Larkin's poem reminds me of John Betjeman's The Planster's Vision, George Orwell's On a Ruined Farm near the His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory, and C.S. Lewis' The Future of Forestry.

Apparently the poem was commissioned by the Department of the Environment for How Do You Want to Live? A Report on the Human Habitat (London: HMSO, 1972), where it appeared in censored form on pp. x-xi with the title "Prologue." Supposedly the unexpurgated version first appeared in Larkin's collection High Windows (1974). Both of these publications are unavailable to me. See Mark Storey, "Larkin's Going, Going," The Explicator 64.4 (2006) 243-245.

For a recording of Larkin reading this poem, go here.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Job Interview

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (London, May 4):
'Suppose I was inclined to take you into my service (said he) what are your qualifications? what are you good for?' 'An please your honour (answered this original) I can read and write, and do the business of the stable indifferent well — I can dress a horse, and shoe him, and bleed and rowel him; and, as for the practice of sow-gelding, I won't turn my back on e'er a he in the county of Wilts — Then I can make hog's puddings and hob-nails, mend kettles and tin sauce-pans.' — Here uncle burst out a-laughing; and inquired what other accomplishments he was master of — 'I know something of single-stick, and psalmody (proceeded Clinker); I can play upon the Jew's-harp, sing Black-ey'd Susan, Arthur-o'Bradley, and divers other songs; I can dance a Welsh jig, and Nancy Dawson; wrestle a fall with any lad of my inches, when I'm in heart; and, under correction, I can find a hare when your honour wants a bit of game.'
He got the job.


Let the Times Run on Their Course

Alexander Brome (1620-1666), Song XXXIV (The Reformation), stanza 11:
'Tis a madness then to make
  Thriving our employment,
And lucre love, for Lucres sake,
  Since we've possession, not enjoyment;
Let the times run on their course,
For opposition makes them worse,
  We ne'r shall better find 'um;
Let Grandees wealth and power engross,
And honour too, while we sit close,
And laugh and take our plenteous dose
  Of Sack, and never mind 'um.

Monday, November 28, 2011


First In, First Out

Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (1935; rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), p. 184:
It emerges from all this that the chief cause of complaint against death, in fact the chief cause of any extravagance in lamentation, was that it was too likely to strike the very young who had had no chance to enjoy life. It is no very unnatural transition from this state of mind to the feeling that behind such inscrutable accidents rests a power which positively enjoys upsetting human lives in this manner; and such a feeling is followed by an equally natural one, that this sort of thing is not fair.
A character named Terpsion, in Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead (6.2, tr. M.D. Macleod), proposed a more equitable scheme:
Then I object to the present arrangement. It ought to be a matter of turn, with the oldest man first, and after him the next oldest, without the slightest change in the order...

Οὐκοῦν ταύτης αἰτιῶμαι τῆς διατάξεως· ἐχρῆν γὰρ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἑξῆς πως γίνεσθαι, τὸν πρεσβύτερον πρότερον καὶ μετὰ τοῦτον ὅστις καὶ τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μετ΄ αὐτόν, ἀναστρέφεσθαι δὲ μηδαμῶς...



Austin Dobson, A Bookman's Budget (London: Oxford University Press, 1917), p. 32:
'Brave, honest' William Cobbett has somewhere said that 'foot-notes' ought to be written 'fool-notes,' while Isaac d'Israeli has defended them. For myself, I prefer to distinguish. Where a foot-note reveals its writer's incapacity to incorporate all he has to say with the body of his text, I am with Cobbett; but as regards illustrative or detachable notes (by which mere references are not intended) I am with the author of the Curiosities of Literature. Indeed, I could almost go as far as Leigh Hunt in his high-pitched enthusiasm for Warton's Minor Poems of Milton. Of this he says: 'His edition of the minor poems of Milton is a wilderness of sweets. It is the only one in which a true lover of the original can pardon an exuberance of annotation; though I confess I am inclined enough to pardon any notes that resemble it, however numerous. The "builded rhyme" stands at the top of the page, like a fair edifice with all sorts of flowers and fresh waters at its foot. The young poet lives there, served by the nymphs and fauns.' (Indicator, lxiii.)
A page from Thomas Warton's edition of
Milton's Poems upon Several Occasions
(London: James Dodsley, 1785)

Related post: The Sauce and the Fish.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


A Guide in Youth and an Entertainment for Age

Jeremy Collier (1650—1726), Of the Entertainment of Books, from his Essays upon Several Moral Subjects, 4th ed. (London: Printed for Richard Sare..., 1700), Part II, pp. 97-100:
The Diversions of Reading, though they are not always of the strongest Kind, yet they generally Leave a better Effect than the grosser Satisfactions of Sense: For if they are well chosen, they neither dull the Appetite, nor strain the Capacity. On the contrary, they refresh the Inclinations, and strengthen the Power, and improve under Experiment: And which is best of all, they Entertain and Perfect at the same time; and convey Wisdom and Knowledge through Pleasure. By Reading a Man does as it were Antedate his Life, and makes himself contemporary with the Ages past. And this way of running up beyond ones Nativity, is much better than Plato's Preexistence; because here a Man knows something of the State, and is the wiser for it; which he is not in the other.

In conversing with Books we may chuse our Company, and disengage without Ceremony or Exception. Here we are free from the Formalities of Custom, and Respect: We need not undergo the Penance of a dull Story, from a Fop of Figure; but may shake off the Haughty, the Impertinent, and the Vain, at Pleasure. Besides, Authors, like Women, commonly Dress when they make a Visit. Respect to themselves makes them polish their Thoughts, and exert the Force of their Understanding more than they would, or can do, in ordinary Conversation: So that the Reader has as it were the Spirit and Essence in a narrow Compass; which was drawn off from a much larger Proportion of Time, Labour, and Expence. Like an Heir, he is born rather than made Rich, and comes into a Stock of Sense, with little or no Trouble of his own. 'Tis true, a Fortune in Knowledge which Descends in this manner, as well as an inherited Estate, is too often neglected, and squandered away; because we do not consider the Difficulty in Raising it.

Books are a Guide in Youth, and an Entertainment for Age. They support us under Solitude, and keep us from being a Burthen to our selves. They help us to forget the Crossness of Men and Things; compose our Cares, and our Passions; and lay our Disappointments asleep. When we are weary of the Living, we may repair to the Dead, who have nothing of Peevishness, Pride, or Design, in their Coversation. However,

To be constantly in the Wheel has neither Pleasure nor Improvement in it. A Man may as well expect to grow stronger by always Eating, as wiser by always Reading. Too much over-charges Nature, and turns more into Disease than Nourishment. 'Tis Thought and Digestion which makes Books serviceable, and gives Health and Vigour to the Mind. Neither ought we to be too Implicit or Resigning to Authorities, but to examine before we Assent, and preserve our Reason in its just Liberties. To walk always upon Crutches, is the way to lose the Use of our Limbs. Such an absolute Submission keeps us in a perpetual Minority, breaks the Spirits of the Understanding, and lays us open to Imposture.

But Books well managed afford Direction and Discovery. They strengthen the Organ, and enlarge the Prospect, and give a more universal Insight into Things, than can be learned from unlettered Observation. He who depends only upon his own Experience, has but a few Materials to work upon. He is confined to narrow Limits both of Place, and Time: And is not fit to draw a large Model, and to pronounce upon Business which is complicated and unusual. There seems to be much the same difference between a Man of meer Practice, and another of Learning, as there is between an Empirick and a Physician. The first may have a good Receipt, or two; and if Diseases and Patients were very scarce, and all alike, he might do tolerably well. But if you enquire concerning the Causes of Distempers, the Constitution of human Bodies, the Danger of Symptoms, and the Methods of Cure, upon which the Success of Medicine depends, he knows little of the Matter. On the other side: To take Measures wholly from Books, without looking into Men and Business, is like travelling in a Map, where though Countries and Cities are well enough distinguished, yet Villages and private Seats are either Over-looked, or too generally Marked for a Stranger to find. And therefore he that would be a Master, must Draw by the Life, as well as Copy from Originals, and joyn Theory and Experience together.
Albert Josef Franke (1860-1924), Die Schriftgelehrten


Morning Thoughts

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1 (tr. Gregory Hays):
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.

Ἕωθεν προλέγειν ἑαυτῷ: συντεύξομαι περιέργῳ, ἀχαρίστῳ, ὑβριστῇ, δολερῷ, βασκάνῳ, ἀκοινωνήτῳ.
Sebastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Products of the Perfected Civilization. Selected Writings, tr. W.S. Merwin (New York: Macmillan, 1969), p. 231:
M. de Lassay, a very gentle man but with a great knowledge of society, said that one must swallow a toad every morning, when one had to go out into the world, so as not to find anything more disgusting during the day.

M. de Lassay, homme très doux, mais qui avait une grande connaissance de la société, disait qu'il faudrait avaler un crapaud tous les matins, pour ne trouver plus rien de dégoûtant le reste de la journée, quand on devait la passer dans le monde.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Evil and Good

C.S. Lewis, Spenser's Images of Life, ed. Alastair Fowler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 95 (footnotes omitted):
In sum, then, evil is solemn, good is gay. Evil means starvation, good glows with what Blake calls 'the lineaments of gratified desire'. Evil imprisons, good sets free. Evil is tired, good is full of vigour. The one says, Let go, lie down, sleep, die; the other, All aboard! kill the dragon, marry the girl, blow the pipes and beat the drum, let the dance begin.


