Sunday, September 30, 2012


After the Death of a Bachelor

James Hurnard (1808-1881), The Setting Sun, 3rd ed. (London: Saml. Harris & Co., 1878), pp. 59-60; rpt. in James Hurnard: A Victorian Character. Being Passages from The Setting Sun. Selected and Arranged by G. Rostrevor Hamilton (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946), pp. 23-24:
To die, and have an end of all one's troubles,
And find admittance to a better world,
May soothe the pillow of a sinking man;
But to have eager, prying relatives
Ransack out all one's precious drawers and boxes,
Read one's most valued, sacred, secret letters,
Laugh at one's little tear be-sprinkled keepsakes,
Disarrange all one's chosen books and papers,
And have one's treasures cast aside as rubbish;
To have one's old apartments desecrated
By an unfeeling, prying auction-crowd—
To have a flippant, callous auctioneer
Make jokes upon one's dear familiar chairs,
Selling one's loved inanimate old friends,
The furniture that we have used from childhood,
Fondly associated with our daily life;
To have one's very garments chaffered for,
By our relations, with a clothes'-dealer—
This seems to me one of the saddest pictures
A poor old dying bachelor can ponder.



James Hurnard (1808-1881), The Setting Sun, 3rd ed. (London: Saml. Harris & Co., 1878), p. 88; rpt. in James Hurnard: A Victorian Character. Being Passages from The Setting Sun. Selected and Arranged by G. Rostrevor Hamilton (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946), pp. 92-93:
I see a man looking most grave and sensible,
Day after day, and oftener than the day,
With something ugly sticking from his mouth,
A little, crooked, perforated tube,
Six inches long, black and repulsive-looking,
And having a protuberance at the end,
From which a curling quackling fume arises,
Indicative of latent fire within.
He sucks the sombre perforated tube,
And draws into his mouth the nauseous fume,
Fed by combustion of a foreign weed,
And puffs it slowly out into the air;
Perhaps he watches its return to nothing,
And finds a moral in its evanescence;
And this to this grave man is happiness!
More precious to him than his daily food!
But adding something to his natural thirst,
And leading him direct to drinking-habits!
Thus he imbibes a deleterious poison;—
If he should swallow it, it poisons him,
And if he spits it out, the waste of spittle
Spoils his digestive powers, and slowly kills him;
While wise and thoughtful men act so unwisely
No wonder boys, that would be men, do likewise,
Although it makes them puke and have the headache:—
One comfort is, the tax upon tobacco
Fills nicely full the coffers of the state,
And wise it seems that fools should pay the taxes,
If the majority of men are fools.



Dear Mike,

Your post 'George Washington and the Cherry Tree' brought another statesman to mind. Nothing fabricated about Gladstone's exploits with the axe.

Richard Aldous, The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli (London: Pimlico, 2007) pp. 128-9:
Felling trees was a form of relaxation that Gladstone practiced with zealous passion. In 1858 he began taking lessons in axemanship. By the time he became chancellor again in 1859, chopping down trees had already become his favourite leisure pursuit. During the long parliamentary recesses at Hawarden, he would venture into the woods on most afternoons with his son, Willy, to work up a sweat in attacking more trees. It was an interest he would pursue well into his eighties, when (as he noted with characteristic precision in his diary) mere 'axe-work' replaced 'tree-felling'. Gladstone perhaps had more enthusiasm than real skill. One Christmas, he almost blinded himself when a large splinter lodged in his eye. A few days later he almost killed another son, Harry, when 'a tree we were cutting fell with [him] in it'. Gladstone's suspect ability did not matter to his many admirers who saw in his woodland activities a rousing example of manly vitality and protean strength. Others were less impressed. 'The forest laments,' remarked Lord Randolph Churchill mordantly, 'in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire.'
Lesser men might have been content to be photographed holding a walking stick or an umbrella. Not so Gladstone:

Best regards,
Eric Thomson


Saturday, September 29, 2012


George Washington and the Cherry Tree

The biography of George Washington by Mason Locke Weems (1758-1825), also known as Parson Weems, went through many editions in the author's lifetime, and has often been reprinted since. According to Walter B. Norris, in a letter to the editor of The Nation, Vol. 94, No. 2435 (February 29, 1912) 207-208 (at 208), the story of the cherry tree first appeared in the fifth edition, published in Augusta, Georgia, in 1806.

That edition is unavailable to me, but here is the story from M.L. Weems, The Life of George Washington; With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honourable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen (Philadephia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1858), pp. 15-16:
The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last.

"When George," said she, "was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him any thing about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."—Run to my arms, you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold."
The story quickly became popular. A kerchief was manufactured with a metrical version in rhyming couplets (New-York Historical Society, object number 1941.117):
The Love of Truth
Mark the Boy

At six years old, George,* full of boyish tricks,
Would often please himself by chopping sticks.
A friend, who witnessed oft his fav'rite sport,
Once bought a hatchet of the smaller sort,
And made a present to the darling boy.
The welcome treasure filled his heart with joy:
With eager speed he hasted to the court,
Where faggot piles afforded harmless sport;
But wishing soon new fields of enterprize,
The high wall'd garden next the adventurer tries.
There, thoughtless running down the gravel walks,
The heads of flowers he sever'd from their stalks.
This error would not much have signified,
Had not the hatchet's keenest edge been tried
Upon a favorite tree. Oh! fatal touch!
It bore an English cherry, valued much.
Dearly 'twas purchased, newly planted there,
To thrive for many a distant livelong year.
George left, perhaps unconscious of the wound,
Or else for string to tie the pieces round.
Soon after this, his Father passing by,
The shiver'd trunk directly caught his eye.
Quick rose vexation and regret to see
The hopeless ruin of his fav'rite tree;
Back to the house with hasty steps he ran,
The gard'ner question'd asked each maid and man,
But could no tidings gain; all, all said, "No!"
And sad suspense was left awhile to grow.
Just then the little fellow met his sire:
"O!" he exclaim'd "It is my great desire
To find the person who hath killed the tree
That yonder stands: come down with me and see."
The weapon of the deed by George was borne;
The father's heart was now with anguish torn.
He felt affection, for he loved his child—
Dreaded to chide—of disposition mild.
The real culprit, now so very near,
One moment thought, but shew'd no sign of fear.
His little heart with principle beat high:
"Papa, I cannot, will not tell a lie!
My sharp, bright hatchet gave the naughty stroke."
The parent then with love and rapture spoke,
"Run to my open arms, my dearest boy;
Your love of truth bespeaks a father's joy;
My sudden anger and my grief are fled,
Although my lovely cherry-tree is dead."

*Afterwards the celebrated WASHINGTON.
Most scholars who have studied the question agree that the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree, intended to teach the virtue of truthfulness, is itself a fabrication cooked up by the less than truthful Parson Weems. Norris wrote:
There is no direct evidence in favor of the authenticity of these anecdotes. Weems, indeed, knew many intimate friends of Washington, but that he should have, as he says, kept the stories secret for twenty years is incredible. A better explanation has come to me from a grandson of Weems. who had it from his father. It is that the whole thing was suggested by a similar occurrence to Weems's eldest son, who was born in 1799. He cut down a Pride of China and confessed, but, sad to say, according to my informer, he received not blessings, but a sound thrashing.
I don't know if anyone else has pointed it out, but there is a slight problem with the family tradition recounted by Parson Weem's grandson. "Pride of China" is a common name applied to species of the genus Koelreuteria, a type of tree from the Far East. Thomas Jefferson apparently was the first to grow Koelreuteria in the United States, from seed given to him by Madame de Tessé, as recorded in his garden book on October 6, 1809:
planted 14. Paulina Aurea, or Koelreuteria paniculata aurea in 2 boxes & a pot, to wit 4. in the pot, 4. in the large box, No 3.2 in the small one. No 2. recieved the seeds from Made de Tessé.
See Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, ed. Edwin Morris Betts (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1944; rpt. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999), p. 387 and n. 25 on p. 398. If Koelreuteria didn't exist in the United States until 1809, then Parson Weem's son could not have cut down a Pride of China in or before 1806 (date of the fifth edition of Weem's biography of Washington, in which the cherry tree story first appears).

The first artistic representation of the cherry tree story is on the kerchief mentioned earlier:

In 1867 John C. McRae made and put on sale the following engraving:

The McRae engraving is said to be "after a painting by G.G. White," i.e. George Gorgas White (died 1898). I don't know if White's painting survives.

Grant Wood (1891-1942) painted Parson Weem's Fable, now in the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth:


Friday, September 28, 2012


Human Nature Cannot Sink Much Lower

Russell Kirk (1918-1994), "When People Murder Trees," Ocala Star-Banner (September 1, 1964), p. 4:
Some people seem to hate trees with a diabolical passion.

In Danvers, Massachusetts, unknown vandals have hacked and sawed to pieces the oldest fruit tree in the United States; tree surgeons are endeavoring, by extraordinary measures, to save the remnant of it.

The Danvers pear tree was planted in 1639 by John Endicott, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, and had borne fruit ever since. This barbarous act was the activity of a whole crew of depredators, working with some system. What manner of man hates historic living things?

