Sunday, October 13, 2019


Have You Been Freed?

Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), pp. 21-22:
Suddenly he asks me: "Have you been freed?"

I stand perplexed: I do not know precisely what he means. Freed from what? From military service?

He makes himself clear.

"Have you been liberated from religious beliefs? Oh, the question is not in the least indiscreet. I say that to you, just as I would say: 'Have you a good digestion? Is your liver all right?' People are born churchy or unchurchy, just as they are born with a tendency to arterio-sclerosis, cancer, or consumption. Not all the preachings or all the proofs make any difference. Are there more unbelievers to-day than in the fifteenth century, for instance? I do not think so. But then people feigned devotion from fear of the stake. He who is born an unbeliever, remains one all his life, and vice versa: he lacks the organ of superstition. In relation to heaven he is an eunuch. I had that infirmity or, if you like, advantage. That is why I inquire with such sympathetic interest about you. Anatomists will, I trust, one day discover the cause and seat of the religious spirit. I know nothing more terrible directed against its devotees than a saying of La Bruyère in his chapter — a feeble chapter too — in the Esprits forts."

He chooses a La Bruyère from his library. He shows the edition with pride, it is that of ———, the most notable of all. He finds the passage without difficulty, and reads: "'He who is in perfect health doubts the existence of God, but, when he gets a dropsy, leaves his mistress and sends for the priest.' He sends for a doctor at the same moment. Decay of the body induces decay of the mind. Faith and credulity are infirmities, and most often they are congenital. Sometimes a man lives with them without being too much harassed, just as one does with consumption, arterio-sclerosis, or cancer. But the downward turn comes and he gives himself to drugs and the Deity. A few extra grammes of sugar in his urine and the libertine goes to mass."



Homer, Iliad 6.146-149 (tr. Peter Green):
As the generation of leaves, so is that of mankind:
some leaves the wind scatters earthwards, but the fertile
woodland grows others as spring returns in season.
So with men: one generation grows, while another dies.

οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ᾽ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ᾽ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ᾽ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἡ μὲν φύει, ἡ δ᾽ ἀπολήγει.

148 ὥρη: ὥρῃ Aristophanes
149 φύει: φύεθ᾽ Brandreth
Ecclesiasticus 14.18:
As of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall, and some grow; so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh to an end, and another is born.

Saturday, October 12, 2019



Max Leopold Wagner (1880-1962), La vita rustica della Sardegna riflessa nella lingua (Nuoro: Illisso, 2011) [Das ländliche Leben Sardiniens im Spiegel der Sprache (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1921)], p. 345:
Nei villaggi di pastori dell’Interno, si procura di morire presso il focolare di casa, là dove si é nati. Disteso su una stuoia vicino al fuoco, il malato attende la morte. Appena questa sopraggiunge, i parenti cominciano a lamentarsi ad alta voce; le donne strillano, si attuano il petto e si strappano i capelli. Questo lamento attorno al morto si chiama log. téyu, camp. téu = taedium.525

525 taedium occorre gìa in Petron. 137 (itaque taedio fatigatus: Rogo, inquam, expiare manus pretio licet) nel significato ‘cordologlio, afflizione’; così lo spiega Nonio 96 (dividia est taedium), e nella stessa accezione è usato dalla Vulgata e dai padri dalla Chiesa, come traduzione del gr. λύπη, ἀκηδία. Vd. Rönsch Itala und Vulgata, p. 325 e Semas. Beitr. I, p. 69.
Translated by Eric Thomson:
In the shepherd villages of the Interior, they endeavour to die in their homes near the hearth, where they were born. Lying on a mat near the fire, the sick person awaits death. As soon as this occurs, relatives begin to lament loudly; women wail, beat their breasts and tear their hair. This lamentation over the deceased is called téyu in the Logudorese and téu in the Campidanese dialects = taedium.525

525 taedium occurs already in Petronius 137 (itaque taedio fatigatus: Rogo, inquam, expiare manus pretio licet) with the meaning ‘sorrow, affliction’; Nonius explains it in this way (dividia est taedium) and in the same sense it is used in the Vulgate and the Church Fathers as a translation of Greek λύπη, ἀκηδία. See Rönsch Itala und Vulgata, p. 325 and Semasiologische Beiträge I, p. 69.