Definition of a Scholar

A.E. Housman, The Confines of Criticism. The Cambridge Inaugural, 1911 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 21:
But the definition of a scholar is vir bonus discendi peritus, and that conception was personified in Munro.
Cato defined the orator as vir bonus dicendi peritus, the good man skilled in speaking, and a slight twist to the expression gives us the definition of a scholar as vir bonus discendi peritus, the good man skilled in learning. I like this definition better than others which could be devised, such as vir bonus scribendi peritus (the good man skilled in writing) or vir bonus docendi peritus (the good man skilled in teaching). The true scholar, unmoved by "publish or perish," doesn't rush into print. William M. Calder III, in Gnomon 51 (1979) 207, recalled a remark by Benedict Einarson: "He told me aged 25 that I must write nothing until 40 for I would not know enough." And what scholar worth his salt wouldn't rather spend time reading in the library than teaching in the classroom?

William M. Calder III, "Vir Bonus Discendi Peritus," American Journal of Philology 108 (1987) 168–171, tracked down the source of this definition, to a speech which Wilamowitz delivered on September 27, 1877. Here is the relevant passage from the speech, as found in Verhandlungen der 32. Versammlung deutscher Philologen und Schulmänner in Wiesbaden vom 26. September bis 29. September 1877 (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1878), p. 41:
Wir Philologen von heute haben eine andere, eine weit bescheidenere Stellung, denn da J.J. Scaliger die ganze Welt der Wissenschaft umspannte, oder die unbeschreibliche Herrlichkeit der griechischen Kunst sich Winckelmann und G. Hermann erschloss; den heutigen Philologen mag man definieren als den vir bonus discendi peritus, dem vor der Wucht des zu Lernenden das freudige Gefühl des Wissens und des Könnens erstirbt, dem mancher Tag des Suchens nicht bloss mit dem Geständniss schliesst, dass er das Gesuchte noch nicht gefunden habe, sondern dass es sich überhaupt noch nicht finden lasse. Doch wir konnen nicht über unsern Schatten springen, wir müssen den Weg gehen, den die Wissenschaft uns und unserer Zeit gestellt hat, und lassen wir uns der Mühe nicht verdriessen, so blüht eine Blume wohl auch hie und da an unserm Wege.
Inspired by Roger Pearse, who recently described his success in using Google Translate to produce a translation of some Russian text, I thought I would see how Google Translate rendered Wilamowitz's German. Here is the result:
We philologists today have a different, far more modest position, because as JJ Scaliger spanned the entire world of science, or the indescribable glory of Greek art, Winckelmann and G. Hermann opened up, the philologist might define it today as the vir bonus discendi Peritus, which, before the brunt of the learner to the joyous feeling of knowing and abilities dies out, the many days of searching includes not only the confession that he had not yet found what you're looking, but that it can not leave at all. But we can not jump over our shadow, we must walk the path that has made ​​us and the science of our time, and let us grieve not the trouble, a flower blooms well here and there on our way.
I used to tell students, "This passage makes sense in Latin, and your English translation has to make sense, too. It isn't nonsense in Latin, and it can't be nonsense in English." Google Translate's version of Wilamowitz's German seems to fail the "intelligibility" test. Does Microsoft's Bing Translator do any better? Let's see:
We philologists of today have a different, a far more modest position, because j.j. Scaliger which spanned all over the world of science, or Winckelmann and G. Hermann opened up the indescribable glory of Greek art; one may define the modern philologists as the vir bonus discendi peritus, before the force of dies to learners the joyful feeling of knowledge and the skills which includes some day of searching not just with the Geständniss that he still not found what you want, but that it is ever still not find leave. But we don't have our shadow jump can, we must go the way science has shown us and our time, and let not disgruntling us trouble, so flowers a flower probably also here and there on our way.
My knowledge of German (based on two semesters' tuition at the elementary level many decades ago) was never very good, and it has grown rusty with disuse. I may be fundamentally misunderstanding the German [I am, see below], but this is what I think it means:
We philologists of today occupy a different, a far more modest position, than when J.J Scaliger embraced the entire world of knowledge, or when the indescribable magnificence of Greek art revealed itself to Winckelmann and to Gottfried Hermann; one might define the contemporary philologist as the vir bonus discendi peritus, for whom the joyful feeling of knowledge and skill has succumbed to the power of the pedant, for whom many a day of searching ends not merely with the confession that he hasn't found what he was seeking, but that it doesn't even allow itself be found at all. But we cannot jump over our shadow, we must travel down the road which science and our time have laid down, and not allow the effort to trouble us, provided that a flower might bloom here and there on our way.
The phrase which stymies me the most is "Wucht des zu Lernenden." I think that "des...Lernenden" is a "substantiviertes Partizip Präsens Aktiv" ("the learning [man]") and that "zu" is adverbial ("too" or "excessively"), and so I translate the phrase as "the power of the pedant". [Wrong! See below.] Corrections on this or any other point are welcome.

Thanks very much to Dr. J.L.H. Krans for the following:
This is your translation, with my few remarks between [ ]:

We philologists of today occupy a different, a far more modest position, than when J.J. Scaliger embraced the entire world of knowledge, or when the indescribable magnificence of Greek art revealed itself to Winckelmann and to Gottfried Hermann; one might define the contemporary philologist as the vir bonus discendi peritus, for whom the joyful feeling of knowledge and skill has succumbed to the power of the pedant [to the power of what is to be learned], for whom many a day of searching ends not merely with the confession that he hasn't found what he was seeking, but that it doesn't even allow itself be found [to be found] at all. But we cannot jump over our shadow, we must travel down the road which science and our time have laid down [which science has laid down for us and our time], and not allow the effort to trouble us, provided that a flower [and if we do not allow ourselves to be put off by the effort, then a flower] might bloom here and there on our way.

•"Wucht" = "power", but (here) with a nuance of effort to attain something; so maybe "the powerful desire to ...”
•"das zu Lernende" = "that which has/is to be learned"
•"Wissenschaft" = "science", but also "scholarship", which might be more appropriate when philology is concerned
•the inversion "lassen wir ..." signals a conditional phrase; the following "so" equals "then"

Thanks also to Arsen Darnay, who writes:
"Die Wucht des zu Lernenden" might be rendered as "the weight of that still to be learned."

My Langenscheid's renders Wucht as weight; force; impetus. For me the first meaning that came to mind was force, but in the sense of a pressure, thus as of a massive weight pressing down on me. It holds a kind of dynamic, that word, because it is also described, in reference to physics, as inertia force (methinks that should be inertial force), momentum, and kinetic energy. In my rendition above, I've inserted the "still" to give voice to the real intent behind the German phrasing in English--obeying an urge all good translators resist at their peril.

A corrected translation:
We philologists of today occupy a different, a far more modest position, than when J.J. Scaliger embraced the entire world of knowledge, or when the indescribable magnificence of Greek art revealed itself to Winckelmann and to Gottfried Hermann; one might define the contemporary philologist as the vir bonus discendi peritus, for whom the joyful feeling of knowledge and skill has succumbed to the weight of that still to be learned, for whom many a day of searching ends not merely with the confession that he hasn't found what he was seeking, but that it doesn't even allow itself to be found at all. But we cannot jump over our shadow, we must travel down the road which scholarship has laid down for us and our time, and if we do not allow ourselves to be put off by the effort, then a flower might bloom here and there on our way.

Friday, November 25, 2011


The Felling of Herne's Oak

William Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor 4.4.29-42:
Mrs Page.
There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,     30
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree and takes the cattle
And makes milch-kine yield blood and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner:     35
You have heard of such a spirit; and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Received, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the hunter for a truth.
Why, yet there want not many that do fear     40
In deep of night to walk by this Herne's oak:
But what of this?
James Orchard Halliwell, ed., The First Sketch of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (London: Shakespeare Society, 1842), pp. 70-71:
The following decisive evidence that the tree was destroyed is extracted from a contemporary newspaper, communicated to me by Mr. Wright:—

Upon Herne's Oak being cut down, in the spring of 1796.

Within this dell, for many an age,
  Herne's Oak uprear'd its antique head:—
Oh! most unhallow'd was the rage
  Which tore it from its native bed!

The storm that stript the forest bare
  Would yet refrain this tree to wrong,
And Time himself appear'd to spare
  A fragment he had known so long.

'Twas mark'd with popular regard,
  When famed Elizabeth was queen;
And Shakespere, England's matchless bard,
  Made it the subject of a scene.

So honour'd when in verdure drest,
  To me the wither'd trunk was dear;
As, when the warrior is at rest,
  His trophied armour men revere.

That nightly Herne walk'd round this oak,
  "The superstitious eld received;"
And what they of his outrage spoke
  The rising age in fear believ'd.

The hunter, in his morning range,
  Would not the tree with lightness view:
To him Herne's legend, passing strange,
  In spite of scoffers still seem'd true.

Oh, where were all the fairy crew
  Who revels kept in days remote,
That round the oak no spell they drew,
  Before the axe its fibres smote?

Could wishes but ensure the power,
  The tree again its head should rear;
Shrubs fence it with a fadeless bower,
And these inscriptive lines appear:—

"Here, as wild Avon's poet stray'd"—
Hold!—let me check this feeble strain—
The spot by Shakspere sacred made,
A verse like mine would but profane!
Wright is Thomas Wright, and the newspaper was the Whitehall Evening Herald.