In Gironella's novel of the Spanish Civil War, The Cypresses Believe in God, members of the Anarchist Party of Gerona deliberately set fire to the ancient cypresses of the countryside in that dry land—to demonstrate their subversive power, and because they seem to hate trees as a symbol of vitality and continuity. Human nature cannot sink much lower.

In England there is a sporadic campaign against hedgerows, by strange people who would like to see the English countryside treeless, apparently. The small trees of the hedgerows are among the chief charms of the English landscape, and shelter bird life.

This destruction of trees is nothing new, nevertheless. In the last century, boys virtually destroyed the oldest tree in Britain, the yew at Fortingall, Scotland, by burning bonfires in its hollow trunk. (It survives only in a mutilated and diminished state, in a venerable little churchyard.)

State and county highway departments sometimes are among the enemies of trees, ruthlessly chopping down maples and elms and oaks near the right-of-way, perhaps on the theory that one of these might some day fall across the pavement.

A few years ago, the Michigan legislature found it necessary to pass a resolution deploring this grim destruction of beauty.

In the days of my youth, the oldest man in town—still vigorous, though—used to spend his time chopping down trees, whenever anyone offered him the chance. My kinsfolk used to wonder if he resented the possibility of anything living longer than himself.

In the late C.S. Lewis' romance That Hideous Strength, one of the fell designs of the villains (committed, like their other offenses, in the name of Progress) is gradually to destroy all trees in the world, so that the earth will have what they consider a smooth, bald, bare beauty: they hate anything organic. In the end, it turns out that these "reformers" have been the unwitting servants of a supernatural diabolical power.

Around my old house, the tall elms stand dead this year, and I must have them taken down: the dread elm blight destroyed them this spring and summer. But I shall plant maples and oaks and pines and spruces in their stead. To plant a tree is an act of piety, I think—signifying that the order of creation is good, and that man is here to maintain and beautify it, not to deface.

So what manner of men is it that murders trees? I would that he were in a pine box. And I'd like to paddle the boys who—possibly in ignorance—deeply girdle the silver birch trees, so that they wither; and other rascals who wantonly snap off the growing points of saplings.
On the damage to the Endicott pear tree and the attempt to repair it, see "Vandals Slash Historic Tree," Boston Globe (July 28, 1964), p. 3, and George Taloumis, "Endicott Pear Tree Is Being Saved," Boston Globe (August 30, 1964), p. A-63.

José María Gironella (1917-2003), Los Cipreses Creen en Dios (Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, [1953]), was translated by Harriet De Onís as The Cypresses Believe in God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955; rpt. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005). See pp. 467 ff. of the Ignatius edition on the burning of the trees.

On the Fortingall yew, see Robert Christison, "The Exact Measurement of Trees," Part 3: "The Yew Tree. The Fortingall Yew," Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society [of Edinburgh] 13 (1879) 410-435, esp. pp. 426-427 (bracketed material in original):
The late Mr Patrick Neill, who saw the tree in 1833, has given a precise account, so far as he goes, of its condition at that time. It seems to have undergone lamentable destruction during the few years which had elapsed after the date of Strutt's drawing. Neill says large arms had been removed and even masses of the trunk carried off, to make drinking-cups and other curiosities. In consequence, "the remains of the trunk present the appearance of a semicircular wall, exclusive of traces of decayed wood which scarcely rises above ground. Great quantities of new spray have issued from the firmer parts of the trunk, and young branches spring up to the height perhaps of twenty feet. The side of the trunk now existing gives a diameter of more than fifteen feet; so that it is easy to conceive that the circumference of the bole, when entire, should have exceeded fifty feet. Happily further depredations have been prevented by means of an iron rail, which now surrounds the sacred object" ["Edin. New Phil. Journal," 1833, xv. 343, Note].

The Reverend Robert Macdonald, the last minister of the parish of Fortingall, in the "Second Statistical Account of Scotland," confirms in 1838 the notice of Neill, and adds some historical information bearing directly upon the question of the antiquity of the tree. I had expected important information in the elaborate "First Statistical Account," collected under the auspices of Sir John Sinclair. But all there stated, after the mention of the yew is—"and a very remarkable tree it is" [ii. 456, 1792], Mr Macdonald, however, has been more communicative. He observes—"What remains of the celebrated yew-tree of Fortingall churchyard appears as two distinct trees, some yards distant from one another. At the commencement of my incumbency, thirty-two years ago (1806), there lived in the village of Kirktown a man of the name of Donald Robertson, then aged upwards of eighty years, who declared that, when a boy going to school, he could hardly enter between the two parts. Now a coach and four might pass between them; and the dilapidation was partly occasioned by the boys of the village kindling their fire of Baeltainn at its root. It is from 52 to 56 feet in circumference," ["Statist. Account of Scotland," x. 545, July 1838].
"Strutt's drawing" can be found in Jacob George Strutt, Sylva Britannica; or, Portraits of Forest Trees, Distinguished for Their Antiquity, Magnitude, or Beauty (London: Published by the Author, [1826]), section Sylva Scotica, between pp. 148-149.

Relevant excerpts from C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, are in an earlier post: One Day We Shave the Planet.

Hat tip for Kirk's article: Daniel Orazio (via Karl Maurer).



The Cancer of the Earth

Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), p. 199:
Des arbres massacrés. Des maisons surgissent. Des gueules, des gueules partout. L'homme s'étend. L'homme est le cancer de la terre.
Translation by Richard Howard, The Trouble With Being Born (New York: Seaver Books, 1976):
Trees are massacred, houses go up—faces, faces everywhere. Man is spreading. Man is the cancer of the earth.
Cf. a letter from Gerd Heinrich to his son (Easter morning, 1975), quoted in Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology (New York: Ecco, 2007), p. 419:
Homo sapiens is certainly the greatest pest the earth has ever borne.


Thursday, September 27, 2012


Line Item Billing

I'm not a lawyer, but I worked for a few years in a law office. Like the lawyers in the office, I had to keep track of the time I worked on various tasks, in six minute increments. Woe to him who didn't meet his quota of billable hours!

In the nineteenth century, James Hurnard (1808-1881) unleashed the following tirade against lawyers and line item billing, in book V, lines 862-975, of his poem The Setting Sun, 3rd ed. (London: Saml. Harris & Co., 1878), pp. 231-234, rpt. in James Hurnard: A Victorian Character. Being Passages from The Setting Sun. Selected and Arranged by G. Rostrevor Hamilton (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946), pp. 93-97:
But least of all would I be bred a lawyer,
Because I have a humble hope of heaven.
Let law alone, that sword which cuts both ways!
A lawyer, if a fool, is good for nothing;
And if a clever fellow he is worse;
The loftier his grade in the profession,
The more illimitable is his extortion;
The best of them are just the worst of them;
He may not knock you down and steal your money,
But he will surely worm it out of you.
He holds the key by which the law is opened;
If you want law you fain must go to him,
And he will soon unlock it with a vengeance,
And run you up a regular lawyer's bill.

For instance, if you simply buy a house,
He will take note of every interview,
And charge you for receiving your instructions,
Charge you likewise for drawing up the same,
Eight folio pages with a world of margin;
Charge you likewise for copying the same;
Charge you likewise for reading you the same,
And sending of it to the other party;
Charge you likewise for reading long reply
From London lawyer with a draft agreement;
Charge you likewise perusing of said draft,
Charge you likewise for copying the same,
Attending you, informing you thereof;
Charge you likewise transmitting draft agreement,
Along with letter, to the London lawyer.

Having received fair copy back for signature
Charge you for reading and examining same;
Charge you likewise attending you therewith,
Getting your signature and attesting same;
Charge you likewise attending London lawyer,
Exchanging forms of mutual agreement,
Instructing him to send abstract of title.

Having received the abstract of said title,
Charge you likewise perusing of the same;
Charge you likewise for making an appointment
With London lawyer to examine abstract,
And reading his reply, naming a day;
Charge you likewise for journey up to London;
Charge you likewise attending London lawyer,
Examining the abstract of the title,
Engaged four hours (making their little plant);
Charge you likewise for share of the expenses,
(Oysters and porter very probably);
Charge you likewise for making out fair copy
Of the said abstract after due correction,
And careful examination with the deeds;
Charge you likewise for drawing observations
Upon the aforesaid abstract of the title;
Charge you likewise fair copy of the same;
Charge you likewise transmitting of the same,
Along with letter, to the London lawyer.

Having received said observations back
From London lawyer, charge you for perusing
Answers thereto, informing you thereof:
(No doubt these answers from the London lawyer
Made out these observations were all humbug);
Charge you for the instructions for conveyance;
Charge you likewise for drawing the conveyance,
Just four and thirty folio pages full;
Charge you likewise attending upon counsel,
To settle same in legal conference.

Charge you again attending upon counsel,
Receiving of the same from him as settled;
Charge you the counsel's fees, also his clerks;
(All of them greedy crocodiles alike);
Next charge you for fair copy and perusal;
Charge you likewise transmitting the conveyance
To London lawyer to peruse the same,
With precious letter to him on the subject.