Phlegon of Tralles, Marvels 3, tr. Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Sourcebook I: The Republic (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), p. 376:
I see bronze-breasted forces, kings united in common purpose, and nations of all sorts crossing from Asia into Europe, the clatter of horses' hoofs, the crashing of spears, bloody slaughter, terrible pillage, toppling towers, razing of walls, and an indescribable desolation of the land.
The Greek, from Otto Keller, ed., Rerum Naturalium Scriptores Graeci Minores, Vol. I: Paradoxographi Antigonus, Apollonius, Phlegon, Anonymus Vaticanus (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1877), pp. 70-71:
ἐκ τῆς ᾿Ασίας ὁρῶ διαβαινούσας δυνάμεις χαλκοστέρνους καὶ βασιλέας ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ συναγομένους καὶ ἔθνη παντοδαπὰ ἐπὶ τὴν Εὐρώπην, ἵππων τε κτύπον δοράτων τε ψόφον καὶ φόνον αἱματόφυρτον λεηλασίαν τε δεινὴν πτώσεις τε πύργων καὶ τειχῶν κατασκαφὰς ἐρημίαν τε χθονὸς ἀμύθητον.


Knock, Knock

Goethe, Faust, Part I, line 1530 (tr. Walter Kaufman):
A knock? Come in! Who comes to plague me now?

Es klopft? Herein! Wer will mich wieder plagen?
This would make a good sign to post on a door.

Related post: A Recluse.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Less of a Traveller than a Saunterer

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Mist, chapter 1 (about his as yet unopened umbrella; tr. Warner Fite):
"It is a misfortune," thought Augusto, "that we need the service of things and have to make use of them. All beauty is marred by use, if not destroyed. The noblest function of things is that of being contemplated. How beautiful is an orange before dinner!"

Es una desgracia esto de tener que servirse uno de las cosas— pensó Augusto—; tener que usarlas. El uso estropea y hasta destruye toda belleza. La función más noble de los objetos es la de ser contemplados. ¡Qué bella es una naranja antes de comida!
For Augusto was less of a traveller through life than a saunterer.

Porque Augusto no era un caminante, sino un paseante de la vida.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


What an Imposture!

Anatole France, "Allocution Delivered at the Inaugural Celebrations of 'L'Émancipation' on the 21st November, 1899," in The Unrisen Dawn: Speeches and Addresses, tr. J. Lewis May (London: John Lane, 1928), pp. 9-14 (at 13):
You will sometimes hear moralists descanting on the vanity of the pleasures of life. Do not heed them. A long religious tradition, the burden of which is still heavy upon us, teaches us that privation, suffering and pain are things to be desired, and that voluntary privation is specially meritorious. What an imposture! It has been by proclaiming to the masses that they must suffer in this world if they would be happy in the next, that an abject acquiescence in all manner of injustice and oppression has been brought about. Let us turn a deaf ear to the priests who would impress upon us that suffering is an excellent thing. It is happiness that is good for us.

Our instincts, our physical and moral nature, our whole being, all alike counsel us to look for our happiness here on earth. Happiness is difficult enough to meet with. Let us not wilfully run away from it. Let us not be afraid of joy; and when an exquisite form or a smiling mood invites us to taste of pleasure, let us not pass it by.
The original French, from Anatole France, Opinions sociales, Vol. I (Paris: Cornély, 1906), pp. 67-72 (at 70-71):
Vous entendez parfois des moralistes vous dire qu'il ne faut rien accorder à l'agrément dans la vie. Ne les écoutez pas. Une longue tradition religieuse, qui pèse encore sur nous, nous enseigne que la privation, la souffrance et la douleur sont des biens désirables et qu'il y a des mérites spéciaux attachés à la privation volontaire. Quelle imposture! C'est en disant aux peuples qu'il faut souffrir en ce monde pour être heureux dans l'autre qu'on a obtenu d'eux une pitoyable résignation à toutes les oppressions et à toutes les iniquités. N'écoutons pas les prêtres qui enseignent que la souffrance est excellente. C'est la joie qui est bonne!

