Sunday, January 19, 2020
A Great Cultural Achievement
In fact the practice of buying rounds in the pub is one of the great cultural achievements of the English. It enables people with little money of their own to make generous gestures, without the risk of being ruined by them. It enables each person to distinguish himself from his neighbours and to portray his individuality in his choice of drink, and it causes affection progressively to mount in the circle of drinkers, by giving each in turn the character of a warm and hospitable friend. In a way it is a moral improvement on the Greek symposium, where the host alone appeared in the character of the giver, and also on the common room and the country house. The round of drinks enables even the speechless and the downtrodden briefly to receive the thanks, the appreciation and the honour of their neighbours. It is a paradigm case of 'social inclusion', to use the jargon of our rulers, and it is hardly surprising that everything is now being done to ensure that the practice dies out.
He Is An Enemy
I see him rely on the worst of counsels and admire the worst deeds, but regarding the public welfare he is sluggish, torpid, and dull. Shall I call him king? Shall I venerate him as a prince? Shall I keep faith as if he were the Lord? Hardly. He is an enemy. To conspire against this kind of ruler, to take up arms, to deceive, to oppose this man is an act of greatness and, even more, of necessity. Scarcely any offering is more acceptable to God than the blood of a tyrant.
cum videam eum ... in consilium niti pessimum, et pessimis operibus delectari, ac circa salutem publicam segnem torpentem desidemque videro, regem dicam? principem colam? tanquam domino fidem servabo? absit: hostis est. in hunc coniurare, arma capessere, insidias tendere, vires opponere magnanimi est, sanctissimum est et omnino necessarium, cum nulla fere sit Deo acceptior hostia tyranni sanguine.
In Ancient History, as in other disciplines, we are being urged, nowadays, to plunge headlong into large and exciting problems, and to leave the dead minutiae of scholarship. Against this (if the demagogue will stay for an answer) it must be firmly pointed out that great advances from within historical studies (as opposed to those brought about by the discovery of major new evidence) have usually come about through patient and methodical attention to the minutiae by a mind capable of seeing their bearing on a major problem.
Saturday, January 18, 2020
Where Angels Fear to Tread
Et tunc omnes sint preparati stantes in loco suo in choro per ordinem, ut cum nouissimum signum cessauerit, cum summa humilitate et honestate referant laudes Deo, in conspectu angelorum eius. Et si alicui frequens tussis aut flegma ex pectore aut naribus excrescit, post dorsum proiciat, aut iuxta latus, caute tamen et curiose, ut infirmis mentibus non uertatur in nausiam; et semper quod proicitur pede conculcetur, ut cum ad orationem curuantur, uestimenta eorum non sordidentur; et infra ecclesiam, et in omni conuentu, seu et in porticu, hoc obseruandum est, ut quod spuitur semper pedibus conculcetur.Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who translates the Old English thus:
⁊ syn ealle gearwe ⁊ standon on chore be endebyrdnysse, þæt swa se(o) æftemyste stund geendige, þæt hi sona mid miclere eadmodnysse ⁊ wynsumnysse herigeon heora Drihten on his engla gesihþe. ⁊ gif heora ænegum for unhæle hraca of breoste oððe snyflung of nosa derige, hræce ⁊ snyte bæftan him oððe adun be his sidan, ⁊ þæt fortrede, þe læs hit seocmodum broþrum ⁊ cisum wyrðe to wlættan; ⁊ wærlice tredon þæt, þe læs heora reaf wurðon þærof fule, þonne hi on gebedum licgeað. ⁊ on cyrcan ⁊ on portice ⁊ on ælcre stowe, swa hwæt swa ma him fram hræce oððe snyte, fortrede hit mid his fotum.
Then let them all prepare themselves and stand in the choir in order so that at the last signal they might with humility and delight praise God in the sight of his angels. If any of them is infirm and has phlegm in his chest or is snivelling, let him hawk up or blow his nose behind himself or down by his side, and tread upon it, lest the sight of such things nauseate weak-minded or squeamish brethren. And they should tread upon it carefully so that their clothing is not befouled when they go to prayer. Inside the church, in the porch, and in all places, whatever anyone coughs up or sneezes must be trodden under foot.
A Sea of Red
One of his teaching techniques was to take the first written work of a student who had newly signed on to his supervision, and then spend many hours checking every single reference, ancient or modern, in addition to offering copious annotations on the thought and style of the paper. I remember sitting at a desk in Harvard’s Smyth Classics Library and quaking in fear as Ernst shuffled around the room's bookcases with my own paper in hand for what seemed to be two full days. You can guess the final result: a sea of red. But Ernst only checked quite so thoroughly on the first occasion. The pedagogical—or one might say psychological—effect was such that he didn't ever need to repeat the process for his students, at least at that excruciating level.Id. (at 16):
As for the perpetrators of scholarly outrages, Ernst's harshest face-to-face critique was the simple phrase, very rarely employed, and only then when confronted with what seemed to be invincible ignorance, "I pity your students."Id. (at 20):
The story is perhaps apocryphal, but legend has it that at a Cambridge cocktail party sometime in the 1980s a woman turned to Ernst's Harvard colleague, the great Latinist Dr. Shackleton Bailey, and asked him "so what do you do?" His answer: "I look things up." Whatever the veracity of the anecdote, Ernst certainly put a premium on "looking things up," starting of course with the ancient sources, then Pauly-Wissowa, and proceeding from there. Badian had little time for books written from books, that show (in his words) a "perverse refusal to look at what it is all ultimately derived from."
To sharpen the intellect, to purify the taste, and to humanise the character — these are the true ends of education. At least, such was the opinion of Milton, beyond doubt the greatest scholar, and probably the greatest man, of his age. For what else did he intend, though he clothed his thought in the language most congenial to him? 'The end of learning,' he says, 'is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.'
To-day quite other views of the end of learning are making way; according to which views, if I understand them, education ought to teach one kind of thing, and one only, that is to say, that kind of thing which will help the learner to make money. The supporters of these views hold that literature may be advantageously neglected, and something called 'useful knowledge' substituted for it. It is unlikely that any one who shares the new views on education will read these pages, because Greek is not placed by the apostles of this New Learning in the category of 'useful knowledge,' the omission seeming to involve the conclusion that the Renaissance, the former revival of learning, and especially of Greek learning, was a great mistake, a delusion of foolish men who did not understand what was 'useful knowledge.' But if any who use this book are drifting about in uncertainty, and asking themselves, 'To what end?' they will do well to ponder those words of Milton.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Etymology of Diversity
< Old French diverseté, diversité (12th cent. in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter) difference, oddness, wickedness, perversity < Latin dīversitāt-em contrariety, disagreement, difference, < dīversus DIVERSE adj.I'm a firm believer in the etymological fallacy.