Having received conveyance back again,
Charge you perusing sundry alterations;
Charge you likewise engrossing said conveyance;
Charge you likewise for stamps and also parchments;
Charge you likewise examining the skin;
(No doubt to see if there were holes in it
Big enough for a lawyer to creep through:
A pin's point hole is amply large enough);
Charge you for sending same to London lawyer
To get him to attend upon the owner
To execute the deed, and pass the estate;
Charge you likewise writing to London lawyer
To make appointment to complete the business;
Also perusing letter in reply,
Attending and informing you thereof;
Charge you again for going up to London,
Attending London lawyer to complete,
Taking the deed, and giving receipt for same;
Charge you likewise for share of the expenses,
(The champagne dinner that they had together).

The title not complete without an extract
From Probate of a certain ancient will,
Charge you a journey to obtain the same;
Charge you likewise for copy of said extract;
Charge you likewise for drawing out a schedule
Of the old deeds to place with title writings;
Charge you likewise for paying London lawyer
For the agreement as agreed upon,
(No doubt this means they had agreed together
To bleed both parties to their hearts' content);
And charge you also for attending you,
Delivering up the precious deeds to you,
Taking receipt, and finally completing
This roundabout and complicated business,
And also handing you this little bill.
This has all the earmarks of being a versification of an actual lawyer's bill.


Totus in Illis

Francis Wayland, "Address [on Moses Stuart]," in Memorial of the Semi-Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the Theological Seminary at Andover (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1859), pp. 156-165 (at 158):
His motto was totus in illis, and no man ever exemplified it more perfectly in every pursuit of his life. No matter whether the subject were great or small, if he thought upon it at all, it was with an absorbing interest. Connected with this were, instinctive exultation in success, and mortification at even the fear of failure. He could not be satisfied with anything that he had done, unless he had done it as well as he could. To fail, after he had done all in his power to secure success, troubled him, whether in his garden, on his farm, or in his study. I well remember that on one occasion he needed a little assistance in getting in his hay, and indicated to his class that he would be gratified if some of us would help him for an hour or two. There was, of course, a general turn out. The crop was a sorry one, and as I was raking near him, I intimated to him something of the kind. I shall never forget his reply. "Bah! was there ever climate and soil like this! Manure the land as much as you will, it all leaches through this gravel, and very soon not a trace of it can be seen. If you plant early, everything is liable to be cut off by the late frosts of spring. If you plant late, your crop is destroyed by the early frosts of autumn. If you escape these, the burning sun of summer scorches your crop, and it perishes by heat and drought. If none of these evils overtake you, clouds of insects eat up your crop, and what the caterpillar leaves the canker-worm devours." Spoken in his deliberate and solemn utterance, I could compare it to nothing but the maledictions of one of the old prophets. I trust that both the climate and soil of this hill of Zion have improved since I last raked hay here in Professor Stuart's meadow.
The motto totus in illis comes from Horace, Satires 1.9.2. Here is the beginning of Horace's satire (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
I was strolling by chance along the Sacred Way, musing after my fashion on some trifle or other, and wholly intent thereon...

Ibam forte via sacra, sicut meus est mos,
nescio quid meditans nugarum, totus in illis...
The motto doesn't appear in Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010). Commentators compare Horace, Epistles 1.1.11: omnis in hoc sum.


Galbungus and Co.

R.A. Stewart Macalister (1870-1950), The Secret Languages of Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937), pp. 84-85 (on the works of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus):
The unknown writer, good easy man, did his best to make the absurd world realize that he was in jest. Like Socrates and his symposiasts in Plato's dialogues; like Mr Spectator with his Club; like Schumann with his portentous Davidsbündler; like Mrs Gamp with Mrs Harris and her family; like the excellent Sir Arthur Helps; he surrounded himself with an imaginary company of 'friends in council', whom we are to suppose working in harmony with him. To one of these airy fictions he gave the name 'Galbungus', which alone ought to have been enough to make the fortune of a humorist. These sages, it appears, had written marvellous books, the titles of which read like excerpts from the Academy Library Catalogue of Laputa: but not one of which has left the smallest trace behind, outside the casual references which our author makes to them. In the passage most frequently quoted, he shews us Galbungus and another colleague, Terrentianus [sic, read Terrentius], disputing day and night for a fortnight on the question whether the pronoun ego can have a vocative case. He affects a Latinity—or as he himself says, twelve different kinds of Latinity—never seen before on the earth, with all manner of spurious words and unheard-of grammatical forms. He discusses prosody, filling his illustrations with absurd false quantities. He teaches his readers how to make cryptograms which no human being could ever decipher, even though he knew the principle upon which they were constructed. He commends Cicero—another of his imaginary friends, not the orator—for inventing abbreviations equally impossible to comprehend. But to enumerate all his antics would involve a translation of the whole book.

It ought to have been obvious that the book is a parody, seasoned with bitterness. Galbungus and Co. are of one stuff with the Trissotins who haunt the salons of Les Femmes Savantes: indeed, the world lost much when Molière, who alone could have done it justice, passed from its ken without ever having had his attention drawn to the dispute upon the vocative of ego, and its dramatic possibilities. Like the schoolmen, 'Maro's' friends make their appeals to shaky 'authorities'. But, his joke missed fire: in vain did he call his fantastic phraseology 'pleasantries' (leporia): he shared the fate of Swift, to whom we have compared him. Swift wrote an appalling description of the travels of one Gulliver, whereby he sought to express his hatred of the world in which he found himself. The world took the book, tore out a few of the more lurid pages, and light-heartedly placed the incoherent remainder upon its nursery bookshelves, side by side with the whimsies of the blameless Lewis Carroll. The old scholar of the seventh century wrote a burlesque on the literary fads of his time. The world blinked owlishly over it—and solemnly accepted it as a serious textbook!
For a translation of the dispute on the vocative of ego, see Vivien Law, Wisdom, Authority and Grammar in the Seventh Century: Decoding Virgilius Maro Grammaticus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 109-111.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


A Monster Bookcase

A friend gave me a copy of James Hurnard: A Victorian Character. Being Passages from The Setting Sun. Selected and Arranged by G. Rostrevor Hamilton (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946). No one would call Hurnard (1808-1881) a great poet; at his best, as early reviewers noted, he reminds one of Cowper or Crabbe. But he is a personality of considerable charm, and the book is a gem. I will be posting excerpts from it in days to come. Here is the first installment, from Hamilton, pp. 33-34, with some lines added by me at the end from the 3rd edition of The Setting Sun (London: Saml. Harris & Co., 1878), pp. 119-120:
One thing I long had set my heart upon,
And had determined staunchly to possess
Whenever I obtained a settled home.
This shadowy object of my aspirations
Was nothing other than a monster bookcase,
With folding doors of glass, to hold my treasures:
For I had been affected from my youth
With a propensity to purchase books—
Cheap if I could; if not, at any price—
And I had many now to store away.
At length I found the object of my wishes;
A noble bookcase, worth a kingly ransom.

At first Louisa entered gentle protest
Against so large a piece of furniture.
She fancied it would spoil our dining-room;
She had not seen it, and she feared the worst;
Imagination magnified the evil;
But soon she yielded when she saw how strongly
My heart was set upon my noble purchase.
Polished anew and slendered to my wishes,
When fitted to its place she gazed upon it
With admiration equal to my own.
Thus do we please each other and are pleased;
And I have filled it with my dear old books,
Companions of my solitary years.
Right glad am I to see their shining ranks.
My books are my especial worthy friends,
That never take offence if they are slighted.
The best of friends are seldom always pleased;
A random speech, or unintentioned act,
Will sometimes wound the sensibilities
Even of kindred hearts and gentle natures.
But who can quarrel with a favourite book?
Always when I have read a work that pleased me
I never am content till I possess it.
I like to have it near me to refer to;
It is to me a transcendental pleasure,
After the lapse of half a century,
To read a book familiar to my boyhood,
But never re-perused since those bright days.
It seems to bring one's childhood back again,
And give once more the feelings of my youth,
Reviving faded pictures of the mind
With all the freshness of old favourite scenes.

Lonely in life, secretive in my habits,
Living unknown to my contemporaries,
I have not had my intellect refreshed
By sweet colloquial contact with great minds.
My books have been my principal companions;
Reading has been my chief delight of life:
Thus have I communed with the mighty dead
Until my soul was knit to theirs in love;
Not without hope that in the life to come
We might converse as kindred spirits may.
Related posts:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Dum Fata Sinunt, Vivite Laeti

Seneca, Hercules Furens 159-201 (tr. Frank Justus Miller):
Such are the tasks of those whose is the peaceful calm of harmless lives, whose home rejoices in the tiny store that is its own; overweening hopes stalk abroad in cities, and trembling fears. One, sleepless, haunts the haughty vestibules and unfeeling doors of his rich patrons; another endlessly heaps up abundant wealth, gloats over his treasures, and is still poor amid piled-up gold. Yonder dazed wretch, with empty wind puffed up, popular applause and the mob more shifting than the sea uplift; this, trafficking in the mad wrangles of the noisy court, shamelessly lets out for hire his passions and his speech.

