Wednesday, June 24, 2015


He Never Loses a Moment

Lewis R. Farnell (1856-1934), An Oxonian Looks Back (London: Martin Hopkinson, 1934), p. 88:
But apart from any actual learning, the deepest impression that I carried away from my first Semester in Berlin was a sense of the pervading enthusiasm for Wissenschaft. I was also astonished at the high standard of industry both among the Seniors and the Juniors whom I mixed up with. And I could not help feeling that our steadiest workers among my Oxford undergraduate friends were only casual 'half-timers' by comparison. What was still more stimulating was the whole-hearted and unquestioning reverence for learning broadcast through the academic circles and extending even to the outside public. I had a striking proof of this: as an illustration of national character, the anecdote is worth recording. Living in Berlin at some distance from the university, I used to go in every morning by the same early tram: and at last noting that I was a foreigner of regular habits, the affable and chatty tramway conductor used to point out to me the objects worthy of interest by the way (Sehenswürdigkeiten—a crisp Teutonic word). One morning as we approached a halting-place, I saw a little old gentleman with silvery hair leaning against a lamp-post and holding a large open volume near to his short-sighted eyes, oblivious of the uproar around: the conductor sprang down towards him, and tapping him reverentially on the shoulder conducted him gently to the tram and settled him in his place. Immediately the old gentleman buried himself again up to the eyes in his tome. The conductor, proud of this new Sehenswürdigkeit, whispered to me in an awed voice: 'Da ist der berühmte Herr Professor Mommsen; er verliert kein Moment!' ('There is the famous Professor Mr Mommsen; he never loses a moment!' referring to his absorption in his book). I felt thrilled, not by Mommsen, but by this deep revelation of the national soul, an illiterate conductor knowing of Mommsen at all, knowing that he was academically famous, being proud of having him in his tram, and proud that he 'never lost a moment' for study.
I almost put [sic, read keinen] after kein, because my German dictionary says that Moment meaning "moment, instant" is masculine, while Moment meaning "element, factor" is neuter. But perhaps the masculine accusative ending is dropped in colloquial speech. My knowledge of German is feeble.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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