But cf. the Mayor of London:
Diversity makes us stronger.Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
Diversity makes us smarter.
Diversity makes us who we are.
Rucker idly picks his nose while thinking about his theorems, and if the reader chooses to follow up on this, he is directed to a page (on the disk version the alternatives are listed on a menu which appears at the bottom of the monitor) where Rucker's keen interest in proboscis probing is discussed at length. What percentage of people pick their noses? Why do so few people do it in public; yet, in the false privacy of their automobiles why do so many indulge? If you push even further in this direction, there is the memory from a few weeks previous when Rucker, stopped at a red light, saw the elegantly coiffed Mrs. Samaras seated in the BMW across from him, her index finger seemingly deep into her frontal cortex.Related posts:
How to Be an Imbecile
The job of the so-called intellectual is in a certain sense opposed to that of the politician, the former aiming, often in vain, to clarify things a little whereas the politician usually adds to the confusion. Aligning oneself with the left, as with the right, is only one of the numberless ways open to man of being an imbecile: both are forms of moral hemiplegia.
The Divine Right To Be Where You Are
Wine has become one of the most important products of the Southern hemisphere. Countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Chile which a century ago were importing wine in small quantities from Europe, are now drinking large quantities of the home-grown product, and exporting the surplus around the globe. The reason for this change is less economic than cultural. During the twentieth century these countries have increasingly understood themselves, not as exiles from Europe, but as historic settlements, with a right to the soil and an identity that is shaped by it. The most important way of expressing this sentiment is by planting vines, symbol of the divine right to be where you are and to enjoy the god's protection. That is how the vine is seen in the Old Testament, in the legends of Dionysus, in the Homeric literature and in the literature of Rome. It is why, in the days of Augustus, Italy was called Oenotria — wine land — and why nobody has ever been able to persuade an Italian, however far from the homeland he may have wandered, that he belongs anywhere else than on the vine-clad hillside where his ancestors were born.
Italian culture celebrates family, city and region; village ceremonies and village saints; local virtues, local vices and the local dishes that produce them. The root assumption of this culture is that it is best to be where you are, and hurrying onwards is dangerous. Maybe it all began as a reaction to Roman imperialism. It was Horace who wrote that caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt, which is another way of saying that travel narrows the mind.
It is the greatest error to suppose that history must needs be something written down; for it may just as well be something built up, and churches, houses, bridges, or amphitheatres can tell their story as plainly as print for those who have eyes to read. The Roman villa, excavated after lying lost for centuries beneath the heel of the unwitting ploughboy—that villa with its spacious ground-plan, its floors rich with mosaic patterns, its elaborate heating apparatus, and its shattered vases—brings home more clearly than any textbook the real meaning of the Roman Empire, whose citizens lived like this in a foggy island at the uttermost edge of its world. The Norman castle, with moat and drawbridge, gatehouse and bailey and keep, arrow slits instead of windows, is more eloquent than a hundred chronicles of the perils of life in the twelfth century; not thus dwelt the private gentleman in the days of Rome. The country manor-house of the fourteenth century, with courtyard and chapel and hall and dovecote, speaks of an age of peace once more, when life on a thousand little manors revolved round the lord, and the great mass of Englishmen went unscathed by the Hundred Years' War which seamed the fair face of France. Then begin the merchants' elaborate Perpendicular houses in the towns and villages of the fifteenth century, standing on the road, with gardens behind them, and carved beams, great fire-places, and a general air of comfort; they mark the advent of a new class in English history—the middle class, thrust between lord and peasant and coming to its own. How the spacious days of great Elizabeth are mirrored in the beautiful Elizabethan houses, with their wide wings and large rooms, their chimneys, their glass windows, looking outwards on to open parks and spreading trees, instead of inwards on to the closed courtyard. Or go into a house built or redecorated in the eighteenth century, where you will see Chippendale chairs and lacquer tables and Chinese wall-papers covered with pagodas and mandarins; and surely there will come to your mind the age of the nabobs, the age which John Company had familiarized with the products of the Far East, the age in which tea ousted coffee as the drink for a gentleman of fashion, in which Horace Walpole collected porcelain, Oliver Goldsmith idealized China in 'The Citizen of the World', and Dr Johnson was called the Great Cham of Literature. Look here upon this picture and on this: look at that row of jerry-built houses, a hundred in a row and all exactly alike, of that new-art villa, all roof and hardly any window, with false bottle glass in its panes; here is the twentieth century for you.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
In respect of any author we have to begin with the questions, 'What did he say?' and 'What did he mean?' The procedures designed to answer the first question are subsumed under 'textual criticism', those concerned with the second under 'translation' and 'interpretation'. The division of labour is necessarily inexact, since difficulties in translation often make us ask, 'Did he really write that?', and, conversely, suspicion of the text or choice between variants can seldom claim to be rational unless the meaning is treated as the vital consideration. 'Interpretation', taking 'What did he mean?' beyond the point to which the translator has taken it, investigates the associations which words and ideas had for the writer and his audience, and it merges into the question, 'Why did he write that, in that connection, at that time?' In the case of a historian we can ask—indeed, we cannot help asking, unless we are sadly lacking in curiosity—the further, and separate question, 'Is it true?'
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Low Be It Spoken
Every one knows Chaucer's description of the Prioress, Madame Eglentyne, who rode with that very motley and talkative company on the way to Canterbury. There is no portrait in his gallery which has given rise to more diverse comment among critics. One interprets it as a cutting attack on the worldliness of the Church; another thinks that Chaucer meant to draw a charming and sympathetic picture of womanly gentleness; one says that it is a caricature, another an ideal; and an American professor even finds in it a psychological study of thwarted maternal instinct, apparently because Madame Eglentyne was fond of little dogs and told a story about a schoolboy. The mere historian may be excused from following these vagaries. To him Chaucer's Prioress, like Chaucer's monk and Chaucer's friar, will simply be one more instance of the almost photographic accuracy of the poet's observation. The rippling undercurrent of satire is always there; but it is Chaucer’s own peculiar satire — mellow, amused, uncondemning, the most subtle kind of satire, which does not depend upon exaggeration. The literary critic has only Chaucer's words and his own heart, or sometimes (low be it spoken) his own desire to be original, by which to guide his judgment. But the historian knows; he has all sorts of historical sources in which to study nunneries, and there he meets Chaucer's Prioress at every turn. Above all, he has the bishops' registers.