John Stoughton, Notices of Windsor in the Olden Time (London: David Bogue, 1844), pp. 156-157 (footnotes omitted):
Mr. Charles Knight considers that the real Herne's Oak was cut down some fifty or sixty years ago, not by order of George III., but to his deep and lasting regret; and, in support of this opinion, relates the following anecdote. — About the year 1800, Mr. Nicholson, the eminent landscape draftsman, was on a visit to the Dowager Countess of Kingston, at Old Windsor; and his mornings were chiefly employed in sketching, or rather making studies of, the old trees in the forest. This circumstance one day led the conversation of some visiters at Lady Kingston's to Herne's Oak. Mrs. Boufoy and her daughter, Lady Ely, were present; and they were very much with the royal family. Mr. Nicholson requested Lady Ely to procure for him any information that she could from the king, respecting Herne's Oak, which, considering his majesty's tenacious memory and familiarity with Windsor, the king could probably give better than any one else. In a few days, Lady Ely informed Mr. Nicholson that she had made the inquiry he wished of the king; who told her that, when he (George III.) was a young man, it was represented to him that there were a number of old oaks in the park, which had become unsightly objects, and that it would be desirable to take them down. He gave immediate directions that such trees as were of this description should be removed; but he was afterwards sorry that he had given such an order inadvertently, because he found that among the rest the remains of Herne's Oak had been destroyed.
There is much dispute as to whether the tree felled in 1796 really was Herne's Oak. See, e.g., Robert Richard Tighe and James Edward Davis, Annals of Windsor, Vol. I (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1858) pp. 682-705, and W. Perry, A Treatise on the True Identity of Herne's Oak (London: L. Booth, 1867).

Benjamin West (1738-1820), Woodcutters in Windsor Park

John Linnell (1792-1882), Woodcutters in Windsor Forest

Related post: Gothick Barbarity.


Thursday, November 24, 2011


Gibbon's Studies

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), Memoirs of My Life and Writings:
In my French and Latin translations I adopted an excellent method, which, from my own success, I would recommend to the imitation of students. I chose some classic writer, such as Cicero and Vertot, the most approved for purity and elegance of style. I translated, for instance, an epistle of Cicero into French; and after throwing it aside, till the words and phrases were obliterated from my memory, I re-translated my French into such Latin as I could find; and then compared each sentence of my imperfect version, with the ease, the grace, the propriety of the Roman orator. A similar experiment was made on several pages of the Revolutions of Vertot; I turned them into Latin, re-turned them after a sufficient interval into my own French, and again scrutinized the resemblance or dissimilitude of the copy and the original. By degrees I was less ashamed, by degrees I was more satisfied with myself; and I persevered in the practice of these double translations, which filled several books, till I had acquired the knowledge of both idioms, and the command at least of a correct style. This useful exercise of writing was accompanied and succeeded by the more pleasing occupation of reading the best authors. The perusal of the Roman classics was at once my exercise and reward. Dr. Middleton's History, which I then appreciated above its true value, naturally directed me to the writings of Cicero. The most perfect editions, that of Olivet, which may adorn the shelves of the rich, that of Ernesti, which should lie on the table of the learned, were not in my power. For the familiar epistles I used the text and English commentary of Bishop Ross: but my general edition was that of Verburgius, published at Amsterdam in two large volumes in folio, with an indifferent choice of various notes. I read with application and pleasure all the epistles, all the orations, and the most important treatises of rhetoric and philosophy; and as I read, I applauded the observation of Quintilian, that every student may judge of his own proficiency, by the satisfaction which he receives from the Roman orator. I tasted the beauties of language, I breathed the spirit of freedom, and I imbibed from his precepts and examples the public and private sense of a man. Cicero in Latin, and Xenophon in Greek, are indeed the two ancients whom I would first propose to a liberal scholar; not only for the merit of their style and sentiments, but for the admirable lessons, which may be applied almost to every situation of public and private life. Cicero's Epistles may in particular afford the models of every form of correspondence, from the careless effusions of tenderness and friendship, to the well guarded declaration of discreet and dignified resentment. After finishing this great author, a library of eloquence and reason, I formed a more extensive plan of reviewing the Latin classics, under the four divisions of, 1. historians, 2. poets, 3. orators, and 4. philosophers, in a chronological series, from the days of Plautus and Sallust, to the decline of the language and empire of Rome: and this plan, in the last twenty-seven months of my residence at Lausanne (January 1756—April 1758), I nearly accomplished. Nor was this review, however rapid, either hasty or superficial. I indulged myself in a second and even a third perusal of Terence, Virgil, Horace, Tacitus, etc., and studied to imbibe the sense and spirit most congenial to my own. I never suffered a difficult or corrupt passage to escape, till I had viewed it in every light of which it was susceptible: though often disappointed, I always consulted the most learned or ingenious commentators, Torrentius and Dacier on Horace, Catrou and Servius on Virgil, Lipsius on Tacitus, Meziriac on Ovid, etc., and in the ardour of my inquiries, I embraced a large circle of historical and critical erudition. My abstracts of each book were made in the French language: my observations often branched into particular essays; and I can still read, without contempt, a dissertation of eight folio pages on eight lines (287-294) of the fourth Georgic of Virgil. M. Deyverdun, my friend, whose name will be frequently repeated, had joined with equal zeal, though not with equal perseverance, in the same undertaking. To him every thought, every composition, was instantly communicated; with him I enjoyed the benefits of a free conversation on the topics of our common studies.

But it is scarcely possible for a mind endowed with any active curiosity to be long conversant with the Latin classics, without aspiring to know the Greek originals, whom they celebrate as their masters, and of whom they so warmly recommend the study and imitation;
            "Vos exemplaria Graeca
Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna."
It was now that I regretted the early years which had been wasted in sickness or idleness, or mere idle reading; that I condemned the perverse method of our schoolmasters, who, by first teaching the mother-language, might descend with so much ease and perspicuity to the origin and etymology of a derivative idiom. In the nineteenth year of my age I determined to supply this defect; and the lessons of Pavilliard again contributed to smooth the entrance of the way, the Greek alphabet, the grammar, and the pronunciation according to the French accent. As he had possessed only such a stock as was requisite for an ecclesiastic, our first book was St. John's gospel, and I should probably have construed the whole of the New Testament, had I not represented the absurdity of adhering to the corrupt dialect of the Hellenist Jews. At my earnest request we presumed to open the Iliad; and I had the pleasure of beholding, though darkly and through a glass, the true image of Homer, whom I had long since admired in an English dress. After my tutor had left me to myself, I worked my way through about half the Iliad, and afterwards interpreted alone a large portion of Xenophon and Herodotus. But my ardour, destitute of aid and emulation, was gradually cooled, and, from the barren task of searching words in a lexicon, I withdrew to the free and familiar conversation of Virgil and Tacitus. Yet in my residence at Lausanne I had laid a solid foundation, which enabled me, in a more propitious season, to prosecute the study of Grecian literature.
Albert Josef Franke (1860-1924),
Aufmerksame Lectüre

Hat tip: Karl Maurer.


Rarest of Gifts

John Burroughs, Ways of Nature (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1905), p. 238:
The power to see straight is the rarest of gifts; to see no more and no less than is actually before you; to be able to detach yourself and see the thing as it actually is, uncolored or unmodified by your own sentiments or prepossessions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


What Then?

Bhartrihari, Vairagya Sataka 73-74, tr. Arthur William Ryder in Original Poems together with Translations from the Sanskrit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), p. 71:

What if my life is fed
    With all that seems most sweet?
What if my foeman's head
    Is ground beneath my feet?
What if my wealth makes friends
    Again and yet again?
What if my soul ascends
    Through countless lives? What then?


Old rags, or fine, white silk that flows and clings—
    Why should I care?
Poor wife, or horses, elephants, and things—
    What difference there?
Sweet rice, or wretched food when day is o'er—
    Why care again?
God's light, or groping in the dark once more—
    What then? What then?


Wholesale Slaughter

Adrian Bell (1901-1980), Men and the Fields. Drawings & Lithographs by John Nash (London, B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1939; rpt. Stanbridge: Little Toller Books, 2009), pp. 29-31:
How much longer will the oaks I sat among still be standing? There is a wholesale slaughter of oaks going on here this month. But who is planting any? That there is a time for an oak to be felled, I agree; but those who cut them down should be made to clear up after them, not take a few yards of trunk and leave the rest to rot, and to plant tree for tree. Those useless tops were once sought after by the wheelwright, even the builder. To quote Walter Rose, 'The Village Carpenter': 'It sometimes happened that a piece of timber in our yard, too crooked for us carpenters to use, would be purchased by the wheelwright, because he saw in the natural contour just what he wanted, a curve difficult to obtain.'

Last spring I walked through an oak wood that was England and April in essence: it was at least a mile away from a tarred road. It was pillared with the most beautiful tall straight oaks that I have ever seen. It was a great natural hall, oak after oak flowing up straight from the ground and branching high overhead: vistas of them, clean vistas devoid of undergrowth. On the outskirts of the wood were wild cherry trees in flower. As I came into it that day the white petals of the cherry bloom were falling sparely on the path. Beside the path, on a low grassy bank, anemones were stirring with an air I could not feel. Inside the wood the ground was covered with primroses and violets, blue and white; they were in tight groups like posies at the feet of giants: just the low delicate flowers and the tall grey trunks. Birds sang, and the spaciousness of the grove gave them an unusually clear echo. As I stood a voice resounded through the wood: 'Prince!' Then I heard the tinkle of harrows through the tilth, as the horse which the man had called moved forward from the woodside.