Haec, innocuae quibus est vitae
tranquilla quies
et laeta suo parvoque domus.
spes immanes urbibus errant
trepidique metus.
ille superbos aditus regum
durasque fores expers somni
colit, hic nullo fine beatas
componit opes,
gazis inhians
et congesto pauper in auro;
illum populi favor attonitum
fluctuque magis mobile vulgus
aura tumidum tollit inani;
hic clamosi rabiosa fori
iurgia vendens
improbus iras et verba locat.

Known to but few is untroubled calm, and they, mindful of time’s swift flight, hold fast the days that never will return. While the fates permit, live happily; life speeds on with hurried step, and with winged days the wheel of the headlong year is turned. The harsh sisters ply their tasks, yet do they not spin backward the threads of life. But men are driven, each one uncertain of his own, to meet the speeding fates; we seek the Stygian waves of our own accord. With heart too brave, Alcides, thou dost haste to visit the grieving ghosts; at the appointed time the Parcae come. No one may linger when they command, no one may postpone the allotted day; the urn receives the nations hurried to their doom.

Novit paucos secura quies,
qui velocis memores aevi
tempora numquam reditura tenent.
dum fata sinunt, vivite laeti.
properat cursu vita citato
volucrique die
rota praecipitis vertitur anni;
durae peragunt pensa sorores
nec sua retro fila revolvunt.
at gens hominum fertur rapidis
obvia fatis incerta sui;
Stygias ultro quaerimus undas.
nimium, Alcide, pectore forti
properas maestos visere manes.
certo veniunt tempore Parcae.
nulli iusso cessare licet,
nulli scriptum proferre diem;
recipit populos urna citatos.

Let glory laud another to many lands, and let babbling fame sing his praise through every city and lift him to a level with the stars of heaven; let another fare towering in his car; but me let my own land, beside my lonely, sheltered hearth, protect. The inactive reach hoary age, and in a lowly estate but secure stands the mean lot of a humble home; from a lofty height ambitious courage falls.

Alium multis Gloria terris
tradat et omnes
Fama per urbes garrula laudet,
caeloque parem tollat et astris;
alius curru sublimis eat;
me mea tellus
lare secreto tutoque tegat.
venit ad pigros cana senectus
humilique loco, sed certa sedet
sordida parvae fortuna domus;
alte virtus animosa cadit.


Who Built That?

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters (tr. H.R. Hays):
Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend,
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory.
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.
The same, tr. Michael Hamburger:
Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.
Brecht's German:
Wer baute das siebentorige Theben
In den Büchern stehen die Namen von Königen.
Haben die Könige die Felsbrocken herbeigeschleppt?
Und das mehrmals zerstörte Babylon,
Wer baute es so viele Male auf? In welchen Häusern
Des goldstrahlenden Lima wohnten die Bauleute?
Wohin gingen an dem Abend, wo die chinesische Mauer fertig war,
Die Maurer? Das große Rom
Ist voll von Triumphbögen. Über wen
Triumphierten die Cäsaren? Hatte das vielbesungene Byzanz
Nur Paläste für seine Bewohner? Selbst in dem sagenhaften Atlantis
Brüllten doch in der Nacht, wo das Meer es verschlang,
Die Ersaufenden nach ihren Sklaven.

Der junge Alexander eroberte Indien.
Er allein?
Cäsar schlug die Gallier.
Hatte er nicht wenigstens einen Koch bei sich?
Philipp von Spanien weinte, als seine Flotte
Untergegangen war. Weinte sonst niemand?
Friedrich der Zweite siegte im Siebenjährigen Krieg. Wer
Siegte außer ihm?

Jede Seite ein Sieg.
Wer kochte den Siegesschmaus?
Alle zehn Jahre ein großer Mann.
Wer bezahlte die Spesen?

So viele Berichte,
So viele Fragen.
Hat tip: Underbelly.


Books or Clothes?

Francis Wayland, "Address [on Moses Stuart]," in Memorial of the Semi-Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the Theological Seminary at Andover (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1859), pp. 156-165 (at 161):
If any one of us had barely possessed the means sufficient to buy a coat, or to buy a lexicon, I do not believe that a man of us would for a moment have hesitated. The old coat would have been called upon for another year's service, and the student would have gloried over his Schleusner, as one that findeth great spoil.
The reference is to Johann Friedrich Schleusner, Novum Lexicon Graeco-Latinum in Novum Testamentum (Leipzig: Weidmann, 1792), often reprinted.

This reminds me of a sentence in a letter from Erasmus to James Batt (April 12, 1500):
I've turned my entire attention to Greek literature, and as soon as I've received money, I'll buy Greek authors first, then clothes.

Ad Graecas literas totum animum applicui; statimque ut pecuniam accepero, Graecos primum autores, deinde vestes emam.
The reader in this painting by Jean Jacques Henner must have made the same decision:

Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who sent me a copy of Wayland's Address.

Monday, September 24, 2012


More than a Mere Man of Latin

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), The Good Aunt:
The conversation of the sensible, well-informed people who visited Mrs. Howard contributed to form her nephew's taste. A child may learn as much from conversation as from books—not so many historic facts, but as much instruction. Greek and Latin were the grand difficulties. Mrs. Howard did not understand Greek and Latin; nor did she, though a woman, set too high or too low a value upon the learned languages. She was convinced that a man might be a great scholar without being a man of sense; she was also persuaded that a man of sense might be a good scholar. She knew that, whatever abilities her nephew might possess, he could not be upon a footing with other men in the world, without possessing that species of knowledge which is universally expected from gentlemen, as an essential proof of their having received a liberal education; nor did she attempt to undervalue the pleasures of classic taste merely because she was not qualified to enjoy them: she was convinced, by the testimony of men of candour and judgment, that a classical taste is a source of real enjoyment, and she wished her nephew's literary pleasures to have as extensive a range as possible.

To instruct her nephew in the learned languages, she engaged a good scholar and a man of sense: his name—for a man is nothing without a name—was Russell. Little Charles did not at first relish Latin; he used sometimes to come from his Latin lessons with a very dull, stupified face, which gradually brightened into intelligence, after he had talked for a few minutes with his aunt. Mrs. Howard, though pleased to perceive that he was fond of her, had not the weakness to sacrifice his permanent advantage to her transient gratification. One evening Charles came running up-stairs to his aunt, who was at tea; several people happened to be present. "I have done with Mr. Russell, and my Latin, ma'am, thank goodness—now may I have the elephant and the camel, or the bear and her cubs, that you marked for me last night?"

The company laughed at this speech of Charles: and a silly lady—for even Mrs. Howard could not make all her acquaintance wise—a silly lady whispered to Charles, "I've a notion, if you'd tell the truth, now, that you like the bear and her cubs a great deal better than you do Latin and Mr. Russell."

"I like the bear a great deal better than I do Latin, to be sure," said the boy; "but as for Mr. Russell—why, I think," added he, encouraged by the lady's smiles, "I think I like the bear better than Mr. Russell."

The lady laughed affectedly at this sally.

"I am sure," continued Charles, fancying that every person present was delighted with his wit, "I am sure, at any rate, I like the learned pig fifty times better than Mr. Russell!"

The judicious lady burst into a second fit of laughter. Mrs. Howard looked very grave. Charles broke from the lady's caresses, and going up to his aunt, timidly looking up in her face, said, "Am I a fool?"

"You are but a child," said Mrs. Howard; and, turning away from him, she desired the servant, who waited at tea, to let Mr. Russell know that she desired the honour of his company.—Mrs. Holloway—for that was the silly lady's name—at the words, "honour of his company," resumed her gravity, but looked round to see what the rest of the company thought.

"Give me leave, Mr. Russell," said Mrs. Howard, as soon as he came into the room, "to introduce you to a gentleman, for whose works I know you have a great esteem." The gentleman was a celebrated traveller, just returned from abroad, whose conversation was as much admired as his writings.

The conversation now took a literary turn. The traveller being polite, as well as entertaining, drew out Mr. Russell's knowledge and abilities. Charles now looked up to his tutor with respect. Children have sufficient penetration to discover the opinions of others by their countenance and manner, and their sympathy is quickly influenced by the example of those around them. Mrs. Howard led the traveller to speak of what he had seen in different countries—of natural history—of the beaver, and the moose-deer, and the humming-bird, that is scarcely larger than a bumble bee; and the mocking-bird, that can imitate the notes of all other birds. Charles niched himself into a corner of the sofa upon which the gentlemen were sitting, and grew very attentive. He was rather surprised to perceive that his tutor was as much entertained with the conversation as he was himself.

"Pray, sir," said Mrs. Howard to the traveller, "is it true that the humming-bird is a passionate little animal? Is the story told by the author of the Farmer's Letters true?"

"What story?" said Charles, eagerly.

"Of a humming-bird that flew into a fury with a flower, and tore it to pieces, because it could not get the honey out of it all at once."

"Oh, ma'am," said little Charles, peeping over his tutor's shoulders, "will you show me that? Have you got the book, dear aunt?"