For a long time historians foolishly imagined that kings and wars and parliaments and the jury system alone were history; they liked chronicles and Acts of Parliament, and it did not strike them to go and look in dusty episcopal archives for the big books in which medieval bishops entered up the letters which they wrote and all the complicated business of running their dioceses. But when historians did think of looking there, they found a mine of priceless information about almost every side of social and ecclesiastical life. They had to dig for it of course, for almost all that is worth knowing has to be mined like precious metals out of a rock; and for one nugget the miner often has to grub for days underground in a mass of dullness; and when he has got it he has to grub in his own heart, or else he will not understand it. The historians found fine gold in the bishops' registers, when once they persuaded themselves that it was not beneath their dignity to grub there.
A Waste of Time
Felton told of Agassiz, that when some one applied to him to read lectures, or some other paying employment, he answered, "I can't waste my time in earning money." Dr. Holmes told a story of John Hunter, that, being interrupted by a professional call, when he was dissecting a tiger, he said, "Do you think I can leave my work for your damned guinea?"
At the end of my first year there arrived among the Fellows another pariah called David Watkin, an architectural historian notorious for his habit of wearing a collar and tie. He had been described to me as an evil reactionary, an enemy of social progress and enlightenment, who would do his best to thwart the ambitions of those Fellows who were striving to meet the educational challenges of the twentieth century. This description so warmed me to the unknown Dr Watkin that I immediately went to call on him in the rooms which he had been assigned in St Peter's Terrace, on the staircase next to mine.
Poverty and Wealth
For 'tis better, if one considers in the light of reason,
not to possess much with discomfort, but little with a relish,
and painless poverty is preferable to embittered wealth.
κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν, ἂν σκοπῇ τις κατὰ λόγον,
μὴ πόλλ' ἀηδῶς, ὀλίγα δ' ἡδέως ἔχειν,
πενίαν <τ'> ἄλυπον μᾶλλον ἢ πλοῦτον πικρόν.
τ' add. Gesner
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
I mentioned politicks. JOHNSON. "Sir, I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of public affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as bad as they can be."
When I was at school we certainly thought it 'beastly', as we called it, that we should have to learn such things as irregular verbs by heart. On the other hand, it was not particularly laborious for us at that age, and we could more or less see the use of it. It was clearly the way to get the power of reading Homer and Virgil without constant interruption, and I honestly believe that most of us enjoyed that. Of course we should not have dreamed of confessing it to one another, and still less of admitting it to 'old so-and-so', our master, who was doing the best he could for us with scant hope of reward and no expectation of gratitude. To do so would have violated that mysterious schoolboy code, which is not only a beneficent provision of nature to protect society from juvenile prigs, but springs from a native instinct of the young Soul to preserve the solitude so needful for the growth of its inner life. Of course the time came later when we were ready to admit, very shyly at first, to one another that we did like Homer and Virgil, but at first we were quite content to learn our irregular verbs. There is no great mystery in that. Mere memorizing comes natural to the young, and it does not matter at all whether they understand what they memorize or not. Children have always invented things—counting-out rhymes and the like—the main purpose of which is to be memorized. Think of the undying popularity of The House that Jack Built. We may say, indeed, that they have a passion for rigmarole, and small boys retain a great deal of this. One would think that our educational system would take advantage of that, and so it does in matters of absolute necessity like the multiplication table.Id., pp. 14-15:
For the grown man, of course, grammar may be one of the most dangerously fascinating studies, but for the boy it is just what I have called the sediment of dead knowledge, to be acquired as speedily as may be for the sake of its results and not for itself. This is quite understood in many other branches of training. It is really a good deal easier to read Homer than it is to play the piano, and yet the proportion of people who learn to play the piano, at least to their own satisfaction, is far greater than that of those who learn to read Homer. In this case every one can see that the first thing to be done is to acquire the necessary automatism, and the methods of acquiring it have been more or less systematized. If you had to think of every chord, you would never play anything. On the other hand, no one imagines that the traditional scales and exercises are music. They are simply practice, directed to the acquisition of automatic power, and that is how grammar should be treated at school. It is an historical fact that, when this method was followed, a large number of people did acquire the power of reading Homer, and that a very considerable number continued to read him all their days.
His attitude to learning was the very opposite of that which has come to dominate the schools and universities today. He did not believe that the purpose of knowledge is to help the student. On the contrary. For Dr Picken, the purpose of the student is to help knowledge. He was throughout his life the willing and self-sacrificing trustee of an intellectual inheritance. Young people mattered to him because they had the brains into which his reservoir of learning could be poured, along with the wine. He looked at us students sceptically, but always with that underlying hope that, in this or that undisciplined young face, there was yet the outward sign of a brain large enough and dispassionate enough to capture some of the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and which could carry that knowledge through life without spilling it, until finding another brain into which it might be discharged.
Monday, January 13, 2020
The Writing of Commentaries
The writing of commentaries is a natural retreat for intellectual conservatives: those who cannot get their brains round modern theoretical approaches are left pretty much free to devote themselves to their favourite uses of the genitive, and, to be fair, of other cases too.Id., p. 639:
Of theory I have no love, of new terminology, a positive dislike and of new techniques which seem to enable any young Virgilian to publish bold, bright pages which prove beyond doubt Virgil's debt to, let us say, Petronius (I jest) at some unlikely point, I cannot speak enough ill.Id.:
Readers of my commentaries will notice that I cite some younger Virgilians and not others: I like a page largely jargon-free, I admire accuracy, and good English prose, and I love a fat, well-constructed footnote.Id., p. 643:
You can only begin to become a competent Virgilian by reading more Greek; one of the great benefits of working on Aen. 6 is the need for immersion in the Myth of Er. And of course, German. Norden's Aeneid 6 is mercifully easy, most of the time...
The Right Way to Live
The right way to live is by enjoying one's faculties, striving to like and if possible to love one's fellows, and also to accept that death is both necessary in itself and a blessed relief to those whom you would otherwise burden. The health fanatics who have poisoned all our natural enjoyments ought, in my view, to be rounded up and locked together in a place where they can bore each other rigid with their futile nostrums for eternal life. The rest of us should live out our days in a chain of linked symposia, in which the catalyst is wine, the means conversation, the goal a serene acceptance of our lot and a determination not to outstay our welcome.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Of him [Federigo of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino] and his two successors, Guidobaldo and Francesco Maria, we read: 'They erected buildings, furthered the cultivation of the land, lived at home, and gave employment to a large number of people: their subjects loved them.'1
1 Franc. Vettori, in the Arch. Stor. Append., tom. vi. p. 821.
Is there no check to this class of privileged thieves that infest our politics? We mark and lock up the petty thief, or we raise the hue and cry in the street, and do not hesitate to draw our revolvers out of the box, when one is in the house. But here are certain well-dressed, well-bred fellows, infinitely more mischievous, who get into the government and rob without stint, and without disgrace. They do it with a high hand, and by the device of having a party to whitewash them, to abet the act, and lie, and vote for them. And often each of the larger rogues has his newspaper, called "his organ," to say that it was not stealing, this which he did; that if there was stealing, it was you who stole, and not he.
Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
There's only one way to protect oneself against both these situations, which is not to exercise the soul to the exclusion of the body, nor the body to the exclusion of the soul. Then, evenly balanced and healthy, each is able to resist the other. So the mathematician or the enthusiastic cultivator of any other intellectual pursuit has to pay his debt of physical exercise by attending the gymnasium, and someone concerned with developing his physique has to compensate with exercises for the soul by addressing all kinds of cultural and philosophical pursuits. There's no other way for a man to come to have a genuine claim to both the two epithets 'beautiful' and 'good' at once.Velleius Paterculus 1.13.4 (on Scipio Africanus; tr. Frederick W. Shipley):
μία δὴ σωτηρία πρὸς ἄμφω, μήτε τὴν ψυχὴν ἄνευ σώματος κινεῖν μήτε σῶμα ἄνευ ψυχῆς, ἵνα ἀμυνομένω γίγνησθον ἰσορρόπω καὶ ὑγιῆ. τὸν δὴ μαθηματικὸν ἤ τινα ἄλλην σφόδρα μελέτην διανοίᾳ κατεργαζόμενον καὶ τὴν τοῦ σώματος ἀποδοτέον κίνησιν, γυμναστικῇ προσομιλοῦντα, τόν τε αὖ σῶμα ἐπιμελῶς πλάττοντα τὰς τῆς ψυχῆς ἀνταποδοτέον κινήσεις, μουσικῇ καὶ πάσῃ φιλοσοφίᾳ προσχρώμενον, εἰ μέλλει δικαίως τις ἅμα μὲν καλός, ἅμα δὲ ἀγαθὸς ὀρθῶς κεκλήσεσθαι.
Ever engaged in the pursuit of arms or his studies, he was either training his body by exposing it to dangers or his mind by learning.
semper inter arma ac studia versatus aut corpus periculis aut animum disciplinis exercuit.
Thanks very much to Clive Bloomfield for correcting a mistake in the Greek and Ed Brandon for correcting a mistake in the Latin.
The best part of Germany was the food. There was a richness and spiciness about it that we missed in England. We liked the rye bread, the black honey (black, I believe, because it came from the combs of the previous year), the huge ice-cream puddings made with fresh raspberry juice, and the venison, and the honey cakes, and the pastries, and particularly the sauces made with different sorts of mushrooms. And the bretzels, and carrots cooked with sugar, and summer pudding of cranberries and blue-berries. There was an orchard close to the house, and we could eat as many apples, pears, and greengages as we liked. There were rows of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes.Cf. this passage in the revised edition (London: Cassell & Company Ltd, 1957), p. 22:
Bavarian food had a richness and spiciness that we always missed on our return to England. We liked the rye bread, the dark pine-honey, the huge ice-cream puddings made with fresh raspberry juice and the help of snow stored during the winter in an ice-house, my grandfather’s venison, the honey cakes, the pastries, and particularly the sauces made with different kinds of mushrooms. Also the pretzels, the carrots cooked in sugar, and summer pudding of cranberries and blueberries. In the orchard, close to the house, we could eat as many apples, pears, and greengages as we liked. There were also rows of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes in the garden.
Saturday, January 11, 2020
We Are Superficial and Ill-Read
Because our education is defective, because we are superficial and ill-read, we are forced to make the most of that position, of ignorance. Hence America is a vast know-nothing party, and we disparage books, and cry up intuition. With a few clever men we have made a reputable thing of that, and denouncing libraries and severe culture, and magnifying the mother-wit swagger of bright boys from the country colleges, we have even come so far as to deceive everybody, except ourselves, into an admiration of un-learning and inspiration, forsooth.
Born Too Late
I find it most inconvenient to be born into the age of the internal-combustion engine and the electric dynamo and to have no sympathy with them: a push bicycle, a primus stove, and an army rifle mark the bounds of my mechanical capacity.Related post: A Gloomy Milestone.
Friday, January 10, 2020
It is allowed that vocations and employments of least dignity are of the most apparent use; that the meanest artizan or manufacturer contributes more to the accommodation of life, than the profound scholar and argumentative theorist; and that the publick would suffer less present inconvenience from the banishment of philosophers than from the extinction of any common trade.
Old home by a bend of the clear Wei,The last lines are also translated by Arthur Waley, The Life and Times of Po Chü-i, 772-846 A.D. (1949; rpt. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1970), p. 77:
gate opening on Ts'ai Ford:
ten years and at last I've returned,
could barely remember the road home.
I think back on places I walked in times past,
recall with a pang the old outings.
Willows stuck in the ground have become a tall grove,
peaches I planted are old trees now.
Most startling are the grownups,
all mere boys when I knew them.
And if I ask about older folk,
half now in graves that ring the village.
All alike sojourners in this floating life;
early or late, each in turn passes.
The bright sun is a bouncing ball,
rising, setting, its glow never still.
People and things day by day change and alter;
lift your eyes and you sorrow at all you see.
And when I think what this means for me,
how could I alone not falter and decline?
Minute by minute the flush of youth drains from faces,
white hairs sprout without number.
Only there beyond the temple gate,
three peaks that keep their old color!1
1. Probably the three peaks of Mount Hua, south of the Wei River.
And when I turn my thoughts, when I think of myself,
What should I look for but darkness and decay?
The flush of youth will not cease to fade;
Numberless the white hairs will grow.
Only at the gate that opens towards the hills
The Three Peaks will be lovely as of old.
Into the Darkness of the Grave
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
But if the gradualness of this process misled the Romans there were other and equally potent reasons for their blindness. Most potent of all was the fact that they mistook entirely the very nature of civilization itself. All of them were making the same mistake. People who thought that Rome could swallow barbarism and absorb it into her life without diluting her own civilization; the people who ran about busily saying that the barbarians were not such bad fellows after all, finding good points in their regime with which to castigate the Romans and crying that except ye become as little barbarians ye shall not attain salvation; the people who did not observe in 476 that one half of the Respublica Romanorum had ceased to exist and nourished themselves on the fiction that the barbarian kings were exercising a power delegated from the Emperor. All these people were deluded by the same error, the belief that Rome (the civilization of their age) was not a mere historical fact with a beginning and an end, but a condition of nature like the air they breathed and the earth they tread. Ave Roma immortalis, most magnificent most disastrous of creeds!I added a period after "tread."