When I came again to that wood, a week ago, the oak trunks lay out in the field, which was no longer tilth, nor likely to be for many a day, but full of huge ruts, waterlogged. The trees had been dragged out and carted away by tractor, and the approach to the wood was all mire and confusion. Many trunks still lay there, looking like serpents with their heads chopped off. The texture of the bark seemed still alive. Inside the wood the ground where the spring flowers grew was smothered with a tangle of tops. Only a few trees not worth cutting down stood up forlornly here and there. I heard sounds of a saw, and in among these boughs discovered an old man, as though he had been caught in them and was sawing his way out. He had been given as much of the tops, he said, as he could cut and carry away.

He lived in a cottage in the lane that ended at the opposite gate of the big field. How was he going to get the wood home? He was carrying it, he said, a piece at a time on his back. The state of the ground made the work harder because 'for every step you take forward you seem to take two back'. He was a pensioner, for whom time no longer had any money value. His ant-like labours had already resulted in a large heap of fuel in his garden, carried a piece at a time, half a mile there, and then half a mile to go back for another. It was strange to see this old man industriously salving a little store from the vastness of modern waste. On the one hand this old man eking out his substance within his small trim boundary; on the other the great machine of the economic system smashing down a host of trees and leaving the greater part of them in chaos. He was a little Robinson Crusoe, making repeated journeys to the wreck: his home was an island in an alien world. His rows of potatoes in summer, his garden shed built of faggots, his devices for keeping off birds and vermins from his seeds—a care and a husbanding was in them all. The labours of this month or months, carrying wood home on his back, would result next winter in a warmer room, a little more tobacco, or fat bacon with his potatoes.
Illustration by John Nash at the top of p. 29:Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011



Thomas Huxley, letter to Charles Kingsley (September 23, 1860), in Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, ed. Leonard Huxley, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1900), p. 235:
Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved, at all risks, to do this.


Deos Fortioribus Adesse

Goethe, song from Lila, tr. Eric Sams:
The timid uncertainty of cowardly thoughts, womanish hesitation, anxious lamenting, these cannot avert misery, cannot make you free!

But bidding defiance to all external forces, never yielding, showing yourself tough and strong; these will call forth the arms of the gods in your support!
The German:
Feiger Gedanken
Bängliches Schwanken,
Weibisches Zagen,
Ängstliches Klagen
Wendet kein Elend,
Macht dich nicht frei.

Allen Gewalten
Zum Trutz sich erhalten,
Nimmer sich beugen,
Kräftig sich zeigen,
Rufet die Arme
Der Götter herbei!
The same, translated by Paul Carus:
Cowardly thinking,
Timorous shrinking,
Weak lamentations,
Faint hesitations
Mend not our misery,
Set us not free.

Face all hostility,
Preserve your virility
Nor ever yield.
Vigorous resistance
Brings the assistance
Of gods to the field.
The same, translated by Maria Bowen:
Cowardly thinking,
Wavering, sinking,
Womanish crying,
Despairing and sighing
Ward off no evil,
Leave thee a slave!

Against hostile might
Valiant to fight,
Yielding thee never,
But full of force ever,
This brings a blessing,
The Gods help the brave.
The same, translated by Lilian Bayard Taylor Kiliani:
Cowardly faltering.
Hesitant paltering,
Womanish quailing,
Terrified wailing,
Turns not misfortune,
Nor gives you the odds.

Proving the master
In spite of disaster,
Yielding him never,
Combating ever.
Thus man invoketh
The arms of the gods.
The same, translated by Ernst Eduard Lemcke:
Cowardly pondering,
Anxiously wondering,
Womanish failings,
Timorous waitings
Ward off no misery,
Make thee not free.

Spite all defiance
With self-reliance,
Submitting never,
By sturdy endeavor
Call forth the gods' help
To rescue thee.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Contrary to Expectation

Anthony Trollope, Castle Richmond (1860), Chapter XVIII:
How often does it not happen that when we come across those whom we have hated and avoided all our lives, we find that they are not quite so bad as we had thought?


Meditation on Death

From Eric Thomson:
Thanks for the Drummond, which sent me back to his A Cypresse Grove (1623), a wordy meditation on death reminiscent of Sir Thomas Browne's Urn Burial but, undeservedly, not as well known. I actually quite like its wordiness, which operates almost as if it could forestall the dreaded 'finis'.

'Death is the sade Estranger of acquantance, the eternall Diuorcer of Mariage, the Rauisher of the Children from their Parentes, the stealer of Parents from the Children, the Interrer of Fame, the sole cause of Forgetfulnesse, by which the liuing talke of those gone away as of so manie Shadowes, or fabulous Paladines: all Strength by it is enfeebled, Beautie turned in deformitie and rottennesse, Honour in contempt, Glorie into basenesse, it is the vnreasonable breaker off of all the actions of Vertue; by which wee enjoye no more the sweete pleasures on Earth, neither contemplate the statelie reuolutions of the Heauens; Sunne perpetuallie setteth, Starres neuer rise vnto vs; It in one moment depriueth vs of what with so great toyle and care in manie yeeres wee haue heaped together: By this are Successions of Linages cut short, Kingdomes left Heirelesse, and greatest States orphaned: It is not ouercome by Pride, smoothed by gawdie Flatterie, tamed by Intreaties, bribed by Benefites, softned by Lamentations, diuerted by Time, Wisedome, saue this, can alter and helpe anie thing. By Death wee are exiled from this faire Citie of the World; it is no more a World vnto vs, nor wee anie more People into it. The Ruines of Phanes, Palaces, and other magnificent Frames, yeeld a sad Prospect to the Soule: And how should it consider the wracke of such a wonderfull Maister-piece as is the Bodie without Horrour?'
Maybe it's just the gorgeous prose, but my predominant emotion is not "horrour" but cheerfulness when I read this. Perhaps I'm in a Brahmsian mood. Joseph Hellmesberger said, "When Brahms is in good spirits, he sings 'The grave is my joy'."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Long Dark

Henry Alford (1810-1871), On Seeing Our Family Vault from his Poetical Works, 5th ed. (London: Strahan & Co., 1868), p. 170:
This lodging is well chosen: for 'tis near
The fitful sighing of those chestnut-trees;
And every Sabbath morning it can hear
The swelling of the hymnèd melodies;
And the low booming of the funeral bell
Shall murmur through the dark and vaulted room,
Waking its solemn echoes but to tell
That one more soul is gathered to its home.
There we shall lie beneath the trodden stone:—
Oh, none can tell how dreamless and how deep
Our peace will be when the last earth is thrown,
The last notes of the music fallen asleep,
The mourners past away, the tolling done,
The last chink closed, and the long dark begun.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


The Hunt

William Drummond (1585-1649):
        This world a hunting is,
The prey, poor man; the Nimrod fierce, is Death;
        His speedy greyhounds are
        Lust, Sickness, Envy, Care,
        Strife that ne'er falls amiss,
With all those ills which haunt us while we breathe.
        Now, if by chance we fly
        Of these the eager chace,
        Old Age with stealing pace
Casts on his nets, and there we panting die.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Heaven and Hell

Jerome K. Jerome, Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), pp. 226-228:
Few things had more terrors for me, when a child, than Heaven, as pictured for me by certain of the good folks round about me. I was told that if I were a good lad, kept my hair tidy, and did not tease the cat, I would probably, when I died, go to a place where all day long I would sit still and sing hymns. (Think of it! as reward to a healthy boy for being good.) There would be no breakfast and no dinner, no tea and no supper. One old lady cheered me a little with a hint that the monotony might be broken by a little manna; but the idea of everlasting manna palled upon me, and my suggestions concerning the possibilities of sherbet or jumbles were scouted as irreverent. There would be no school, but also there would be no cricket and no rounders. I should feel no desire, so I was assured, to do another angel's "dags" by sliding down the heavenly banisters. My only joy would be to sing.

"Shall we start singing the moment we get up in the morning?" I asked.

"There won't be any morning," was the answer. "There will be no day and no night. It will all be one long day without end."

"And shall we always be singing?" I persisted.

"Yes, you will be so happy you will always want to sing."

"Sha'n't I ever get tired?"

"No, you will never get tired, and you will never get sleepy or hungry or thirsty."

"And does it go on like that for ever?"

"Yes, for ever and ever."

"Will it go on for a million years?"

"Yes, a million years, and then another million years, and then another million years after that. There will never be any end to it."

I can remember to this day the agony of those nights, when I would lie awake, thinking of this endless heaven, from which there seemed to be no possible escape; for the other place was equally eternal, or I might have been tempted to seek refuge there.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Waste Books G.11 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Herr Camper related that when a missionary painted the flames of Hell to a congregation of Greenlanders in a truly vivid fashion, and described at length the heat they gave out, all the Greenlanders began to feel a strong desire to go to Hell.

Herr Camper erzählte, daß eine Gemeinde Grönländer, als ein Missionair ihnen die Flammen der Hölle recht fürchterlich malte, und viel von ihrer Hitze sprach, sich alle nach der Hölle zu sehnen angefangen hätten.


I Don't Want Your Millions. Or Do I?

Greek Anthology 11.47.1-3 (Anacreon, tr. W.R. Paton):
I care not for the wealth of Gyges the King of Sardis, nor does gold take me captive...

οὔ μοι μέλει τὰ Γύγεω,
τοῦ Σαρδίων ἄνακτος,
οὔθ᾽ αἱρέει με χρυσός...
Greek Anthology 11.58.1-2 (Macedonius the Consul, tr. W.R. Paton):
I wish not for gold, nor for the myriad cities of the world, nor for all that Homer said Thebes contained...