"It is Mr. Russell's book," said his aunt.

"Your book!" cried Charles: "what, and do you know all about animals, and those sorts of entertaining things, as well as Latin? And can you tell me, then, what I want very much to know, how they catch the humming-bird?"

"They shoot it."

"Shoot it! but what a large hole they must make in its body and beautiful feathers! I thought you said its whole body was no bigger than a bee—a humble bee."

"They make no hole in its body—they shoot it without ruffling even its feathers."

"How, how?" cried Charles, fastening upon his tutor, whom he now regarded no longer as a mere man of Latin.

"They charge the gun with water," said Mr. Russell, "and the poor little humming-bird is stunned by the discharge."
Hat tip: Tommy Richey.


More on the Smell of Burning Papyrus

Mario Capasso, "Niels Iversen Schow (1754-1830)," in Hermae: Scholars and Scholarship in Papyrology (Pisa: Giardini Editori e Stampatori, 2007), pp. 19-27 (at 21; my translation with help from Ian Jackson; any remaining errors or infelicities are my own; some footnotes slightly expanded in the translation):
The question of the aroma emanating from burnt papyrus may now be taken as settled. The traveler Frederic Henneker, visiting before 1830 the ruins of ancient Thebes in Egypt, was irritated by smoke arising from the sarcophagi of mummies which had caught fire; amomum (an aromatic plant) and the pitch contained in the mummies bothered the European, but not the natives.2 The engineer Edmé-François Jomard, from 1809 to 1817 director of the Description de l'Égypte, the great work composed by savants in Napoleon's retinue in Egypt, which marked the birth of Egyptology, ascertained that papyrus rolls smelled strongly of balsam.3 In 1900 B.P. Grenfell, A.S. Hunt and D.G. Hogarth, pioneers of papyrological research in Egypt, rejected the notion that sheets of papyrus in burning may emit a smell more pleasant than that of normal paper.4 A further attempt to solve the problem was made by Lewis,5 according to whom the stems of plants of the family Cyperaceae (including therefore Cyperus papyrus), both fresh and dried, give off a pleasant smell when burning. He cited some ancient testimonia, from which it is evident that sheets of papyrus, even those previously used as books, could serve to produce incense, as in the case of the papyrus material that the Romans used to add to funeral pyres; Lewis emphasized how the existence, in the ancient world, of a real traffic in papyrus paper for use in the incense trade suggests that there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of Schow's testimony. Today, thanks to the latest advances in the study of the ancient manufacture of papyrus, we know that, before being put on the market and then used as a writing medium, it was treated with substances having (among other things) antiseptic and antiparasitic properties: it is just these substances which, when burning, could give off an aromatic odor; no smell, on the other hand, is produced by the plant itself when it burns.6

2 The evidence is in W.J. BANKES, Narrative of the life and adventures of Giovanni Finati, II, London, 1830, p. 304, cited by K. PREISENDANZ, Papyrusfunde und Papyrusforschung, Leipzig 1933, p. 69.
3 Cf. J.H. KRAUSE, Papyrus, in Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste 11 (1838), p. 244.
4 Fayûm Towns and their Papyri, London 1900, p. 17 ["the smell of burning papyrus is no more aromatic than that of burning paper"].
5 N. LEWIS, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity, Oxford 1974, pp. 31 f., 96.
6 Cf. C. BASILE (ed.), Memorie intorno all'antica carta del Papiro siracusano rinnovata dal Cav. Saverio Landolina Nava Scritte dal Presidente Francesco di Paola Avolio, Napoli 1991, p. 40 n. 8.
Capasso's Italian:
Possiamo ormai considerare risolta la questione dell'aroma emanato dal papiro bruciato. Il viaggiatore Frederic Henneker, visitando prima del 1830 le rovine dell'antica Tebe di Egitto, fu irritato dal fumo che si levava dai sarcofaghi delle mummie, con cui era stato acceso il fuoco; l'amomo, una pianta aromatica, e la pece in essi contenuti infastidivano l'europeo, ma non gli indigeni.2 L'ingegnere Edme-François Jomard, direttore dal 1809 al 1817 della Description de l'Égypte, la grande opera composta dagli scienziati al séguito di Napoleone in Egitto che segnò la nascita dell'Egittologia, accertò che i rotoli papiracei odoravano fortemente di balsamo.3 Nel 1900 B.P. Grenfell, A.S. Hunt e D.G. Hogarth, pionieri della ricerca papirologica in Egitto, hanno escluso che i papiri nel bruciare possano emettere un odore più piacevole di quello della normale carta.4 Alla soluzione del problema ha dato un qualche contributo il Lewis,5 secondo il quale lo stelo delle piante della famiglia della Cyperaceae (compresa quindi la cyperus papyrus), sia fresco sia disseccato, bruciando emana un odore gradevole e ha ricordato alcune testimonianze antiche, dalle quali si ricava che i fogli di papiro, anche quelli utilizzati in precedenza come libri, potevano servire per produrre incenso, come nel caso del materiale papiraceo che i Romani erano soliti aggiungere alle pire funerarie; lo studioso ha messo in rilievo come l'esistenza nel mondo antico di un vero e proprio commercio della carta di papiro adoperata per la produzione di incenso non induce a dubitare della genuinità della testimonianza dello Schow. Oggi, grazie alle ultime acquisizioni nello studio dell'antica fabbricazione della carta di papiro, sappiamo che essa, prima di essere messa in commercio e quindi utilizzata come supporto scrittorio, veniva trattata con sostanze aventi tra l'altro proprietà antisettiche ed antiparassitarie: proprio queste sostanze, bruciando, potevano sprigionare un odore aromatico; nessun aroma viene invece prodotto dalla piante che brucia.6

2 La testimonianza è in W.J. BANKES, Narrative of the life and adventures of Giovanni Finati, II, London, 1830, p. 304, citato da PREISENDANZ, Papyrusfunde cit., p. 69.
3 Cf. J.H. KRAUSE, Papyrus, in Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste 11 (1838), p. 244.
4 Fayûm Towns and their Papyri, London 1900, p. 17.
5 LEWIS, Papyrus cit., pp. 31 s., 96.
6 Cf. C. BASILE (ed.), Memorie intorno all'antica carta del Papiro siracusano rinnovata dal Cav. Saverio Landolina Nava Scritte dal Presidente Francesco di Paola Avolio, Napoli 1991, p. 40 n. 8.
Related post: The Smell of Burning Papyrus.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Chance Built That

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), Neue Paralipomena § 581 (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
Consider that chance, which, with error, its brother, and folly, its aunt, and malice, its grandmother, rules in this world; which every year and every day, by blows great and small, embitters the life of every son of earth, and yours too; consider, I say, that it is to this wicked power that you owe your prosperity and independence; for it gave you what it refused to many thousands, just to be able to give it to individuals like you. Remembering all this, you will not behave as though you had a right to the possession of its gifts; but you will perceive what a capricious mistress it is that gives you her favours; and therefore when she takes it into her head to deprive you of some or all of them, you will not make a great fuss about her injustice; but you will recognise that what chance gave, chance has taken away; if needs be, you will observe that this power is not quite so favourable to you as she seemed to be hitherto. Why, she might have disposed not only of what she gave you, but also of your honest and hard-earned gains.

But if chance still remains so favourable to you as to give you more than almost all others whose path in life you may care to examine, oh! be happy; do not struggle for the possession of her presents; employ them properly; look upon them as property held from a capricious lord; use them wisely and well.

Gedenke, dass der Zufall, jene auf dieser Erde (nebst dem Irrthum, seinem Bruder, und der Thorheit, seiner Tante, und der Bosheit, seiner Grossmutter) herrschende Macht, die jedem Erdensohn, und auch dir, durch grosse und kleine Streiche, jährlich und täglich das Leben vergällt;—bedenke, sage ich, dass diese arge Macht es ist, der du dein Wohlseyn und deine Unabhängigkeit verdankest, indem sie dir gab, was sie vielen Tausenden versagte, eben um es Einzelnen, wie dir, geben zu können. Wenn du es bedenkest, so wirst du nicht thun, als besässest du das, was du ihr dankest, von Rechtswegen, sondern du wirst wissen, durch die Gunst welcher wankelmüthigen Herrscherin du es hast, und wenn ihr daher die Laune kommt, es dir zum Theil oder ganz wieder zu nehmen, so wirst du nicht Zeter schreien über die Ungerechtigkeit, sondern du wirst wissen, dass der Zufall nahm, was der Zufall gegeben hatte, du wirst allenfalls bemerken, dass er dir nicht ganz so günstig ist, als es bisher schien: könnte er doch nicht bloss über Das, was er gegeben, sondern auch über Das schalten, was du sauer und redlich erworben hättest!—

Ist er nun aber noch immer so günstig gegen dich, dass er dir viel mehr giebt, als last Allen, auf deren Fussstapfen du wandeln willst, o so sei froh, eifre nicht über den Besitz seiner geschenkten Gaben, missbrauche sie nicht, sieh' sie als das Lehen eines launigen Herren an, verwende sie mit Weisheit und Güte.
Related post: Fortuna.