Nos instincts, nos organes, notre nature physique et morale, tout notre être nous conseille de chercher le bonheur sur la terre. Il est difficile de le rencontrer. Ne le fuyons point. Ne craignons pas la joie; et lorsqu'une forme heureuse ou une pensée riante nous offre du plaisir, ne la refusons pas.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


A Fine Fellow

François Rabelais (1494-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book II, Chapter XXXII (tr. J.M. Cohen):
Finally, I decided to go back, and going past his beard I dropped onto his shoulders, and from there I got down to the ground and fell right in front of him. And seeing me, he asked: 'Where are you coming from, Alcofribas?' And I answered him: 'From your throat, sir.' 'And how long have you been down there?' he said. 'Since you marched against the Almyrods,' I said. 'But that,' he said, 'is more than six months. How did you live? What did you drink?' I answered: 'My lord, just as you did, and I took a tax of the freshest morsels that came down your throat.' 'Indeed,' he said. 'But where did you shit?' 'In your throat, sir,' I said. 'Ha, ha, but you're a fine fellow!' he said.
In French:
Finablement vouluz retourner, et, passant par sa barbe, me gettay sus ses epaulles, et de là me devallé en terre et tumbé devant luy.
Quand il me apperceut, il me demanda:
« D'ont viens tu, Alcofribas? »
Je luy responds:
« De vostre gorge, Monsieur.
— Et despuis quand y es tu, dist il?
— Despuis, (dis je), que vous alliez contre les Almyrodes.
— Il y a, (dist il), plus de six moys. Et de quoy vivois tu? Que beuvoys tu? »
Je responds:
« Seigneur, de mesmes vous, et des plus frians morceaulx qui passoient par vostre gorge j'en prenois le barraige.
— Voire mais, (dist il), où chioys tu?
— En vostre gorge, Monsieur, dis je.
— Ha, ha, tu es gentil compaignon, (dist il).... »
John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, Vol. III: Fla. to Hyps. (1893), p. 133:
GERRY GAN, intj. (Old Cant).—A retort forcible. STOW IT! (q.v.). [From GERRY = excrement + GAN = mouth, i.e., literally, Shit in your mouth.] The common form is: Shit (or a turd) in your teeth; as in Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, 1614. Fr., Tais ta gueule ou j'te chie dedans.

1567. HARMAN, Caveat. GERRY GAN, the ruffian cly thee.
Thomas Harman (16th century), A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursetors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds (London: T. Bensley, 1814), p. 68:
Gerry gan the Ruffian clye thee.
   A torde in thy mouth, the deuill take thee.



Long Night

Propertius 2.15.23-24 (tr. G.P. Goold):
While fate permits, let us feast our eyes with love:
a long night is coming for you and day will not return.

dum nos fata sinunt, oculos satiemus amore:
    nox tibi longa venit, nec reditura dies.
The same, in A.E. Watts' translation:
Let's glut our eyes with love, while yet we may:
A long night comes, with no return of day.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


How the Ear of Man Is Tortured!

Thomas Carlyle, quoted in James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London 1834-1881, Vol. I (New York: Harper Brothers, 1885), pp. 159-160:
How the ear of man is tortured in this terrestrial planet! Go where you will the cock's shrill clarion, the dog's harsh watch-note, not to speak of the melody of jackasses, and on streets, of wheelbarrows, wooden clogs, loud-voiced men, perhaps watchmen, break upon the hapless brain; and, as if all was not enough, 'the Piety of the Middle Ages' has founded tremendous bells; and the hollow triviality of the present age—far worse—has everywhere instituted the piano! Why are not at least all those cocks and cockerels boiled into soup, into everlasting silence? Or, if the Devil some good night should take his hammer and smite in shivers all and every piano of our European world, so that in broad Europe there were not one piano left soundable, would the harm be great? Would not, on the contrary, the relief be considerable? For once that you hear any real music from a piano, do you not five hundred times hear mere artistic somersets, distracted jangling, and the hapless pretence of music? Let him who has lodged wall-neighbor to an operatic artist of stringed music say.

This miserable young woman that now in the next house to me spends all her young, bright days, not in learning to darn stockings, sew shirts, bake pastry, or any art, mystery, or business that will profit herself or others; not even in amusing herself or skipping on the grass-plots with laughter of her mates; but simply and solely in raging from dawn to dusk, to night and midnight, on a hapless piano, which it is evident she will never in this world learn to render more musical than a pair of barn-fanners! The miserable young female! The sound of her through the wall is to me an emblem of the whole distracted misery of this age; and her barn-fanners' rhythm becomes all too significant.
Edwin Way Teale, Journey into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), pp. 21-22:
Sitting relaxed, aware of all the little sounds around me, enjoying the peaceful calm of these mountain heights, I remembered the young barber who had cut my hair in a small town a few days before. His great ambition, he said, was to work in New York. There was a city! For a good many years, he explained, each summer he had visited his grandfather on his farm in the country. But he couldn't stand it any more. Everything was so quiet! It gave him the creeps. He felt like going out and blowing a trumpet or pounding a drum—anything to make a racket. He represented that new breed, growing in numbers, the Noise Needers.