ἤθελον οὐ χρυσόν τε καὶ ἄστεα μυρία γαίης,
  οὐδ᾽ ὅσα τὰς Θήβας εἶπεν Ὅμηρος ἔχειν...
Jim Garland (1905-1978), lyrics to be sung to the tune "East Virginia":
I don't want your millions, Mister,
I don't want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live, Mister,
Give me back my job again.

Now, I don't want your Rolls-Royce, Mister,
I don't want your pleasure yacht.
All I want's just food for my babies,
Give to me my old job back.

We worked to build this country, Mister,
While you enjoyed a life of ease.
You've stolen all that we built, Mister,
Now our children starve and freeze.

So, I don't want your millions, Mister,
I don't want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live, Mister,
Give me back my job again.

Think me dumb if you wish, Mister,
Call me green, or blue, or red.
This one thing I sure know, Mister,
My hungry babies must be fed.

Take the two old parties, Mister,
No difference in them I can see.
But with a Farmer-Labor Party
We could set the people free.

So, I don't want your millions, Mister,
I don't want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live, Mister,
Give me back my job again.
Are we sincere when we recite these lines of Greek poetry, or when we sing this song?

According to Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Protest (New York: Dover Publications, 1973), p. 161, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), who recorded "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister" with the Almanac Singers in 1941, confessed, "If we'd only admit it, we do want the man's millions and diamond ring and his yacht and everything else."

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A Poem by Wang Wei

Here is a poem by Wang Wei (699-759), translated by Kenneth Rexroth in One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese: Love and the Turning Year (New York: New Directions, 1970), p. 58, with the title Deep in the Mountain Wilderness:
Deep in the mountain wilderness
Where nobody ever comes
Only once in a great while
Something like the sound of a far off voice,
The low rays of the sun
Slip through the dark forest,
And gleam again on the shadowy moss.
The poem is more often known by the title Deer Park. Here is another translation, from Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei. Translations by Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, Xu Haixin (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1991), p. 27:
Nobody in sight on the empty mountain
but human voices are heard far off.
Low sun slips deep in the forest
and lights the green hanging moss.
David Hinton, The Selected Poems of Wang Wei (New York: New Directions, 2006), discusses the poem on pp. xviii-xx and translates it as follows on p. 40:
No one seen. Among empty mountains,
hints of drifting voice, faint, no more.

Entering these deep woods, late sunlight
flares on green moss again, and rises.
There is an entire book (which I haven't seen) devoted to translations of this poem — Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated. Exhibit & Commentary by Eliot Weinberger. Further Comments by Octavio Paz (Mount Kisco: Moyer Bell, 1987). There are also several translations into English and other languages here, and a good analysis in Zong-qi Cai, ed., How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), pp. 207-209.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Druid Spirits Weep

Thanks to Eric Thomson for introducing me to an interesting poem on the theme of arboricide, by Catharine Savage Brosman, with the title "Bristlecone Pines," first published in Sewanee Review 114.4 (Fall 2006) 514, and reprinted with minor modifications in her Range of Light: Poems (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), p. 56 (line numbers added by me):
— In the southern Snake Range

They are the old men of the forest, of the world—
gnarled, wizened, stripped of all the inessentials,
living longest in the heights, along the borders
with the iron sky, embracing cold. Their being,
granite hard, is dense enough to break a blade;    5

their limbs and torsos writhe, the sculpted flesh
as twisted as Laocoon. Below, the mountains fall
away into the basin; rivers snake, then disappear
in alkaline oblivion; the greasewood flats reach on
to the horizon. Everything seems vain—the rocks,    10

memorials to nothingness; the wind, a mockery.
Or do the pines remember us, companions—recall
how Jedediah Smith was fed by Indians on rushes
near their grove, and Lehman hammered through
the mountain's hollow limestone heart, to find    15

his predecessors there—or Frémont, following
a vision westward, gazed on the Great Basin?
And will they forgive, compassionate, the ones
who immolated here an ancient, venerable tree,
to violate its core and count the five millennia    20

recorded in its circles? But the druid spirits weep,
I think; the nymphs and sylvan deities still mourn
their forest elders, grown already before Greece
was young—those ravaged boughs dismembered
on the stone, Iphigenia sacrificed in greatest age.    25
The older I get, the less interested I am in man-made attractions (museums, cathedrals, etc.), and the more interested in scenes of natural beauty, such as the places mentioned in this poem, all located within the 77,100 acres of Great Basin National Park, in east central Nevada, near the Utah border. I just took an armchair tour of the park with the aid of Dwight Holing, The Smithsonian Guides to Natural America. The Far West: California and Nevada (Washington: Smithsonian Books, 1996), pp. 212-221, who describes the Snake Range, with its highest point, Wheeler Peak; Lehman Caves; and the bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva).

As their scientific name indicates, some bristlecone pines are among the world's oldest living trees. One of them, nicknamed Prometheus, was older than the pyramids of Egypt when it was cut down in 1964 by geographer Donald Rusk Currey (1934-2004), then a graduate student at the University of North Carolina. See his article "An Ancient Bristlecone Pine Stand in Eastern Nevada," Ecology 46.4 (July 1965) 564-566. This is the tree mentioned in lines 18-21 of Brosman's poem.



Why Should It Grieve a Man?

From the Mahabharata, tr. Arthur William Ryder:
All lives begin from nothingness,
  Stir for a time, and then
(No cause for grief) sink into less
  Than nothingness again.

Death has no enemy nor friend;
  Each in his turn must pass,
Must helpless to that bidding bend
  As wind-blown blades of grass.

Our goal is—there. And every day
  The one long caravan
Moves on with death to point the way.
  Why should it grieve a man?

For all the saints and scholars old
  Since first the world began
Are gone, with every fighter bold.
  Why should it grieve a man?
I think this comes from book 11, section 9 of the Mahabharata. Cf. the prose translation of K.M. Ganguli:
Time drags all kinds of creatures. There is none dear or hateful to Time, O best of the Kurus! As the wind tears off the ends of all blades of grass, even so all creatures, O bull of Bharata’s race, are brought by Time under its influence. All creatures are like members of the same caravan bound for the same destination. What cause of sorrow is there if Time meets with one a little earlier than with another? Those again, O king, that have fallen in battle and for whom thou grievest, are not really objects of thy grief, since all those illustrious ones have gone to heaven.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Foolish People

Jerome K. Jerome, Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: A Book for an Idle Holiday (London: The Leadenhall Press, 1890), p. 122:
Foolish people—when I say "foolish people" in this contemptuous way, I mean people who entertain different opinions to mine. If there is one person I do despise more than another, it is the man who does not think exactly the same on all topics as I do.


Arrowsmith's Prayer

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, chapter 26 (called "the prayer of the scientist"):
God give me unclouded eyes and freedom from haste. God give me a quiet and relentless anger against all pretence and all pretentious work and all work left slack and unfinished. God give me a restlessness whereby I may neither sleep nor accept praise till my observed results equal my calculated results or in pious glee I discover and assault my error. God give me strength not to trust to God!


A Conversation

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, chapter 21:
While she talked he tried to discover whether she had any brains whatever.


On Dining with One's Hat On

I often see men or boys dining with their hats on, usually baseball caps, sometimes worn backwards. The sight shocks and horrifies me. When I was a boy, if I had ever sat down to a family meal with my cap on, my mother would have knocked it off my head and boxed my ears to boot. When I was a boy, did I say? My mother is now ninety-one years old, and I still wouldn't dare to sit down to eat with a hat on in her presence. Hats off in the house—that was, and is, the rule.

Autres temps, autres moeurs. I read in Tighe Hopkins, An Idler in Old France (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1899), p. 93:
In the eighteenth century (and within eighteen years of the nineteenth) you sit down to table with your hat on—removing it only if your health is toasted by "a person of quality"...

Monday, November 14, 2011


Balfour as Bibliophile

Thanks to Eric Thomson for the following description of Balfour's reading habits, from Blanche E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour, First Earl of Balfour K.G., O.M. F.R.S., Vol. 1. (G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1937), pp. 135-136. Blanche Dugdale was Arthur Balfour's niece.
Nothing ever interfered with his reading. He always had several books on hand at once. The latest work on science might be found propped up on the mantelpiece of his bedroom to vary the process of dressing, and Lady Frances once declared that she suspected him of "making a raft of his sponge" to support a French novel while he took his bath. It was seldom that some work by Edgar Wallace or P.G. Wodehouse was absent from his bedside after these authors rose to fame, and the table by his arm-chair was always heaped with books of history, or Memoirs. It would be difficult to define the limits of his reading. Its range could astonish even his oldest friends, as for instance when, staying with Lord and Lady Desborough at Taplow Court on the eve of a General Election, he carried off to his bedroom a manual on chess, a game which since his boyhood he was never seen to play. Serious fiction was perhaps the only class of book upon which he was cautious of embarking. He never began a new novel until he was assured that it ended well. If no such assurance was forthcoming, he fell back upon Scott, Jane Austen, Kipling, and Stevenson.

He chose "The Pleasures of Reading" for the subject of his Rectorial Address to St. Andrews University in 1887, and there gave his personal answer to that most personal of questions—what to read and how to read it. Mr. Frederic Harrison had lately given forth some portentous warnings against "gorging and enfeebling" the intellect by over-indulgence in carelessly chosen literature. Balfour suggested that the analogy between the human mind and the human stomach might be pressed too far. He had never himself met the person whose natural gifts had been overloaded with learning. No doubt many learned people were dull, but not because they were learned. "True dullness is seldom acquired. It is a natural grace, the manifestations of which, however modified by education, remain in substance the same." People should not be afraid to read what they enjoyed. Idle curiosity, so-called, was a thing to be encouraged. Here follows a passage which might well mislead posterity into supposing Balfour a newspaper addict, ingeniously defending his favourite vice. The exhaustive study of the morning and evening papers was "only a somewhat unprofitable exercise of that disinterested love of knowledge that moves men to penetrate the Polar snows, or to explore the secrets of the remotest heavens.... It can be turned, and it should be turned into a curiosity for which nothing...can be wholly alien or uninteresting."