Lame Ducks and Canards

R.A. Stewart Macalister (1870-1950), The Secret Languages of Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937), p. 73:
Many years ago, in destroying an accumulation of old papers, I came across a note which I had taken down at school from the dictation of a preceptor, and at the time presumably believed, to the effect that the Greeks called the people of the outer world 'Barbarians' because they wore beards: and I well remember how the same simple soul, peace to his innocent ashes, once told me that the authority for some other unjustifiable dogma, which he had propounded, was to be discovered 'in a book in the British Museum'—a reference which I have never yet found time to verify. If a duck so very lame could be entrusted with the task of imparting instruction in a school of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, why should not similar portents have been possible in the sixth?
Or in the twenty-first. See the farrago of nonsense about the origin of the word barbarian in a supposedly authoritative source—Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 53:
Barba means "beard" in Latin, and when the Romans called hirsute foreigners barbarians they were strictly calling them "bearded men," though the word shortly came to mean, rightly or wrongly, "rude, uncivilized people." A barber was, of course, one who cut beards or hair. The barber pole outside barber shops today has its origins in the ancient barber's duties as a surgeon and dentist as well as a hair cutter. It was first the symbol of these professions—a blood-smeared white rag. However, barbarian may have Greek origins.
The derivation of barbarian from Latin barba is bogus, a folk etymology. The word barbarian is indubitably (not just possibly) Greek in origin. It has no connection with beards.



The Ox

Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), The Ox, tr. Orlo Williams:
I love thee, holy ox; into my heart thou pourest gently a feeling of vigour and peace, whether stately as a monument thou gazest at the free and fruitful fields, or whether complacently bowing to the yoke thou gravely secondest the active work of man: he urges thee and goads thee, and thou answerest with a slow turn of thy patient eyes. From thy broad nostrils moist and black thy breath smokes up, and like a happy hymn thy lowing dies upon the calm air; and within the solemn stillness of thy grave grey eye is reflected, vast and still, the divine green silence of the plain.
The Italian:
T'amo, o pio bove; e mite un sentimento
  Di vigore e di pace al cor m'infondi,
O che solenne come un monumento
  Tu guardi i campi liberi e fecondi,

O che al giogo inchinandoti contento
  L'agil opra de l'uom grave secondi:
Ei t'esorta e ti punge, e tu co 'l lento
  Giro de' pazienti occhi rispondi.

Da la larga narice umida e nera
  Fuma il tuo spirto, e come un inno lieto
Il mugghio nel sereno aer si perde;

E del grave occhio glauco entro l'austera
  Dolcezza si rispecchia ampio e quieto
Il divino del pian silenzio verde.
Carducci's sonnet, especially the opening quatrain, inspired this engraving by Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908), with the title Pio Bove:

Some verse translations follow.

By G.L. Bickersteth:
I love thee, holy ox: a soothing sense
Of power and peace thou lodgest in my heart.
How solemn, like a monument, thou art,
Watching the pastures fertile and immense!

Or 'neath the yoke with calmness how intense
Dost thou to man's quick toil thine aid impart!
He shouts and goads thee: patient of the smart,
Thine eyes, slow turning, claim more reverence.

From thy broad nostrils, black and moist, doth rise
Thy breath in fragrant incense: like a psalm
Swells on the air thy lowing's joyful strain.

Austerely sweet are thy grave emerald eyes,
And in their depths is mirrored, wide and calm,
All the divine green silence of the plain.
By Frank Sewall:
I love thee, pious ox; a gentle feeling
Of vigour and of peace thou giv'st my heart.
How solemn, like a monument, thou art!
Over wide fertile fields thy calm gaze stealing,
Unto the yoke with grave contentment kneeling,
To man's quick work thou dost thy strength impart.
He shouts and goads, and answering thy smart,
Thou turn'st on him thy patient eyes appealing.

From thy broad nostrils, black and wet, arise
Thy breath's soft fumes; and on the still air swells,
Like happy hymn, thy lowing's mellow strain.
In the grave sweetness of thy tranquil eyes
Of emerald, broad and still reflected dwells
All the divine green silence of the plain.
By Emily A. Tribe:
I love thee, kindly ox; a sense serene
Of strength and peace thou dost infuse in me;
How like a solemn monument art seen
At gaze athwart the fertile fields and free!

The yoke to take contented thou dost lean,
To man's light work thou addest dignity.
He urges, goads, and thou with placid mien
And eye's slow turn dost answer patiently.

Thy spirit through thy nostril moist and black
In vapour issues. Like some glad refrain
Thy lowing dies upon the tranquil air.

Within thy sombre eye is mirrored back
The green reflection of the ample plain,
Austerely sweet, and in the silence fair.
Related post: Cows.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


The Hisperica Famina and Modern Literature

R.A. Stewart Macalister (1870-1950), The Secret Languages of Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937), pp. 78-79:
The style of Hisperica Famina bears a certain resemblance to some of the parodies of Euphues: there is certainly more of Sir Piercie Shafton in it than of Lyly himself, who when all is said and done is a writer of considerable charm, if taken in judiciously small doses. A closer though a more modern analogy is, however, available. These days of ours have seen the rise of a school of writers, whom the reader can readily name for himself, for they have earned their full share of advertisement. I have no title to speak critically or otherwise of them: I have to read so many books on subjects that I can understand, that I have no time to spare over books that I cannot understand, especially as I have no consuming ambition to succeed in doing so. My knowledge of these works is therefore limited to the chance extracts from them which I have come across from time to time in the periodical press. If I may generalize from these fragmentary data, their language is fundamentally English: but the sense, if any, is placed beyond the reach of ordinary persons by anarchic neologisms of idiom, accidence, and vocabulary; by artificial deformations of words, and violent wrestings of their orthodox meanings; by an occasional admixture of French (sometimes of Stratford-atte-Bow, or of an unknown variety even more remote from the Parisian standard); and by interspersed combinations of letters, not always pronounceable, and to me, at least, unintelligible. I am quite ready to admit the possibility that these writers may have grounds for self-congratulation, hidden from my undiscerning eyes. Critics tell me so, and in matters so far outside my competence I must believe what I am told. But originality is not to be reckoned among these assets.1 Every one of the vagaries above enumerated was anticipated twelve or thirteen hundred years ago by the authors of Hisperica Famina: the only novelty which has been introduced into the modern antitype is an occasional affectation of moral irresponsibility.

1 Even the ingenious mechanical device of enhancing literary effect by printing personal and geographical names with a lower-case initial instead of the orthodox capital is not original: I did it myself, in a dame-school, at the age of eight, and got 'kept in' in consequence; had I been born about fifty years later, I might have been rewarded with a whole holiday. Perhaps.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Friday, September 21, 2012


O Mother

Gerald Moore (1899-1987), The Unashamed Accompanist, rev. ed. (London: Julia MacRae, 1984), p. 35:
Most unfortunate results will attend the accompanist who does not know what he is playing about — what the singer is singing about. A young friend of mine was playing the accompaniment to me one day of Wolf's song "Bitt' ihn, O Mutter" (Beg Him, O Mother). This accompaniment is written with Wolf's usual eloquence and urgency, but it was played by this young lady with such viciousness that I ventured to ask her if she knew what "Bitt' ihn, O Mutter" meant. "Of course," she replied. "It means 'O Mother, bite him.'"
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Undisciplined, Undirected Curiosity

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), To the Finland Station (1940; rpt. New York: The New York Review of Books, 2003), p. 61, on Anatole France (1844-1924):
[His] is the miscellaneous knowledge of the bookstore, unorganized by any large purpose, the undisciplined undirected curiosity of the indolent lover of reading.

Pierre Calmettes, La Bibliothèque chez Anatole France

Hat tip: John Bergmayer.


If All Are Flown, I Sulk

Dear Mike,

I thought you'd enjoy this charming letter by a 'country bookworm'. I came across it this afternoon in Recreations and Studies of a Country Clergyman of the Eighteenth Century: Selections from the Correspondence of the Rev. Thomas Twining, M.A., ed. R. Twining (London: John Murray, 1882), pp. 91-93:
To his Brother,
Colchester, January 8, 1781.

