Monday, December 05, 2016


You Lie!

Dear Mike,

I was reading Hubert Bost and Antony McKenna’s edition of Les “Éclaircissements” de Pierre Bayle (Paris, Champion, 2010) last night. These are the four articles he added to the second edition (1702) of his Dictionnaire historique et critique in response to criticism from the Walloon Church of Rotterdam. His subjects are Atheists, Manicheans, Pyrrhonians and Obscenities. Under Obscenities, Bayle writes:
La perfection d’une histoire est d’être desagréable à toutes les sectes & à toutes les nations: car c’est une preuve que l’auteur ne flate ni les unes ni les autres, & qu’il a dit à chacune ses véritez. Il y a beaucoup de lecteurs qui se fâchent à un tel point lorsqu’ils rencontrent certaines choses, qu’ils déchirent le feuillet ou qu’ils écrivent à la marge tu as menti, coquin, & tu meriterois les étrivieres. (Bost & McKenna, p. 101).

An historical work attains perfection when it manages to annoy every sect and every nation: for that proves that the author has flattered neither side, and has told home truths to each. There are many readers who become so annoyed when they read certain remarks that they tear out the page or write in the margin you have lied, you rogue, and deserve a thrashing.
He adds a footnote to that last sentence:
J’ai vu de telles choses écrites à la main à la marge de quelques livres.

I have seen such things written by hand in the margins of some books.
I need hardly tell you that “You are lying” is an essential element in the vocabulary of Odium Theologicum. A heresiarch is not merely carelessly and innocently mistaken in his views, but willfully and sinfully leading the faithful into error. My rough sense is that Odium Philologicum, as practiced by the “the gladiators of literature” in the 16th and 17th century, was more inclined to apply the verb “lie” to a scholar’s personal conduct rather than to his philological errors, at least in classical philology — sacred philology was naturally quite another matter.

Since the days of Bentley (and Bayle) there has been no finer exponent of Odium Philologicum than Housman. I do not suggest that he ever read Bayle’s Éclaircissements, but he was certainly familiar with old editions of the classics, and may well have come across contemporary marginalia similar to those recorded by Bayle, found their style and sentiments congenial, and not bothered to reflect on how appropriate they might be for revival two centuries later.

“You lie” appears, on the evidence of the surviving annotated books, to have been Housman’s favorite marginal excoriation, followed closely by “liar”. By Paul Naiditch’s count, “you lie” occurs 273 times merely in the books from Housman’s library published during his Cambridge career. He gives a list of the appearances of “you lie” and “liar” in an appendix to Additional Problems in the Life and Writings of A. E. Housman (Los Angeles, Sam: Johnson’s, 2005), pp. 174-9, along with such variants as “impudent liar”, “you liar” and “damned liar”. Naiditch adds:
The words “you lie” are extremely harsh; they were one of Housman’s favourite censures; psychologically, since he employed the word “lie” at times when a simple “false” would have sufficed, his use is of considerable importance; for to affirm that one lies is to attack morality, where to say that one is mistaken is to attack competence. (Additional Problems, p. 63).
As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

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