Friday, June 05, 2015
Literary Likes and Dislikes
I was fond of the Old Testament, disliked the New. My favourite books were Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon in which I recognised the melancholy and tired distinction of an old race, the mysterious Ezekiel and that earthy mystic, the first Isaiah. Job was too much thrust upon me and the Lamentations of Jeremiah I found in faulty taste. All these I read with more pleasure in the sonorous Latin of the Vulgate. They were among the books I lived in through the winter evenings.
In Greek literature I had read the Odyssey with passion, but not the Iliad, I admired Aeschylus, particularly the Agamemnon, and Sophocles, particularly Oedipus Rex; Euripides and Aristophanes I disliked, and Plato, except his epigrams and the Symposium. I enjoyed the lyric poets, Sappho and Archilochus, and adored the Mackail selection of the Greek Anthology, Theognis, Plato, Callimachus, Palladas, and Meleager; I knew all the sceptical epigrams by heart and most of those about love and death and "the fate of youth and beauty". In all my books I had written after my name "τίς τίνι ταῦτα λέγεις" (Who are you that say this, and to whom?) Mackail's Anthology (in the one-volume edition with the long preface), might have been described as the Sceptic's Bible. I was also fond of the bloomy Theocritus and the Lament for Bion.
In Latin Literature I read Horace and Virgil but did not enjoy them till later for Horace, except by Headlam, was not inspiringly taught and Virgil associated with too many punishments and in his moments of beauty with Macnaghten's vatic trances. Although I had learnt Latin all my life I still could not appreciate it without a crib and it was the arrival at the end of my time of the Loeb translations, sanctioned by the authorities, that put its deeper enjoyment within my grasp. Virgil and Horace, without them, had been too difficult, too tearstained. Horace besides was more connected with character than with prettiness. We were slow to appreciate him as a verbal artist
Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis"Brave men are bred from the good and brave, there is in cattle, there is in horses," Headlam would rasp, "the virtue of their sires," and the history specialists, conscious that though not poets, they were the stuff about which poetry was written, seemed to preen themselves for a moment in the afternoon drowse.
Est in juvencis, est in equis patrum
My favourite was Catullus, whose poetry "suited my mood," and therefore the mood of the age. It was cynical, romantic, passionate and bawdy and I could substitute my own name for his. "Otium, Cyrille, tibi molestum est", "Sed tu, Cyrille, destinatus obdura". I liked the world of Suetonius and Tacitus but the Latin prose-writer for me was Petronius Arbiter. I had four editions of the Satyricon. The best I had bound in black crushed levant and kept on my pew in chapel where it looked like some solemn book of devotion and was never disturbed. To sit reading it during the sermon, looking reverently towards the headmaster scintillating from the pulpit and then returning to the racy Latin, "the smoke and wealth and noise of Rome" was "rather a gesture".
I also liked Martial, crisp and Iberian but resented the sanctimonious Juvenal, I was excited by the Pervigilium, I struggled through the convolutions of Apuleius and admired the pagan chapters of the Confessions of Saint Augustine.
In French I cultivated the Troubadours but was disappointed, as I was by those four old bores, Montaigne, Rabelais, Boccaccio and Burton. The deceptively simple verses of Villon I loved, with the Poussin landscapes of Chénier and the garden sadness of Ronsard and Du Bellay. Then came a few lines of Racine, all Candide and Manon Lescaut and an unrepresentative selection of Flaubert, Gautier, Hugo and Baudelaire, no Rimbaud but a close study of Verlaine, Hérédia, and Mallarmé.
Albert Anker, Schreibender Knabe