I owe you an appendix to my last letter: I wish all debts were as willingly paid. I was much diverted last night at the opening of the two parcels that arrived in Mills's goods. I hope you saw the contents; there never was a more complete contrast. Out first comes Julius Caesar Scaliger; 'It should be Julius Caesar scavenger!' quoth I, to myself. But when the splendid back and the more splendid belly of the other book appeared, I started back. It was a perfect emblem of the unequal distribution of things in this world. Two things I have always hated—dirt and finery. The mixture is ten times worse than either separately; but when finery includes cleanliness it fairly deserves the preference to dirt—and so I like my beau book better than my sloven. Nay, there is a simplicity in the gilding of his back that likes me much, and is new to me. If the leaves had been green the book would have been within the bounds of the 'simplex munditiis'! One can never be in time for Payne! My principal lots were gone. Yet I lost no time. To do the fair thing, Payne ought not to begin selling till his catalogue has had time to reach his most distant correspondent. He gives us country bookworms no chance. Pray, when you walk that way, see if No. 4417 or 4418 (if not too fine) are to be had; for I am not worth an Apollonius Rhodius. If these are gone, let me have 1915, Horapollinis, &c. If all are flown, I sulk, and will look no farther. I am very well pleased with my Ernestus, though I am sorry it has been in the possession of a slovenly blockhead, who, I dare be sworn, has left more in the book than the book has left in him. I was disappointed to find that the edition is Clark's reprinted, with the addition of some short notes, and not numerous, of Ernestus. Still, as it has all Clark's notes, and Ernestus's added, and very good indexes, &c., it is a better edition, and I by no means repent of my purchase. While I think of it — if in glancing your eye over catalogues it should hitch upon Rymer's translation of Aristotle's Poetics, with Kapin's notes from the French, 1674, 8vo, buy it for me. A translator likes to see what others have done before him. I knew of this English translation but lately. Also, pray ask Elmsley if he has got Condillac's 'Essai sur l'Origine des Connaissances Humaines,' two small vols., an excellent metaphysical work, and which I must purchase some time or other. I am reading it, with much pleasure, upon Dr. Forster's recommendation. I will send your Virgilian MS., &c., by the coach on Wednesday, and with them a little book of Erasmus's which you may find useful among your auxiliaries. 'Est etiam in parvo munere, dantis amor.'...

Yours affectionately, T.T.
There's a rather touching epitaph, composed by his friend Samuel Parr, at the end of the memoir prefacing the letters (which Sandys (vol. ii, p.421) also reprints in part in A History of Classical Scholarship):
Viro in quo
Doctrina inerat multiplex et recondita
Ingenium elegans et acutum
Scribendi genus non exile spinosumque
Sed accuratum et exquisitum
In rebus quae ad artem criticam pertinent explicandis
Sermo sine aculeo et maledictis facetus
Et sapore paene proprio Athenarum imbutus
Mansuetudo morum et comitas suis perjucunda
Pietas erga Deum pura atque sincera
Siquidem honesta de natura eius opinione
Stabilique in Christo fide potissimum nixa est
Et cum summa in omnes benevolentia
Nunquam non conjuncta
Ricardus Twining Fratri carissimo
Best wishes,
Eric Thomson

Engraving by A. Canella

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Carpe Diem

Sophocles, fragment 593 (from Tereus, tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Let any man procure as much pleasure as he can as he lives his daily life; but the morrow comes ever blind.

ζώοι τις ἀνθρώπων τὸ κατ' ἦμαρ ὅπως
ἥδιστα πορσύνων· τὸ δ' ἐς αὔριον αἰεὶ
τυφλὸν ἕρπει.


When the Concrete Spreads

"The Killer Trees: A Wrong-Headed Campaign Against Roadside Trees," The Economist (February 12, 2004):
The tree-lined roads painted by Alfred Sisley and his fellow impressionists are emblematic of France. Yet they are vanishing fast. Forty kilometres (25 miles) of 200-year-old plane trees, in their neat twin rows, have just been cut down near Levignac, in the south-west, to make way for a convoy of components for Airbus's A380 superjumbo, being built in Toulouse. According to a survey by the French forestry commission, 20,000km of roadside trees (some 3m trees, or almost 90% of the total) have gone in the past 30 years.

Although they are often said to be a legacy of Napoleon, who wanted to give shade to his soldiers, France's roadside trees actually date to the 16th century, when Henri IV ordered the building of straight roads flanked by arbres d'alignement on both sides. Planted to provide firewood and building materials, as well as shade, to passing armies, the plane trees later became loved for their beauty, eulogised by such writers as Balzac and Colette and, later, by film directors such as Jean-Luc Godard.

Now their numbers have dwindled to a mere 250,000. Road improvements and concerns about road deaths are to blame. “Lateral obstacles”, usually trees, account for nearly two-fifths of the country's fatal car accidents. In most cases, a drunken driver veers off the road and hits a tree. Camus was killed in 1960 when his publisher drove into a tree, as was Coluche (a comedian fond of a bottle of wine at lunch) in 1986.

Yet, as Chantal Fauché, a 50-year-old teacher, sagely observes, “if you hit a tree, it is not the fault of the tree.” She is the founder of Arbres et Routes, an association for the protection of roadside trees, based in the department of Gers. The doughty Mme Fauché has managed to save several thousand trees in the past few years, by painstaking negotiations with local councils.

The number of road deaths in France has fallen by over 20%, to below 6,000 a year, since the government cracked down on speeding last year. A campaign has begun against drunk driving. Yet the tree massacre continues, at the rate of 100 a day. The government is offering to plant two trees to replace every one lost to the A380. But, as Mme Fauché notes, “it takes 100 years to grow a plane tree—but just five minutes to cut it down."
Airbus A380 superjumbo parts in 2004, space shuttle in 2012. See Steve Gorman, "Trees Must Fall to Make Way for Space Shuttle's L.A. Road Trip," Reuters (September 19, 2012), excerpt:
The space shuttle Endeavour always had plenty of elbow room while soaring around Earth. But to make way for its slow 12-mile (19-km) journey through city streets next month to its final destination at a Los Angeles museum, some trees must fall.

Clearing an unobstructed route for the retired spaceship to take from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center will require cutting down nearly 400 trees in all, and the temporary removal of hundreds of utility poles, street lights and traffic signals, officials say.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Future of Forestry:
How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country's heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac's laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to Wrath, have glazed us over?
Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, 'What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.'
Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight—
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
—Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn's
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchful)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.
Hat tip: Karl Maurer, who drew my attention to the Economist article.




Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: Free Press, 2009), pp. 4-5:
Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world — for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That's a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class'€™s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say 'ignorami') who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire. The entire world came into existence only just beyond living memory. Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh: all these languages and their constituent dialects sprang spontaneously and separately into being, and owe nothing to any predecessor such as Latin. Instead of devoting your full attention to the noble vocation of classical scholar and teacher, you are forced to divert your time and energy to a rearguard defence of the proposition that the Romans existed at all: a defence against an exhibition of ignorant prejudice that would make you weep if you weren'€™t too busy fighting it.


The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context — which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word 'evolution' systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into 'change over time'.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


To a Goose

Robert Southey (1774-1843), To a Goose:
If thou didst feed on western plains of yore;
Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor;
Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
From gipsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;    5
If thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
Wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,    10
Cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
Departed Goose! I neither know nor care.
But this I know, that thou wert very fine,
Season'd with sage and onions, and port wine.
Line 13 appeared thus in The Morning Post (1799) and The Minor Poems (1815). It was changed to "But this I know, that we pronounced thee fine" in Southey's collected works (1837-1838). Ian Jackson comments (in an email):
I suppose Southey felt on later reflection that "very fine" was rather lame and conventional praise, the "very" being included purely for metrical purposes. But while the revision may be an improvement in sense, I cannot think that it is superior either in metre (there are gawky emphases) or in pronunciation ("pronounced thee" is an awkward mouthful).



Strabo, 6.3.4 (on the inhabitants of Tarentum, tr. Horace Leonard Jones):
But later, because of their prosperity, luxury prevailed to such an extent that the public festivals celebrated among them every year were more in number than the days of the year...

ἐξίσχυσε δ᾽ ἡ ὕστερον τρυφὴ διὰ τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν, ὥστε τὰς πανδήμους ἑορτὰς πλείους ἄγεσθαι κατ᾽ ἔτος παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἢ τὰς ἡμέρας...
Plato, Laws 2.653d (tr. T.J. Saunders):
The gods, however, took pity on the human race, born to suffer as it was, and gave it relief in the form of religious festivals to serve as periods of rest from its labours. They gave us the Muses, with Apollo their leader, and Dionysus; by having these gods to share their holidays, men were to be made whole again, and thanks to them, we find refreshment in the celebration of these festivals.

θεοὶ δὲ οἰκτίραντες τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐπίπονον πεφυκὸς γένος, ἀναπαύλας τε αὐτοῖς τῶν πόνων ἐτάξαντο τὰς τῶν ἑορτῶν ἀμοιβὰς τοῖς θεοῖς, καὶ μούσας Ἀπόλλωνά τε μουσηγέτην καὶ Διόνυσον συνεορταστὰς ἔδοσαν, ἵν' ἐπανορθῶνται, τάς τε τροφὰς γενομένας ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς μετὰ θεῶν.
Related post: 4-4-4 Plan



Norman Douglas, Old Calabria (1915), chapter XIX:
I was pleased to observe the Calabrian system of the house-doors, which life in civilized places had made me forget. These doors are divided into two portions, not vertically like ours, but horizontally. The upper portion is generally open, in order that the housewife sitting within may have light and air in her room, and an opportunity of gossiping with her neighbours across the street; the lower part is closed, to prevent the pigs in the daytime from entering the house (where they sleep at night). The system testifies to social instincts and a certain sense of refinement.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Hey Nonny No!