If I were to choose a name for my profession as I understand it, I would call myself a grammarian. No other name could be more appropriate for linking up my work with the past. The craft which we grammarians are practicing has behind it a tradition of more than two thousand years. It is the art of preserving literary texts from corruption and oblivion by means of criticism and interpretation.Id. (at 5, with note at 33):
Varied as may be the grammarian's interests and functions in the wide sphere of human culture, the special abilities required for his profession converge on textual criticism and exegesis: distinguere emendare adnotare, as Suetonius said of Marcus Valerius Probus.4 However greatly the modern grammarian may differ from his colleague of the past, his basic work is still accurately described by the ancient triad. The grammarian's work culminates in editorship — the severest test to which his vocation can be put, and the very core of his craft.Id. (at 10):
4 De grammaticis, chap. 24.
We must use our rules with discretion — as guides, not as principles. Principiis obsta, "resist principles" — as Ludwig Radermacher, in one of his lighter moods, advised his students.Id. (at 30):
An apparatus criticus that is really well done can be as fascinating to read as are significant equations to the mathematician.
Thursday, January 09, 2020
A Walk in the Woods
But I was taken with the aspects of the forest, and thought that, to Nero advertising for a luxury, a walk in the woods should have been offered. 'T is one of the secrets for dodging old age.Nero or Xerxes? Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.7.20 (tr. Arthur P. Peabody):
Xerxes, indeed, replete with all the prizes and gifts of fortune, not content with his cavalry, his foot-soldiers, his vast fleet, his boundless supply of gold, offered a reward to him who should have invented a new pleasure, — with which he was not satisfied; for never will desire find an end.Likewise Valerius Maximus 9.1.ext.3 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
nam Xerxes quidem refertus omnibus praemiis donisque fortunae, non equitatu, non pedestribus copiis, non navium multitudine, non infinito pondere auri contentus, praemium proposuit, qui invenisset novam voluptatem: qua ipsa non fuit contentus; neque enim umquam finem inveniet libido.
Then Xerxes. In the extravagant ostentation of royal wealth he so revelled in luxury that he published an edict offering a reward to anyone who discovered a new sort of pleasure. A prisoner to excessive enjoyment, what ruin he brought upon his vast empire!Cf. also Athenaeus 12.539b (tr. S. Douglas Olson, with his note):
Age, Xerxes opum regiarum ostentatione eximia eo usque luxuria gaudens ut edicto praemium ei proponeret qui novum voluptatis genus repperisset, quanta, dum deliciis nimiis capitur, amplissimi imperii ruina evasit!
Clearchus says in his On Lives (fr. 50 Wehrli), in his discussion of the Darius who was killed by Alexander:190 Although the Persian king established prizes for anyone who provided him with new pleasures, he put it beyond doubt that all this high living brought about the collapse of his kingship, although he failed to realize that he was defeating himself, until others took away his sceptre and were proclaimed the ruler.
190 I.e. Darius III, who was in fact killed not by Alexander, but by his own men in 330 BCE. The fragment is clearly an intrusion into what is otherwise an extended discussion of Alexander in particular.
Κλέαρχος δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς Περὶ Βίων περὶ Δαρείου λέγων τοῦ καθαιρεθέντος ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἀλεξάνδρου φησίν· ὁ Περσῶν βασιλεὺς ἀθλοθετῶν τοῖς τὰς ἡδονὰς αὐτῷ πορίζουσιν ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἡδέων ἡττωμένην ἀπέδειξε τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ καταγωνιζόμενος ἑαυτὸν οὐκ ᾔσθετο πρότερον ἢ τὸ σκῆπτρον ἕτεροι λαβόντες ἀνεκηρύχθησαν.
Some people immoderately thirst after knowledge, and are unwilling to ignore any branch of it, so they study them all and master none; they are fonder of knowing much than of knowing some things well, and had rather be superficial smatterers in several sciences than be well and thoroughly acquainted with one. They everywhere meet with some person who enlightens and corrects them; they are deceived by their idle curiosity, and often, after very long and painful efforts, can but just extricate themselves from the grossest ignorance.Related post: Aimless Incursions into Knowledge.
Other people have a master-key to all sciences, but never enter there; they spend their lives in trying to decipher the Eastern and Northern languages, those of both the Indies, of the two poles, nay, the language spoken in the moon itself. The most useless idioms, the oddest and most hieroglyphical-looking characters, are just those which awaken their passion and induce them to study; they pity those persons who ingenuously content themselves with knowing their own language, or, at most, the Greek and Latin tongues. Such men read all historians and know nothing of history; they run through all books, but are not the wiser for any; they are absolutely ignorant of all facts and principles, but they possess as abundant a store and garner-house of words and phrases as can well be imagined, which weighs them down, and with which they overload their memory, whilst their mind remains a blank.
Quelques-uns, par une intempérance de savoir, et par ne pouvoir se résoudre à renoncer à aucune sorte de connaissance, les embrassent toutes et n'en possèdent aucune; ils aiment mieux savoir beaucoup que de savoir bien, et être faibles et superficiels dans diverses sciences que d'être sûrs et profonds dans une seule. Ils trouvent en toutes rencontres celui qui est leur maître et qui les redresse; ils sont les dupes de leur curiosité, et ne peuvent au plus, par de longs et pénibles efforts, que se tirer d'une ignorance crasse.
D'autres ont la clef des sciences, où ils n’entrent jamais; ils passent leur vie à déchiffrer les langues orientales et les langues du nord, celles des deux Indes, celles des deux pôles, et celle qui se parle dans la lune. Les idiomes les plus inutiles, avec les caractères les plus bizarres et les plus magiques, sont précisément ce qui réveille leur passion et qui excite leur travail; ils plaignent ceux qui se bornent ingénument à savoir leur langue, ou tout au plus la grecque et la latine. Ces gens lisent toutes les histoires et ignorent l'histoire; ils parcourent tous les livres, et ne profitent d'aucun; c'est en eux une stérilité de faits et de principes qui ne peut être plus grande, mais, à la vérité, la meilleure récolte et la richesse la plus abondante de mots et de paroles qui puisse s'imaginer: ils plient sous le faix; leur mémoire en est accablée, pendant que leur esprit demeure vide.
