Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Down with Everything Philological

Roberta Frank, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Philologist," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 96 (1997) 486-513 (at 487):
Depressed, we seem agreed on only one thing, that we are living in a bustling, brash, brazen present that does not quite know what to make of us. And never did. At the end of William L'Isle's "Preface" to A Saxon Treatise concerning the Old and New Testament (1623), a rather plaintive King Alfred looks down from heaven and laments that his countrymen can no longer be bothered to read his Old English writings or language: "That all should be lost, all forgot, all grow out of knowledge and remembrance," he mourns, "what negligence, what ingratitude is this?"4 Links untended snap, the lineaments of the past whirl away and vanish. "Down with antiquities," Bacon had written in 1620, "and citations or supporting evidence from texts; ... down with everything philological."5

4. "The Complaint of a Saxon King," par. 20 in "Preface" to A Saxon Treatise concerning the Old and New Testament. Written about ... (700 yeares agoe) by Aelfricus Abbas (London, 1623). The book was reissued with a different title page as Divers Ancient Monuments in the Saxon Tongue. Written seven hundred yeares agoe shewing that both in the Old and New Testament, the Lords Prayer and the Creede, were then used in the Mother Tongue ... (London, 1638). See Rosemund Tuve, "Ancients, Moderns, and Saxons," English Literary History, 6 (1939), 165-90.

5. Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Parasceve ad historiam naturalem et experimentalem, aphorism 3; Works, ed. T. Fowler (London: Reeves, 1879), II, 505.

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