Monday, August 04, 2014


The Worst of All Evils

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter VII (Mr. Asterias speaking):
I have known many evils, but I have never known the worst of all, which, as it seems to me, are those which are comprehended in the inexhaustible varieties of ennui: spleen, chagrin, vapours, blue devils, time-killing, discontent, misanthropy, and all their interminable train of fretfulness, querulousness, suspicions, jealousies, and fears, which have alike infected society, and the literature of society; and which would make an arctic ocean of the human mind, if the more humane pursuits of philosophy and science did not keep alive the better feelings and more valuable energies of our nature.
Note that Peacock uses the French ennui, not the English boredom. Nightmare Abbey was published in 1818. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, boredom didn't appear in print until 1853 (Dickens, Bleak House, chapter XXVIII). This surprised me, and I attempted to find earlier examples, by means of my usual technique, i.e.
Google Books offers dozens of supposed examples of boredom before 1853, but each and every one turns out to be bogus, for one reason or another. Most are optical character recognition errors for whoredom. This is why I distrust Google Books Ngram Viewer as well.

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