Tuesday, January 07, 2020
Physician, Heal Thyself
Enter within the portals of your own soul, look about to see if there be any rottenness there, lest some vice lurking somewhere within whisper to you the words of the tragedian:
Wouldst thou heal others, full of sores thyself?If you call your enemy uneducated, strive to intensify in yourself the love of learning and industry; if you call him a coward, rouse even more your self-reliance and manliness; if you call him unchaste and licentious, obliterate from your soul whatever trace of devotion to pleasure may be lurking there unperceived. For there is nothing more disgraceful or painful than evil-speaking that recoils upon its author.
ἐνδύου τῇ ψυχῇ, περισκόπει τὰ σαθρά, μή τίς σοί ποθεν ὑποφθέγγηται κακία τὸ τοῦ τραγῳδοῦ
ἄλλων ἰατρὸς αὐτὸς ἕλκεσιν βρύων.ἂν ἀπαίδευτον εἴπῃς, ἐπίτεινε τὸ φιλομαθὲς ἐν σεαυτῷ καὶ φιλόπονον· ἂν δειλόν, ἔγειρε μᾶλλον τὸ θαρραλέον καὶ ἀνδρῶδες· κἂν ἀσελγῆ καὶ ἀκόλαστον, ἐξάλειφε τῆς ψυχῆς εἴ τι λανθάνον ἐστὶ φιληδονίας ἴχνος. οὐδὲν γὰρ αἴσχιόν ἐστι βλασφημίας παλινδρομούσης οὐδὲ λυπηρότερον.
Plutarch, the elixir of Greece and Rome, that is the book which nations went to compose. If the world's library were burning, I should as soon fly to rescue that, as Shakespeare and Plato, or next afterwards.
Monday, January 06, 2020
For in a well-constructed Euripidean tragedy, what controls a succession of situations is not a firmly conceived unity of character but the shape of the whole action, and what determines the development and finesse of each situation is not a desire to paint in the details of a portrait-study but the rhetoric of the situation—what Aristotle calls διάνοια. Rhetoric is a concept which we tend to hold in some suspicion, as if in its nature there must be something bogus; but we shall never properly understand Greek tragedy unless we realize how closely related were the rhetoric of Athenian life, in the assembly and law-courts and on other public occasions, and the rhetoric of the speeches in drama. Nourished on the psychological novel, we tend to assume that the poet had brooded on the story until the characters took shape in his mind, as if he had asked himself: What would X, being such a man, be likely to say in such a situation? whereas we might sometimes get nearer to the meaning by imagining the question: Suppose a man involved in such a situation, how should he best acquit himself? How gain his point? Move his hearers? Prove his thesis? Convey information lucidly and vividly? The aim of rhetoric is Persuasion, Πειθώ, and the poet is, as it were, a kind of λογογράφος who promises to do his best for each of his clients in turn as the situations change and succeed one another. This does not by any means exclude an interest in character; the skilful λογογράφος takes that into account in its proper place. But the dominating consideration is: What points could be made here? The points may be developed in a set speech, a ῥῆσις, or made and countered in stichomythia. Fertility in arguments, a delight in logical analysis—these are the essentials, though they may be skilfully made to produce an effect of spontaneity.
Why Are You Lazy?
Why are you lazy? Are you not really ashamed to appear not to be the sort of people you ought to be? Will you not educate yourselves? Will you not take an interest in Greek?The Greek (id., p. 50):
τί ῥᾳθυμεῖτε; οὐκ αἰσχύνεσθε πάμπαν μὴ τοιοῦτοι γε οἵους δεῖ ὑμᾶς εἶναι φαινόμενοι; οὐ πεπαιδεύσεσθε; οὐ τῶν Ἑλληνικῶν ἐπιμελήσεσθε;
Sunday, January 05, 2020
Old age, thou enemy of mortal frames, 'tis thouLines 1-2 also = Menandri Sententiae 869-870 (Jaekel, p. 83).
Dost plunder all that's fair from shapes of loveliness,
Dost grave a new unseemliness on manly limbs,
And it is thou dost make the swift full hesitant.
ὦ γῆρας ἐχθρὸν σωμάτων ἀνθρωπίνων,
ἅπαντα συλῶν <τὰ> καλὰ τῆς εὐμορφίας
καὶ μεταχαράττον τὴν μὲν ἀνδρίαν μελῶν
εἰς <τ>ἀπρεπές, τὸ δὲ τάχος εἰς ὄκνον πολύν.
Fill It to the Brim
Wine is here; when you fill your cup be sure to fill it to the brim!
There is blossom on the tree; look quickly! It will soon be lying on the grass.
Do not pretend that a man of thirty still counts as young;
Of three parts that make a hundred one is almost gone.
A Curious Christmas Tradition
Today I write to you just to send a picture of these Catalan sweets shaped like feces we bought today. They are very rare to find these days, as the curious Christmas tradition slowly disappears. Personally I have never heard of a specific word for them.
Best wishes, and may you have a happy new year,
Jaume [Ripoll Miralda].
Labels: noctes scatologicae
At the Last
'And at the last what wilt thou do?'
'At the last I shall die.'
'Let the gods order it. I have never pestered Them with prayers: I do not think They will pester me.'
Saturday, January 04, 2020
The Injunctions of My Elders
Long ago I heard the injunctions of my elders,
But stopped my ears, so disagreeable were they.
Now, after fifty years and more,
I suddenly find myself saying the very same things.
Some paradox of our natures leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.
That what we falsely call a religious cry is easily raised by men who have no religion, and who in their daily practice set at nought the commonest principles of right and wrong; that it is begotten of intolerance and persecution; that it is senseless, besotted, inveterate and unmerciful; all History teaches us.
It Must Be True
Sore, sleepy, and hungry as he was, Mowgli could not help laughing when the Bandar-log began, twenty at a time, to tell him how great and wise and strong and gentle they were, and how foolish he was to wish to leave them. "We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true," they shouted.
Friday, January 03, 2020
Germany in Europe's center,
and in Germany's center Franconia,
in beautiful Franconia's
center lies a beautiful place.
In the beautiful place's center
lies a beautiful, beautiful yard;
In the beautiful yard's center
lies the most beautiful house of all.
Do you still ask, why I always
return to this little house,
as to my fatherland's
most beautiful centerpoint of all?
Deutschland in Europas Mitte,
Und in Deutschlands Mitte Franken,
In des schönen Frankenlandes
Mitte liegt ein schöner Grund.
In des schönen Grundes Mitte
Liegt ein schöner, schöner Garten;
In des schönen Gartens Mitte
Liegt der Allerschönsten Haus.