From the outboard motor to the jet airplane, through the radio and TV, the electric razor and the power lawnmower, almost every mechanical advance has added to the noise of the world. Each successive generation lives in a less quiet environment. In consequence, evolution is at work in massed urban centers. For evolution concerns the present as well as the past, ourselves as well as the dinosaurs. Noise is evolving not only the endurers of noise but the needers of noise.

Those whose nervous systems are disturbed by uproar are handicapped under such conditions. They are less fitted to maintain good health, to endure and to increase their kind than are those who thrive on clamor. What is strain and distraction to one is a stimulant and a tonic to the other. In step with noisier times, the number of Noise Needers is growing. I was told recently of the art editor of a chain of magazines who carries a pocket radio with him all day long and even places it, turned on, under his pillow when he goes to bed at night. Noise is comforting and reassuring to him. He seems in his proper environment when quiet is eliminated. The metallic clangor of rock-and-roll music is, perhaps, symptomatic of the steady rise in the number of Noise Needers. For them, quiet is somehow unnatural, stillness is somehow unfriendly. They feel better, more at home, when they are surrounded by a din—any kind of din. They do not merely tolerate noise. They like noise. They need noise.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019



Logan Pearsall Smith, Introduction to Donne's Sermons. Selected Passages (1919; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), pp. xiv-xv:
[S]ermons themselves, and especially old sermons, have fallen somewhat out of fashion; they are not often read now, and the collected and repubhshed editions of the great seventeenth century divines rest for the most part unopened on our shelves. People read novels, biographies, books of travel, social and political treatises instead of the sermons in which their grandfathers and grandmothers delighted: Hooker, Barrow, South, Tillotson are names indeed, but little more than names to most of us ; and even so great a writer of English prose, so exquisite an artist as Jeremy Taylor, is familiar to us only in extracts and selected passages. For modern theologians this old divinity, with its obsolete learning and forgotten controversies, has little more than an archaeological interest; while to the more secular-minded, the old divines, whose severe brows and square faces meet our eyes when we open their great folios, seem, with their imposed dogmas, their heavy and obsolete methods of exposition and controversy, almost as if they belonged to some remote geological era of human thought. We are reminded of Taine's image of them as giant mastodons or megatheria, slowly winding their scaly backs through the primeval slime, and meeting each other, armed with syllogisms and bristling with texts, in theological battle, to tear the flesh from one another's flanks with their great talons, and cover their opponents with filth in their efforts to destroy them.

And yet these old divines were great men and great writers, their voices enthralled the best and wisest of their own generation, and it is a misfortune for their fame, and a misfortune for our literature, that they put their wisdom and observation and deep feeling, their great gifts of imagination, and their often exquisite mastery of the art of expression into the hortatory and controversial form of the sermon which time has rendered obsolete.


Shrines of the Penates

Percy Bysshe Shelley, letter to Thomas Love Peacock (July 17, 1816):
You must shelter my roofless Penates, dedicate some new temple to them, and perform the functions of a priest in my absence. They are innocent deities, and their worship neither sanguinary nor absurd.

Leave Mammon and Jehovah to those who delight in wickedness and slavery — their altars are stained with blood or polluted with gold, the price of blood. But the shrines of the Penates are good wood fires, or window-frames intertwined with creeping plants; their hymns are the purring of kittens, the hissing of kettles; the long talks over the past and dead, the laugh of children, the warm wind of summer filling the quiet house, and the pelting storm of winter struggling in vain for entrance.


Scene from Olden Times

Propertius 3.13.25-48 (tr. G.P. Goold, with his notes):
Happy and in peace lived the youth of the country in those far off days, whose riches consisted of the harvest and the tree. For them it was a present to give quinces shaken from the bough, to bring panniers laden with crimson bramble-berries, now to pick a handful of violets, now to bring a mixed bouquet of lilies shining through their wicker baskets,40 and to carry grapes clothed in their own leaves and some speckled bird of rainbow plumage.

These were the blandishments that purchased the stealthy kisses that the girls of those days gave their sylvan gallants in the glens. A fawn's pelt would cover the reclining lovers, and the grass grew tall to make them a natural bed, and a pine leaning over curtained them with luxuriant shade; nor was it a sin to see a goddess naked.41

A horned marshal leading his full-fed ewes, the ram came home of his own accord to a fold as yet untenanted by shepherd. Ye gods and goddesses all, who have protection of the fields, your altars offered kindly words: 'Whoever you are who come as a guest, you will hunt the hare along my path or any bird you seek: and whether you pursue your prize with rod or hound, summon me, Pan, from the crag to be your companion.'42

But now shrines suffer neglect in forsaken groves: gold commands the worship of all, with piety trampled underfoot.