Anonymous, in A.H. Bullen, ed., More Lyrics from the Song-Books of the Elizabethan Age (London: John C. Nimmo, 1888), pp. 45-46 ("from Christ Church MS. 1.5.49"):
Hey nonny no!
Men are fools that wish to die!
Is't not fine to dance and sing
When the bells of death do ring?
Is't not fine to swim in wine,
And turn upon the toe,
And sing hey nonny no,
When the winds blow and the seas flow?
Hey nonny no!



Yuan Mei (1716–1797), tr. Arthur Waley in Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1956), p. 181:
Now that I am old, unable to endure seeing myself in the mirror,
I have thought of a way to escape the sight of my own decrepitude.
Kinder to me, when I dress my hair, is the shadow from my lamp;
It shows me on the wall, yet does not show the frost that lies on my brow.


The Religion of the Fields

John Clare (1793-1864), Autobiography, chapter 5, in J.W. and Anne Tibble, edd., The Prose of John Clare (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 32:
thus I went on writing my thoughts down & correcting them at leisure spending my Sundays in the woods or heaths to be alone for that purpose & I got a bad name among the weekly church goers forsaking the churchgoing bell & seeking the religion of the fields tho I did it for no dislike to church for I felt uncomfortable very often but my heart burnt over the pleasures of solitude & the restless revels of ryhme that was eternally sapping my memorys like the summer sun over the tinkling brook till it one day shoud leave them dry & unconscious of the thrilling joys busy anxietys & restlessness which it had created & the praises & censures which I shall leave behind me
John Clare, letter to his son Charles (February 1848), in J.W. and Anne Tibble, edd., The Letters of John Clare (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 298:
Birds bees trees flowers all talked to me incessantly louder than the busy hum of men & who so wise as nature out of doors on the green grass by woods & streams under the beautiful sunny sky daily communing with God & not a word spoken

Monday, September 17, 2012


Reading from Cover to Cover

Arthur Waley (1889-1966), Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1956), p. 142:
There is also a warning against reading a passage here and there in books, instead of reading from cover to cover. Apropos of this last injunction, I remember that my father's old governess, Miss Keeling, thought it wicked not to finish a book she had begun, and consequently felt obliged, if she picked up by mistake some desperately technical work on economics that my father had left lying about, to read it through to the bitter end.


Call of the Wild

Seneca, Thyestes 412-414 (tr. John G. Fitch):
Better hurry back to your forest refuges, to those dense woods and your life among the beasts and comparable to theirs.

                       repete silvestres fugas
saltusque densos potius et mixtam feris
similemque vitam.


A Thirst After Knowledge

John Clare (1793-1864), Autobiography, chapter 8, in J.W. and Anne Tibble, edd., The Prose of John Clare (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 54:
I always had a thirst after knowledge in everything & by that restless desire have only acquired a very superficial knowledge of many things that serves no other purpose than to make me feel my real ignorance of everything so much the more

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The Smell of Burning Papyrus

Peter Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007), p. 21, with note on p. 228:
It was in Egypt that a Danish scholar, Niels Iversen Schow (1754-1830), bought a roll of original papyrus written in Greek. According to legend, he was offered fifty rolls, but bought only one (whereupon the locals burned the rest in order to enjoy the smell). This he presented to Cardinal Stefano Borgia. The roll, now known as the Charta Borgiana, did not preserve lyric poetry: when published (in 1788) it turned out to contain a document, a list of 181 men who, over a five-day period in February AD 193, the 33rd year of the (recently murdered) Emperor Commodus, carried out forced labour on the embankments at Tebtunis.13

13 SB I.5124.
SB = Sammelbuch griechischer Urkunden aus Ägypten (non vidi). The papyrus is now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, no. 2318.

Despite Parsons' phrasing ("It was in Egypt that...Schow...bought"), it's not clear to me that Schow ever set foot in Egypt. Here is his own account, from his Charta papyracea Graece scripta Musei Borgiani Velitris (Rome: Antonius Fulgonius, 1788), pp. iii-iv (footnotes omitted):
Reperta fuit charta papyracea Musei Borgiani una cum quadraginta aut quinquaginta aliis anno MDCCLXXVIII. in loco quodam subterraneo urbis Gizae, in cuius regione, ut notum est, antiqua Memphis vulgo sita esse creditur. Omnes hae chartae papyraceae (quonam modo volutae fuerint, nescio) in capsula quadam ex ligno sycomori reconditae, negotiatori cuidam exiguo pretio offerebantur: hic autem, summi harum rerum valoris ac pretii nescius, unam tantum, quae nostra est, novitatis causa emptam ad amplissimum Praesulem Stephanum Borgiam mittendam curabat: reliquas diripiebant Turcae, earumque fumo (nam odorem fumi aromaticum esse dicunt) sese oblectabant. En miseram insignium horum monumentorum sortem, qua per tot rerum vicissitudines feliciter conservata foedis ac inhumanis hisce barbaris, ut praeda, oblata fuisse videntur: benigniori autem nostrae chartae sorte laetemur, atque spe, fore, ut & plura aliquando, sub melioribus forsan auspiciis, eiusdem generis monumenta reperiantur, de tristi hoc damno nos consolemur.
My translation:
This papyrus document belonging to the Borgian Museum was found, along with forty or fifty others, in 1778, in an underground spot in the city of Giza. In that region, as is known, the ancient city of Memphis is commonly thought to have been located. All these papyrus documents (I don't know how they were discovered) were stored in a box made of sycamore wood and were offered for sale to a dealer at a low price. But the dealer, ignorant of the great value and worth of these objects, bought only one (i.e. ours) for the sake of novelty and arranged for it to be sent to Cardinal the distinguished prelate Stefano Borgia. Turks tore the rest to pieces and entertained themselves with the smoke (for they say that the smell of the smoke is aromatic). Behold the sad fate of these extraordinary manuscripts—luckily preserved through so many vicissitudes, they seem to have been handed over as plunder to these foul and savage barbarians. We rejoice in the kindlier fate of our papyrus, and we console ourselves for the sad loss of the rest with the hope that some day, under better auspices, perhaps, many more similar documents will be found.
Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, Fayûm Towns and Their Papyri (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1900), p. 17, cast doubt on part of Schow's story:
The reason assigned is not a very good one, for the smell of burning papyrus is no more aromatic than that of burning paper; but there is no doubt about the disappearance of other rolls.
See also George Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), p. xxiv, n. 2:
The result of an experiment, conducted along with Prof. E.J. Goodspeed on some papyrus fragments, leads the present writer rather to doubt the 'aromatic' part of the story.
I haven't seen Alain Martin, "En marge de la Charta Borgiana," Chronique d'Égypte 75 (2000) 118-125.

Update from Eric Thomson:

I'm sure you're right. Schow never set foot in Egypt. Perhaps he heard about the manuscript through his friend Georg Zoega who was the Cardinal's assistant. Another mistake, or at least anachronism, is to refer to Stefano Borgia as Cardinal during this period as he wasn't made Cardinal until March 1789 (Giuseppe Baraldi, 'Notizia biografica sul cardinale Stefano Borgia di Velletri', Modena 1830, p. 28), the year after publication of the Charta Borgiana. I wonder if Schow's 'amplissimum Praesulem' isn't then 'distinguished Prelate' or something of that sort rather than Cardinal?

Saturday, September 15, 2012



Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), Virgil, tr. Frank Sewall:
As when above the heated fields the moon
  Hovers to spread its veil of summer frost,
  The brook between its narrow banks half lost
Glitters in pale light, murmuring its low tune;

The nightingale pours forth her secret boon,
  Whose strains the lonely traveller accost;
  He sees his dear one's golden tresses tossed,
And time forgets in love's entrancing swoon;

And the orphaned mother who has grieved in vain
Upon the tomb looks to the silent skies
And feels their white light on her sorrow shine;

Meanwhile the mountains laugh, and the far-off main,
And through the lofty trees a fresh wind sighs:
Such is thy verse to me, Poet divine!
The same, tr. G.L. Bickersteth:
As when the gracious moon climbs up the sky,
Drenching parched fields with dew on summer eves,
The murmuring brook, 'twixt low banks rippling by,
Of her white beams a silvery network weaves;

The secret nightingale among the leaves
Fills the vast calm with throbbing melody,
So sweet th' entranced wayfarer half believes
Time is not, and his fair-haired love seems nigh;

And the bereaved mother who wept in vain
Beside a grave is soothed and comforted,
When the grey dawn doth over heaven shine:

Mountains and distant sea smile out again,
A fresh breeze stirs the branches overhead:
Such is thy verse to me, O poet divine.
The Italian:
Come, quando su' campi arsi la pia
  Luna imminente il gelo estivo infonde,
Mormora al bianco lume il rio tra via
  Riscintillando tra le brevi sponde;

E il secreto usignuolo entro le fronde
  Empie il vasto seren di melodia,
Ascolta il viatore ed a le bionde
  Chiome che amò ripensa, e il tempo oblia;

Ed orba madre, che doleasi in vano,
  Da un avel gli occhi al ciel lucente gira
E in quel diffuso albor l'animo queta;

Ridono in tanto i monti e il mar lontano,
  Tra i grandi arbor la fresca aura sospira:
Tale il tuo verso a me, divin poeta.

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