Fragt ihr noch, warum ich immer
Mich um dieses Häuschen drehe,
Als um meines Vaterlandes
Some Chinese Proverbs
Transcribed, but without the Chinese characters:
I don't know whether such proverbs as the following existed in the European tongues but the Chinese were clever enough to use them freely and universally:On Western parallels to the last of the three proverbs, see An Icelandic Proverb?. Perhaps we have to do with a cultural universal here.
When you see someone defecating, you feel an itch to do the same.The Marquis de Sade studied this kind of thing in its psychological aspect. According to D.H. Lawrence, even writing a book is a kind of bowel evacuation. Another proverb, in which the metaphor is expressive from its grossness:
To evacuate the bowels, but not to wipe the arse.One more, which is also equally true of Christ and Buddha:
Other people's farts stink;
One's own smell sweet.
Labels: noctes scatologicae
The Book of Revelation
The Greek of the book is uncouth. The imagery is deranged. The ethical system, in so far as it has one, is irrational. It seems as far from the spirit of Jesus as it is possible to be, and yet it provides the conclusion of the Christian Bible.I noted a misprint on p. 18 of Wilson's book, second line from the top—for "Christians have been signing hymns" read "Christians have been singing hymns."
Thursday, January 02, 2020
A Rare Man
A keen student of language and especially of grammar and syntax, he was one of those rare men who enjoy reading voluminous grammars from beginning to end.
The Envy of the Gods
The idea that the ancients had about the happiness (and therefore the unhappiness) of man in this life, about his glory, his exploits, and the way in which all seemed solid and real to him,  can also be inferred from the following: that they believed the Gods themselves envied man's great happiness and exploits, and they therefore feared their envy, and it was their task in such cases "deprecari" [to avert] divine envy, so that a small harm was deemed good fortune, and they even sought it out themselves (if I remember right) in order to appease the Gods, and mitigate their envy. "Deos immortales precatus est, ut, si quis eorum invideret operibus ac fortunae suae, in ipsum potius saevirent, quam in remp." ["He prayed to the immortal gods that, if any of them should envy his achievements and his fortune, they should rather vent their rage against himself than against the state"]. Velleius, bk. 1, ch. 10, in relation to Aemilius Paullus. And this is what happened, as two of his sons died, one four days before his triumph and the other three days afterward. And see here the Variorum notes. See also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, bk. 12, chs. 20 and 23, Milan ed., and the note by Mai in ch. 20. See as well these thoughts p. 197, end. Indeed, the ancients regarded the affairs of this world as being so important that they attributed no other motives than our own to the desires or the actions of the Gods, they regarded the Gods as being in communion with our life and our goods, and therefore thought they were jealous of our happiness and our exploits, just like our fellow humans,  not doubting themselves to be worthy of the envy of the immortals. (23 Dec. 1820.)
Quale idea avessero gli antichi della felicità (e quindi dell'infelicità) dell'uomo in questa vita, della sua gloria, delle sue imprese; e come tutto ciò paresse loro solido e reale,  si può arguire anche da questo, che delle grandi felicità ed imprese umane, ne credevano invidiosi gli stessi Dei, e temevano perciò l'invidia loro, ed era lor cura in tali casi deprecari la divina invidia, in maniera che stimavano anche fortuna, e (se ben mi ricordo) si proccuravano espressamente qualche leggero male, per dare soddisfazione agli Dei, e mitigare l'invidia loro. Deos immortales precatus est, ut, si quis eorum invideret OPERIBUS ac fortunae suae, in ipsum potius saevirent, quam in remp. Velleio l. I. c.10, di Paolo Emilio. E così avvenne essendogli morti due figli, l'uno 4 giorni avanti il suo trionfo, e l'altro 3 giorni dopo esso trionfo. E v. quivi le note Variorum. Vedi pure Dionigi Alicarnasseo l. 12 c. 20. e 23. ediz. di Milano, e la nota del Mai al c. 20. V. ancora questi pensieri p. 197. fine. Così importanti stimavano gli antichi le cose nostre, che non davano ai desideri divini, o alle divine operazioni altri fini che i nostri, mettevano i Dei in comunione della nostra vita e de' nostri beni, e quindi gli stimavano gelosi delle nostre felicità ed imprese, come i nostri simili,  non dubitando ch'elle non fossero degne della invidia degl'immortali. (23. Dic. 1820.).
When thou wouldst know thyself and who thou art, look on the grave-stones as thou journeyest by. There are the bones and unsubstantial dust of men who once were kings, of despots, of the wise, of men who plumed themselves on noble birth, on wealth, and on their fame and bodies beautiful. Yet none of these things availed them aught against Time. Hades is the common lot of mortals all. Look thou on these and know thyself the man thou art.Another version, by John Addington Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, Vol. II (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1902), p. 214:
Ὅταν εἰδέναι θέλῃς σεαυτὸν ὅστις εἶ,
ἔμβλεψον εἰς τὰ μνήμαθ', ὡς ὁδοιπορεῖς.
ἐνταῦθ' ἔνεστ' ὀστᾶ τε καὶ κούφη κόνις
ἀνδρῶν βασιλέων καὶ τυράννων καὶ σοφῶν
καὶ μέγα φρονούντων ἐπὶ γένει καὶ χρήμασιν
αὑτῶν τε δόξῃ κἀπὶ κάλλει σωμάτων.
κᾆτ' οὐδὲν αὐτοῖς τῶνδ' ἐπήρκεσεν χρόνος·
κοινὸν τὸν Ἅιδην ἔσχον οἱ πάντες βροτοί.
πρὸς ταῦθ' ὁρῶν γίνωσκε σαυτὸν ὅστις εἶ.
When thou wouldst know thyself, what man thou art,
Look at the tombstones as thou passest by:
Within those monuments lie bones and dust
Of monarchs, tyrants, sages, men whose pride
Rose high because of wealth, or noble blood,
Or haughty soul, or loveliness of limb;
Yet none of these things strove for them 'gainst time:
One common death hath ta'en all mortal men.
See thou to this, and know thee who thou art.
The Master Words
"Tell Bagheera, then, the Master Words of the jungle that I have taught thee this day."Id.:
"Master Words for which people?" said Mowgli, delighted to show off. "The jungle has many tongues. I know them all."
"A little thou knowest, but not much. See, O Bagheera, they never thank their teacher. Not one small wolfling has ever come back to thank old Baloo for his teachings. Say the word for the Hunting-People, then—great scholar."
"We be of one blood, ye and I," said Mowgli...
"Listen, man-cub," said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. "I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle—except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no Law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die."