40 Cf. Copa 16, lilia vimineis attulit in calathis, one of several echoes of Propertius in this delightful Julio-Claudian poem.
41 As it was for Actaeon.
42 The quatrain translates Leonidas, A.P. 9.337.

felix agrestum quondam pacata iuventus,        25
    divitiae quorum messis et arbor erant!
illis munus erat decussa Cydonia ramo,
    et dare puniceis plena canistra rubis,
nunc violas tondere manu, nunc mixta referre
    lilia vimineos lucida per calathos,        30
et portare suis vestitas frondibus uvas
    aut variam plumae versicoloris avem.

his tum blanditiis furtiva per antra puellae
    oscula silvicolis empta dedere viris.
hinnulei pellis stratos operibat amantes,        35
    altaque nativo creverat herba toro,
pinus et incumbens laetas circumdabat umbras;
    nec fuerat nudas poena videre deas.

corniger atque adeo vacuam pastoris in aulam
    dux aries saturas ipse reduxit oves;        40
dique deaeque omnes, quibus est tutela per agros,
    praebebant vestri verba benigna foci:
'et leporem, quicumque venis, venaberis, hospes,
    et si forte meo tramite quaeris avem:
et me Pana tibi comitem de rupe vocato,        45
    sive petes calamo praemia, sive cane.'

at nunc desertis cessant sacraria lucis:
    aurum omnes victa iam pietate colunt.

25 pacata codd.: pagana Gulielmus: barbata Cornelissen
33 versicoloris ς: viricoloris NFL: vitricoloris Ellis: raricoloris Heinsius
35 hinnulei Scaliger: atque hinuli N: atque humili FL
stratos Baehrens: totos codd.: positos Heinsius: tutos Sterke: lentos Housman: iunctos Shackelton Bailey
37 letas F: lentas NL
39 corniger atque adeo Watt: corniger atque dei NFL: corniger Arcadii Hertzberg: cornigerique dei ς: corniger Idaei Volscus: crinigerique dei Postgate
40 dux codd.: trux Alton
42 vestri ... foci Barber: vestris ... focis NFL (nostris ς: festis Heinsius: iustis Baehrens: dextris Heyworth)
Greek Anthology 9.337 (Leonidas of Tarentum; tr. W.R. Paton):
Good sport! thou who comest to the foot of this two-peaked hill, whether hunting the hare or in pursuit of winged game. Call on me, Pan the ranger of this forest, from the rock, for I help both hounds and limed reeds to capture.

Εὐάγρει, λαγόθηρα, καὶ εἰ πετεεινὰ διώκων
    ἰξευτὴς ἥκεις τοῦθ᾿ ὑπὸ δισσὸν ὄρος,
κἀμὲ τὸν ὑληωρὸν ἀπὸ κρημνοῖο βόασον
    Πᾶνα· συναγρεύω καὶ κυσὶ καὶ καλάμοις.

Monday, October 07, 2019


He Would Rather Die

William Coventry (1628-1686), The Character of a Trimmer (London: James Duncan, 1833), p. 69:
Our Trimmer, is far from idolatry in other things; in one thing only he cometh near it, his country is in some degree his idol. He doth not worship the sun, because it is not peculiar to us, it rambleth about the world, and is less kind to us than others; but, for the earth of England, though perhaps inferior to that of many places abroad, to him there is divinity in it, and he would rather die, than see a piece of English grass trampled on by a foreign trespasser. He thinks there are a great many of his mind, for all plants are apt to taste of the soil in which they grow; and we that grow here, have a root that produceth in us a stalk of English juice, which is not to be changed by grafting, or foreign infusion...


Funeral Wishes of Charles Dickens

John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, Vol. II (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890), pp. 300-301:
I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner; that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial; that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed; and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat-band, or other such revolting absurdity. I DIRECT that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb, without the addition of ' Mr.' or 'Esquire.' I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works, and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experience of me in addition thereto.
Related posts:



John Donne (1572-1631), Sermon 149:
...the sun is setting to thee, and that for ever; thy houses and furnitures, thy gardens and orchards, thy titles and offices, thy wife and children are departing from thee, and that for ever; a cloud of faintnesse is come over thine eyes, and a cloud of sorrow over all theirs...


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