Such being his views, Balfour was naturally a lavish book-buyer. The library at Whittingehame is a large room, well stocked before his day with standard works of every kind. Soon it overflowed, and other rooms were lined with shelves. His own sitting-room was packed from floor to ceiling, mainly with books on philosophy and theology, and its sofas were heaped with flotsam and jetsam of current publications. The books at Whittingehame had an alert look about them, as if expecting to be pulled out at any moment. They were, in fact, often temporarily lost, for the ever-growing library was too large to be kept in order by the family's spasmodic efforts at arrangement, continually begun, but never ended. If Balfour was found wandering down the corridor at unwonted hours he was most likely in search of some book, and his relations would rush to proffer conflicting evidence about the present position of the missing volume.

"Read everything you find interesting and nothing that you don't," was nearly the sum-total of his advice to the younger generation with regard to literature. It sounded easy, yet to try to keep up with him along any of his primrose paths to knowledge, was to discover how deceptive was that apparently leisurely pace.
Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm


A Savior Goddess?

R.W. Daniel, "Laughing Stones: Literary Parallels to ΠΕΡΔΕ in the New Acclamations from Aphrodisias," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 61 (1985) 127-130 (at 130):
It seems that a fart was also apotropaic. In this connection, note that in the Charition mime, P. Oxy. III 413, πορδή is personified and elevated to the rank of a savior goddess. Cf. also Crusius' restoration of Col. I, lines 1-3 of this mime (Herondae Mimiambi Novis Fragmentis Adiectis, p. 101f.):

              ἵνα μὴ τρ]ωθῇς, πορδήν βάλε
                                                     ]. Β. πορδήν;
ἰσχυρόταται γὰρ αὖτ]αι δοκοῦσι ἀποτροπαί.
I translate Otto Crusius' restoration as follows:
              Lest you be wound]ed, let a fart.
                                                     ] B. A fart?
For most powerful these] averters of evil seem.
In the first line, where Crusius supplied ἵνα μὴ τρ]ωθῇς ("lest you be wounded"), Tadeusz Zieliński conjectured ἵνα σ]ωθῇς and Georg Knoke ἵνα διασ]ωθῇς, i.e. "in order that you might be saved (or preserved)."

The Greek feminine noun πορδή (pordē) means fart, and R.W. Daniel thinks that Pordē is here personified as a savior goddess. John J. Winkler, Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius' Golden Ass (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 290, amusingly suggests the name "Fartemis" for such a goddess.

The adjective ἀποτρόπαιος (apotropaios = averting evil) is often an epithet of gods.

On the salvific power of breaking wind, cf. the Greek Anthology 11.395 (Nicarchus, tr. W.R. Paton):
A fart which cannot find an outlet kills many a man; a fart also saves, sending forth its lisping music. Therefore if a fart saves, and on the other hand kills, a fart has the same power as kings.

Πορδὴ ἀποκτέννει πολλοὺς ἀδιέξοδος οὖσα·
  πορδὴ καὶ σώζει τραυλὸν ἱεῖσα µέλος.
οὐκοῦν εἰ σώζει, καὶ ἀποκτέννει πάλι πορδή,
  τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν ἴσην πορδὴ ἔχει δύναµιν.
The action of the Charition mime takes place in India. I don't know whether anyone has ever compared the putative goddess Pordē in the Charition mime with reports of an ancient Egyptian god of flatulence, attested in the following sources.

Theophilus, To Autolycus 1.10.1 (tr. Marcus Dods):
Why should I further recount the multitude of animals worshipped by the Egyptians, both reptiles, and cattle, and wild beasts, and birds and river-fishes; and even wash-pots and disgraceful noises?

Τί μοι λοιπὸν καταλέγειν τὸ πλῆθος ὧν σέβονται ζώων Αἰγύπτιοι, ἑρπετῶν τε καὶ κτηνῶν καὶ θηρίων καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ ἐνύδρων νηκτῶν, ἔτι δὲ καὶ ποδόνιπτρα καὶ ἤχους αἰσχύνης;
Minucius Felix, Octavius 28.10 (tr. R.E. Wallis):
These same Egyptians, together with very many of you, are not more afraid of Isis than they are of the pungency of onions, nor of Serapis more than they tremble at the basest noises produced by the foulness of their bodies.

Idem Aegyptii cum plerisque vobis non magis Isidem quam ceparum acrimonias metuunt, nec Serapidem magis quam strepitus per pudenda corporis expressos contremescunt.
Pseudo-Clement, Homilies 10.16.2 (tr. M.B. Riddle):
For some of them taught the worship of an ox called Apis, some that of a he-goat, some of a cat, some of a serpent; yea, even of a fish, and of onions, and rumblings in the stomach, and common sewers, and members of irrational animals, and to myriads of other base abominations they gave the name of god.

οἱ μὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν παρέδοσαν βοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Ἄπιν σέβειν, οἱ δὲ τράγον, οἱ δὲ αἴλουρον, οἱ δὲ ὄφιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἰχθὺν καὶ κρόμμυα καὶ γαστρῶν πνεύματα καὶ ὀχετοὺς καὶ ἀλόγων ζῴων μέλη <σὺν> καὶ ἄλλοις μυρίοις πάνυ αἰσχροῖς ἀτοπήμασιν.
Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 5.20.3 (tr. Thomas Smith):
For some taught that their ox, which is called Apis, ought to be worshipped; others taught that the he-goat, others that cats, the ibis, a fish also, a serpent, onions, drains, crepitus ventris [farts], ought to be regarded as deities, and innumerable other things, which I am ashamed even to mention.

nam alii eorum bovem, qui Apis dicitur, colendum tradidere, alii hircum, alii cattas, nonnulli ibim, quidam serpentem, piscem quoque et caepas et cloacas, crepitus ventris pro numinibus habendos esse docuerunt et alia innumerabilia quae pudet etiam nominare.
St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 13.46 (my translation):
For also several of their cities take their names from wild beasts and livestock, Kynopolis from the dog, Leontopolis from the lion, Thmouis from the goat in the Egyptian language, Lykopolis from the wolf, not to mention the dreadful and terrible onion and the noise of a swollen belly, which is an object of veneration in Pelusium.

nam et pleraque oppida eorum ex bestiis et iumentis habent nomina, κυνῶν a cane, λέων a leone, lingua Aegyptia θμοῦϊς ab hirco, λύκων a lupo, ut taceam de formidoloso et horribili coepe, et crepitu ventris inflati, quae Pelusiaca religio est.
It should be noted that some scholars think that occurrences of the word πορδή in the Charition mime don't refer to a goddess, but are rather stage directions, i.e. instructions to actor(s) to make farting noises. D.L. Page, ed., Select Papyri, Vol. III: Literary Papyri. Poetry (1941; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 339, opines:
The word πορδ(ή), once associated with the remarks of the Clown, is surely a stage direction: it may have played an integral part in the action of the farce (Winter, p. 45: artillery to repel the approach of the barbarians, cf. vv. 45-46).
Unfortunately I don't have access to recent editions and discussions of this mime, such as Jeffrey Rusten and I. C. Cunningham, edd., Theophrastus: Characters; Herodas: Mimes; Sophron and Other Mime Fragments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), and Stefania Santelia, Charition Liberata (P. Oxy. 413) (Bari: Levante, 1991). A demand for user name and password blocks me when I try to look at an image of P. Oxy. 413 at the Oxyrhynchus Online database.

Related posts:Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who sent me a copy of R.W. Daniel's article.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


At Second Hand?

From Ian Jackson:
The opening lines of the Jeffers poem quoted in What's the best life for a man (8th Nov) suggest to me not that RJ had Sophocles and Petronius at his fingertips, but that he was modishly conversant with such modern poets as Yeats and Eliot. (I have no edition of Jeffers in the house, let alone an annotated text to check, so I have no way of knowing whether my remark is idle folly or conventional wisdom).

Petronius's passage about the Sibyl appears in Eliot's "Waste Land", and is, I suspect, RJ's source. The Sophocles was translated, more or less, by Yeats. I was about to send the text to you, but found that you had posted it (s.v. Yeats and Sophocles) six years ago. Jeffers was, of course, highly influenced by WBY, not least in his politics and his tower-fixation. There is an excellent short book by Theodore Ziolkowski, The View from the Tower: origins of an anti-modernist image (Princeton U.P. 1998), which deals with the towers of Yeats, Jeffers, Rilke and Jung.
Robert J. O'Hara also mentioned the Waste Land connection to me.


Reading in the Balfour Position

I've been asked a few times what H.C. Beeching meant when he wrote about "the habit of reading in the Balfour position." I'm not sure, but perhaps it refers to the occasion, during the Boer War, when an important dispatch was delivered to Arthur Balfour. He was in the bathtub at the time.