Wednesday, January 01, 2020
The New Year
In the Middle Ages the new year varied according to the locality. Gervase of Canterbury wrote in the beginning of the thirteenth century :— "Quidam enim annos incipiunt computare ab Annuntiatione, alii a Nativitate, quidam a Circumcisione, quidam vero a Passione." Thus the year began sometimes in March or April (the Annunciation or the Passion), sometimes on December 25 or January 1 (the Nativity or the Circumcision). In neighbouring towns such as Reims and Soissons the year began on the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and on Christmas Day respectively.2 This explains why at St. Savin the zodiac begins with the Ram, that is with March.3 And Amiens probably chose December so that the year might open with Christmastide.4 An explanation may also be found for the unusual correspondence at Chartres of the month of January and the sign of Capricorn. In mediaeval days the signs of the zodiac did not correspond exactly with the length of each month, but were liable to encroach on the following one. We have evidence for this in a poem on the months by the monk Wandalbertus, who in the ninth century wrote of January—"Huic gemino praesunt Capricorni sidera monstro."5 "The sign of Capricorn presides over the two-headed monster (Janus)," that is over January.
2 See the Comte de Mas-Latrie, Trésor de chronologie, Paris, 1889, folio, col. 21-22. See also Giry, Manuel de diplomatique, Paris, 1894, 8vo, p. 114.
3 In Poitou in the Middle Ages the year began either on March 25, (the Annunciation) or on Easter Day which often falls in March. Giry, op. cit.
4 M. de Mas-Latrie, op. cit., states that at Amiens in the twelfth century the year began on Easter Eve, the day of the benediction of the paschal candle. One must therefore suppose either that it was no longer the custom in the thirteenth century, or that there is a mistake in the disposition of the signs.
5 Wandalbertus, monk of Prüm; Achery, Spicil., II, p. 57.
Freshly Minted Sauce for Lamb
New Year’s Eve, in Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia, edited by N. L. Hallward and S. C. Hill (London & New York: Macmillan, 1895), pp. 40-48, at pp. 43-44:
But now, shall I confess a truth?—I feel these audits but too powerfully. I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods, like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away “like a weaver’s shuttle.” Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide, that smoothly bears human life to eternity; and reluct at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived; I, and my friends: to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer.Hallward and Hill’s endnotes on this passage (p. 249) are useful but incomplete:
I do not want to be weaned by age; or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave.—Any alteration, on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household-gods plant a terrible fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me.
audits: seasons of reckoning when we examine our past lives, and, as it were, make up our accounts. Latin auditus, a hearing.My additions:
lessen and shorten: grow fewer in number and pass more rapidly.
set more count upon their periods: attach greater value to their revolutions.
lay my ineffectual finger, etc., vainly try to stop the rolling of the great wheel of time.
"like a weavers shuttle": Job, vii. 6, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle."
sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality: make the distasteful liability to death any more endurable. The metaphor is taken from the custom of administering to children disagreeable medicines disguised by being sweetened with sugar.
the tide, etc.: cf. Wordsworth, Prelude, “the great tide of human life.”
reluct, etc.: recoil from; another archaic word.
set up my tabernacle: make my permanent dwelling-place. See Mark, ix. 5. weaned by age: Compare Swift's saying, "The troubles of age were intended to wean us gradually from our fondness of life."
drop, like mellow fruit: cf. Paradise Lost, xi. 535 :
" So'mayst thou live, till like ripe fruit thou drop
Into thy mother's lap ";
and Dryden, Oedipus, iv. 1. :
"Fell like autumn fruit that mellowed long."
seek Lavinian shores: remove to strange countries, as Aeneas, by the command of the gods, migrated with his followers after the sack of Troy to Lavinium in Italy. Cf. Vergil, Aeneid, I. 2.
audits: Lamb begrudges spending time as a miser would spending money. The metaphor is prolonged in ‘count’ (twice), ‘expenditure’ and ‘miser’s farthings’. Lamb was involved in auditing for the East India Company for much of his professional life. In a letter to Wordsworth (9 Aug.1815) he fantasizes “If I do but get rid of auditing Warehousekeepers Acc’ts and get no worse-harassing task in the place of it, what a Lord of Liberty I shall be” [E. V. Lucas, Letters, 1935, II, p. 170].
periods: OED s.v. period, sense 7.b.: “Astronomy. The time in which a celestial object, satellite, etc., performs one revolution about its primary (or about the centre of gravity of its system) or rotates once on its axis.”
ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel: The metaphor perhaps is the circle described by the Earth’s rotation around the sun as a spinning wheel with its spokes.
sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality: The expression ‘dulcify this unpalatable draught’ occurs in ‘Memoir of General Moreau’, which appeared in The European Magazine or London Review (September 1813, p. 185). As Moreau is mentioned in Lamb’s earliest published essay ‘What is Jacobinism?’ he might have come across the Memoir and then recalled the phrase. See Winifred F. Courtney, Young Charles Lamb 1775-1802 (London: Macmillan, 1982) Appendix B.
reluct at: Lamb had a penchant for archaistic vocabulary. One of his favourite authors was Isaac Walton, in whose Life of Donne (1670), the poet is described as “by nature highly passionate, but more apt to reluct at the excesses of it”.
I am in love with this green earth: Wordsworth, Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey (1798) ll. 103-8:
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half create
And what perceive...
set up my tabernacle: Mark 9: 4, in the KJV, reads “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles”. Closer to Lamb’s wording, however, is Leviticus 26: 11 “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you”.
plant a terrible fixed foot: a pun on OED, s.v. plant, sense 4.a: “To place (a thing) firmly on the ground or any other body or surface; to set down firmly etc.” and sense 1.a.: “To set or place (a seed, bulb, or growing thing) in the ground so that it may take root and grow etc.”.
are not rooted up without blood: Bleeding in the context of broken roots suggests ‘ruptis radicibus’ and ‘atro sanguine’at Aeneid III, 27-29:
nam quae prima solo ruptis radicibus arbos
vellitur, huic atro liquuntur sanguine guttae
et terram tabo maculant.
when the first stalk came torn
Out of the earth, and the root network burst,
Dark blood dripped down to soak and foul the soil.
do not willingly seek Lavinian shores: While ‘Lavinian shores’ evokes ‘Laviniaque … litora’ of Aeneid I, 2-3, ‘not willingly’ corresponds to ‘non sponte’ at IV, 361: ‘Italiam non sponte sequor.'
staggers me: The reference to (uprooted) ‘fixed foot’ allows Lamb punningly to bridge OED, s.v. stagger, sense II. 6. a.: To cause (a person or animal) to reel or totter, esp. from a blow”, and sense 7. a.: “To bewilder, perplex, nonplus; to render helpless by a shock of amazement (or occasionally horror)”.