A Modest Proposal

Arnaldo Momigliano, Essays on Ancient and Modern Judaism. Edited and with an Introduction by Silvia Berti. Translated by Maura Masella-Gayley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 54, n. 9, in a review of E.R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (square brackets in the footnote):
When it comes to details, Goodenough is at times naive. See, for example, his interpretation of a grotesque lamp from Naples (4:1 144, fig. 112). He also believes that πίε ζήσαις ἀεὶ ἐν ἀγαθοῖς [pie tessis sei eu agatois] on a glass means "drink and thou shalt live forever among the good" (that is, "among the saints"), and he comments, "the phrase is definitely eschatological" (2:117).
The transliteration of the Greek occurs only in the English translation, not in the original Italian, Pagine ebraiche (Torino: Einaudi, 1987), p. 59, which didn't appear in print until after Momigliano's death. As it stands, the transliteration is complete gibberish. It should be pie zēsais aei en agathois.

This is just one of many misprints in the English translation. Several involve improper English equivalents for names in the original Italian. For example, on p. 12 there is a citation of "Geronymus, Chronica," and on p. 89 we read about "St. Girolamo"—in both places read "Jerome." In an essay on Leo Strauss, mention is made of "Xenophon's Hyeron" and (three times) of someone named "Gerone" (p. 182)—these are garbled references to the Syracusan tyrant Hiero. On p. 22 there is a citation to Babilonese Sotah, i.e. tractate Sotah in the Babylonian Talmud (missing from the "Index to Biblical and Talmudic References" on p. 241). In the index on p. 242 there is an entry for "Manius Sergius of Polybius," as if Polybius were a place name, rather than the name of a Greek historian. On p. 43:
One of the most respected pupils of Callimachus Istro of Paphos wrote at least two books on the epiphaneiai of Appollos (A. Tresp, Griech. Kultschriftsteller, p. 198).
Change this to:
One of the most respected pupils of Callimachus, Istrus of Paphos, wrote at least two books on the epiphaneiai of Apollo (A. Tresp, Griech. Kultschriftsteller, p. 198).
On p. 80, n. 1, read "Du bon usage de la trahison," not "Du bon usage de la trabison." These are just a few of the misprints disfiguring this book, issued by a "respected" university press.

Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 2: Seminumerical Algorithms, 3rd ed. (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1998), p. vii:
I have corrected every error that alert readers detected in the second edition (as well as some mistakes that, alas, nobody noticed); and I have tried to avoid introducing new errors in the new material. However, I suppose some defects still remain, and I want to fix them as soon as possible. Therefore I will cheerfully pay $2.56 to the first finder of each technical, typographical, or historical error.
Knuth makes the same offer in other books, e.g. in Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth, and Oren Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics, 2nd ed. (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1994), p. ix:
We have tried to produce a perfect book, but we are imperfect authors. Therefore we solicit help in correcting any mistakes that we've made. A reward of $2.56 will gratefully be paid to the first finder of any error, whether it is mathematical, historical, or typographical.
In the event that there aren't new editions, Knuth posts corrections on his web site. I doubt that Knuth's bank account suffers much by payment of these rewards. First, he is so careful and painstaking that he makes few mistakes. Second, I suspect that most of those lucky enough to receive a $2.56 check from Knuth don't cash it, but rather save it as a prized possession.

Knuth's passion for accuracy is admirable and worthy of imitation. My modest proposal is that university presses make similar offers to readers who find mistakes. But I doubt that any publisher would dare to follow Knuth's example. Some might go bankrupt if they did.


Saturday, November 12, 2011


De Rerum Natura

Robinson Jeffers, statement to the American Humanist Association (March 25, 1951):
Man is a part of nature, but a nearly infinitesimal part; the human race will cease after a while and leave no trace, but the great splendors of nature will go on. Meanwhile, most of our time and energy are necessarily spent on human affairs; that can’t be prevented, though I think it should be minimized; but for philosophy, which is an endless research of truth, and for contemplation, which can be a sort of worship, I would suggest that the immense beauty of the earth and the outer universe, the divine “nature of things,” is a more rewarding object. Certainly it is more pleasant to think of than the hopes and horrors of humanity, and more ennobling. It is a source of strength; the other of distraction.
Related post: Toadstools by the Wayside.


Portrait of the Blogger as an Old Man

From Don Marquis, The Almost Perfect State:
Personally we look forward to an old age of dissipation and indolence and unreverend disrepute. In fifty years we shall be ninety-two years old. We intend to work rather hard during those fifty years and accumulate enough to live on without working any more for the next ten years, for we have determined to die at the age of one hundred and two.

During the last ten years we shall indulge ourself in many things that we have been forced by circumstances to forego. We have always been compelled, and we shall be compelled for many years to come, to be prudent, cautious, staid, sober, conservative, industrious, respectful of established institutions, a model citizen. We have not liked it, but we have been unable to escape it. Our mind, our logical faculties, our observation, inform us that the conservatives have the right side of the argument in all human affairs. But the people whom we really prefer as associates, though we do not approve their ideas, are the rebels, the radicals, the wastrels, the vicious, the poets, the Bolshevists, the idealists, the nuts, the Lucifers, the agreeable good-for-nothings, the sentimentalists, the prophets, the freaks. We have never dared to know any of them, far less become intimate with them.

Between the years of ninety-two and a hundred and two, however, we shall be the ribald, useless, drunken, outcast person we have always wished to be. We shall have a long white beard and long white hair; we shall not walk at all, but recline in a wheel chair and bellow for alcoholic beverages; in the winter we shall sit before the fire with our feet in a bucket of hot water, a decanter of corn whiskey near at hand, and write ribald songs against organized society; strapped to one arm of our chair will be a forty-five calibre revolver, and we shall shoot out the lights when we want to go to sleep, instead of turning them off; when we want air we shall throw a silver candlestick through the front window and be damned to it; we shall address public meetings (to which we have been invited because of our wisdom) in a vein of jocund malice. We shall ... but we don’t wish to make any one envious of the good time that is coming to us ... We look forward to a disreputable, vigorous, unhonoured, and disorderly old age.
Don Marquis didn't live until the age of a hundred and two, or even until ninety-two. He died at the age of fifty-eight. Therein is a warning. I intend to start on my "disreputable, vigorous, unhonoured, and disorderly old age" this very day.

Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667), The Old Drinker

Related post: Procrastination.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Best Never To Be Born

Thanks to Michael Hendry for sending additional references on the ancient idea that it is best never to be born.

Bacchylides 5.160-162 (said by Meleager in Hades, tr. David A. Campbell):
Best for mortals never to be born, never to set eyes on the sun's light.

θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον,
μηδ᾽ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν
Euripides, fragment 285, lines 1-2 (from the play Bellerophon, tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
I myself affirm what is of course a common word everywhere, that it is best for a man not to be born.

ἐγὼ τὸ μὲν δὴ πανταχοῦ θρυλούμενον
κράτιστον εἶναι φημὶ μὴ φῦναι βροτῷ.
Euripides, fragment 908, line 1 (from an unknown play, tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Not to be born is better than life for mortals.

τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.
Aristotle, fragment 44 Rose (from the dialogue Eudemus, or On the Soul, preserved by [Plutarch], Consolation to Apollonius 27 = Moralia 115 C-E, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
"And in addition to this you observe how the saying, which is on the lips of all men, has been passed from mouth to mouth for many years." "What is this?" said he. And the other, again taking up the discourse, said: "That not to be born is the best of all, and that to be dead is better than to live. And the proof that this is so has been given to many men by the deity. So, for example, they say that Silenus, after the hunt in which Midas of yore had captured him, when Midas questioned and inquired of him what is the best thing for mankind and what is the most preferable of all things, was at first unwilling to tell, but maintained a stubborn silence. But when at last, by employing every device, Midas induced him to say something to him, Silenus, forced to speak, said: 'Ephemeral offspring of a travailing genius and of harsh fortune, why do you force me to speak what it were better for you men not to know? For a life spent in ignorance of one's own woes is most free from grief. But for men it is utterly impossible that they should obtain the best thing of all, or even have any share in its nature (for the best thing for all men and women is not to be born); however, the next best thing to this, and the first of those to which man can attain, but nevertheless only the second best, is, after being born, to die as quickly as possible.' It is evident, therefore, that he made this declaration with the conviction that existence after death is better than that in life."

"καὶ ταῦθ᾽ οὕτως ἀρχαῖα καὶ παλαιὰ παρ᾽ ἡμῖν, ὥστε τὸ παράπαν οὐδεὶς οἶδεν οὔτε τοῦ χρόνου τὴν ἀρχὴν οὔτε τὸν θέντα πρῶτον, ἀλλὰ τὸν ἄπειρον αἰῶνα διατελεῖ νενομισμένα. πρὸς δὲ δὴ τούτοις διὰ στὸματος ὂν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ὁρᾷς καὶ ἐκ πολλῶν ἐτῶν περιφέρεται θρυλούμενον." "τί τοῦτ᾽;" ἔφη. κἀκεῖνος ὑπολαβών "ὡς ἄρα μὴ γενέσθαι μέν" ἔφη "ἄριστον πάντων, τὸ δὲ τεθνάναι τοῦ ζῆν ἐστι κρεῖττον. καὶ πολλοῖς: οὕτω παρὰ τοῦ δαιμονίου μεμαρτύρηται. τοῦτο μὲν ἐκείνῳ τῷ Μίδᾳ λέγουσι δήπου μετὰ τὴν θήραν ὡς ἔλαβε τὸν Σειληνὸν διερωτῶντι καὶ πυνθανομένῳ τί ποτ᾽ ἐστὶ τὸ βέλτιστον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ τί τὸ πάντων αἱρετώτατον, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οὐδὲν ἐθέλειν εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ σιωπᾶν ἀρρήκτως: ἐπειδὴ δέ ποτε μόγις πᾶσαν μηχανὴν μηχανώμενος προσηγάγετο φθέγξασθαί τι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὕτως ἀναγκαζόμενον εἰπεῖν 'δαίμονος ἐπιπόνου καὶ τύχης χαλεπῆς ἐφήμερον σπέρμα, τί με βιάζεσθε λέγειν ἅὑμῖν ἄρειον μὴ γνῶναι; μετ᾽ ἀγνοίας γὰρ τῶν οἰκείων κακῶν ἀλυπότατος ὁ βίος. ἀνθρώποις δὲ πάμπαν οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι τὸ πάντων ἄριστον οὐδὲ μετασχεῖν τῆς τοῦ βελτίστου φύσεως ἄριστον ὰρα πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι: τὸ μέντοι μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον τῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνυστῶν, δεύτερον δέ, τὸ γενομένους ἀποθανεῖν ὡς τάχιστα.' δῆλον οὖν ὡς οὔσης κρείττονος τῆς ἐν τῷ τεθνάναι διαγωγῆς ἢ τῆς ἐν τῷ ζῆν, οὕτως ἀπεφήνατο."

Analogous is the idea that one should mourn when a child is born and rejoice when a man dies, e.g. Herodotus 5.4 (tr. A.D. Godley):
The Trausi, who in all else conform to the customs of other Thracians, do as I will show at the times of birth and death. When a child is born, the kinsmen sit around it and lament all the ills that it must endure from its birth onward, recounting all the sorrows of men. The dead, however, they bury with celebration and gladness, asserting that he is rid of so many ills and has achieved a state of complete blessedness.

τούτων δὲ τὰ μὲν Γέται οἱ ἀθανατίζοντες ποιεῦσι, εἴρηταί μοι: Τραυσοὶ δὲ τὰ μὲν ἄλλα πάντα κατὰ ταὐτὰ τοῖσι ἄλλοισι Θρήιξι ἐπιτελέουσι, κατὰ δὲ τὸν γινόμενόν σφι καὶ ἀπογινόμενον ποιεῦσι τοιάδε: τὸν μὲν γενόμενον περιιζόμενοι οἱ προσήκοντες ὀλοφύρονται, ὅσα μιν δεῖ ἐπείτε ἐγένετο ἀναπλῆσαι κακά, ἀνηγεόμενοι τὰ ἀνθρωπήια πάντα πάθεα: τὸν δ᾽ ἀπογενόμενον παίζοντές τε καὶ ἡδόμενοι γῇ κρύπτουσι, ἐπιλέγοντες ὅσων κακῶν ἐξαπαλλαχθεὶς ἐστὶ ἐν πάσῃ εὐδαιμονίῃ.
and Euripides, fragment 449 (from the play Cresphontes, tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
We would do better to assemble and bewail a newborn child for all the troubles he is entering, and when a man dies and has his rest from hardships to see him from his home with joy and cries of gladness.

ἐχρῆν γὰρ ἡμᾶς σύλλογον ποιουμένους
τὸν φύντα θρηνεῖν εἰς ὅσ᾽ ἔρχεται κακά,
τὸν δ᾽ αὖ θανόντα καὶ πόνων πεπαυμένον
χαίροντας εὐφημοῦντας ἐκπέμπειν δόμων.
Latin translation of Euripides' lines by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.48.115:
nam nos decebat coetus celebrantis domum
lugere, ubi esset aliquis in lucem editus,
humanae vitae varia reputantis mala;
at, qui labores morte finisset gravis,
hunc omni amicos laude et laetitia exsequi.

On the persistence of this idea, Robert J. O'Hara writes in an email:
A verse that appears on a few 18th-century gravestones of children is one that derives ultimately, through several poetical intermediates, from those lines of Theognis. It's striking because it's a very non-Puritan sentiment to find in these late-Puritan New England burying grounds.

I attach two photos here of the gravestone of Nathaniel Thurston of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who died 24 January 1772, aged one day. The verse reads:
Happy the babe Who privileg'd by fate
To shorter labor & a ligter Weight
Recev'd but yesterday ye gift of breath
Ordored tomarrow to return to death
So there's a direct line from Archaic Greece to early New England through these brief lines.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The Last Chronicle of Barset

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867).

Chapter V:
No man reverences a clergyman, as a clergyman, so slightly as a brother clergyman.
Chapter IX:
None but they who have themselves been poor gentry,—gentry so poor as not to know how to raise a shilling,—can understand the peculiar bitterness of the trials which such poverty produces. The poverty of the normal poor does not approach it; or, rather, the pangs arising from such poverty are altogether of a different sort. To be hungry and have no food, to be cold and have no fuel, to be threatened with distraint for one's few chairs and tables, and with the loss of the roof over one's head,—all these miseries, which, if they do not positively reach, are so frequently near to reaching the normal poor, are, no doubt, the severest of the trials to which humanity is subjected. They threaten life,—or, if not life, then liberty,—reducing the abject one to a choice between captivity and starvation.
Chapter IX:
I know a man,—an excellent fellow, who, being himself a strong politician, constantly expresses a belief that all politicians opposed to him are thieves, child-murderers, parricides, lovers of incest, demons upon the earth.
Chapter XVI (spoken by Lily Dale):
"There is some queer-looking animal of whom they say that he is better than he looks, and I always think of that saying when I think of my uncle."
Chapter XVII (spoken by Mr. Crawley):
"I have long ceased, Mr. Robarts, to care much what any man or woman may say about my shoes."
Chapter XXIV (spoken by Miss Demolines and Mr. Eames):
"I know very well that men are friends when they step up and shake hands with each other. It is the same as when women kiss."

"When I see women kiss, I always think that there is deep hatred at the bottom of it."
Chapter XXV (spoken by Conway Dalrymple):
"You are just like some of those men who for years past have been going to write a book on some new subject. The intention has been sincere at first, and it never altogether dies away. But the would-be author, though he still talks of his work, knows that it will never be executed, and is very patient under the disappointment. All enthusiasm about the thing is gone, but he is still known as the man who is going to do it some day."
Chapter XLIX:
"He ain't got nothing to do," said the housemaid to the cook, "and as for reading, they say that some of the young ones can read all day sometimes, and all night too; but, bless you, when you're nigh eighty, reading don't go for much."
Chapter L:
It is ever so much easier to proffer kindness graciously than to receive it with grace....But the suffering spirit cannot descend from its dignity of reticence. It has a nobility of its own, made sacred by many tears, by the flowing of streams of blood from unseen wounds, which cannot descend from its daïs to receive pity and kindness. A consciousness of undeserved woe produces a grandeur of its own, with which the high-souled sufferer will not easily part.
Chapter LII:
But with all of us, in the opinion which we form of those around us, we take unconsciously the opinion of others. A woman is handsome because the world says so. Music is charming to us because it charms others. We drink our wines with other men's palates, and look at our pictures with other men's eyes.
Chapter LII:
"I'd sooner be a horse in a mill than have to go to an office every day," said Mrs. Smith...
Chapter LIX (spoken by Mrs. Thorne):
"There are moments when it is a man's duty simply to vanish, to melt into the air, or to sink into the ground,—in which he is bound to overcome the difficulties of such sudden self-removal, or must ever after be accounted poor and mean."
Chapter LXII:
Was there ever a man whose existence was so purposeless, so useless, so deleterious, as his own? And yet he knew Hebrew well, whereas the dean knew but very little Hebrew. He could make Greek iambics, and doubted whether the bishop knew the difference between an iambus and a trochee. He could disport himself with trigonometry, feeling confident that Dr. Tempest had forgotten his way over the asses' bridge. He knew "Lycidas" by heart; and as for Thumble, he felt quite sure that Thumble was incompetent of understanding a single allusion in that divine poem. Nevertheless, though all this wealth of acquirement was his, it would be better for himself, better for those who belonged to him, better for the world at large, that he should be put an end to.
Chapter LXVIII (spoken by Mr. Crawley):
"Those who are high in station strike us more by their joys and sorrows than do the poor and lowly. Were some young duke's wife, wedded but the other day, to die, all England would put on some show of mourning,—nay, would feel some true gleam of pity; but nobody cares for the widowed brickmaker seated with his starving infant on his cold hearth."
Chapter LXXIII:
"He must be the oddest man that ever lived," said Mrs. Grantly, "not to have known where he got the cheque." The archdeacon shook his head, and rubbed his hands as he walked about the room. "I suppose too much learning has upset him," said the archdeacon. "They say he's not very good at talking English, but put him on in Greek and he never stops."
Chapter LXXX:
During the whole of that day Johnny was resolving that there could be no cure for his malady but hard work. He would not only work hard at the office if he remained there, but he would take to heavy reading. He rather thought that he would go deep into Greek and do a translation, or take up the exact sciences and make a name for himself that way. But as he had enough for the life of a secluded literary man without his salary, he rather thought that he would give up his office altogether. He had a mutton chop at home that evening, and spent his time in endeavouring to read out loud to himself certain passages from the Iliad;—for he had bought a Homer as he returned from his office....On the next day he was cooler and wiser. Greek he thought might be tedious as he discovered that he would have to begin again from the very alphabet. He would therefore abandon that idea. Greek was not the thing for him, but he would take up the sanitary condition of the poor in London. A fellow could be of some use in that way.
Chapter LXXXI:
Now Dr. Filgrave was the leading physician of Barchester, and nobody of note in the city,—or for the matter of that in the eastern division of the county,—was allowed to start upon the last great journey without some assistance from him as the hour of going drew nigh. I do not know that he had much reputation for prolonging life, but he was supposed to add a grace to the hour of departure.

Newer›  ‹Older

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