Friday, November 30, 2007


Double Entendres

The authors of the following passages intended them to be understood in only one way. Nevertheless, unintended meanings obtrude themselves, in my imagination at least.

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 24:
She touched his organ, and from that bright epoch even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable as he had thought of elevation, began a new and deified existence.
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book I, chapter 7:
...Mrs. Glegg had doubtless the glossiest and crispest brown curls in her drawers...
Mary Baker Eddy, quoted by Garry Wills in Certain Trumpets (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 178:
Joy in every belfry bell —
Joy for the captive! sound it long!
Ye who have wept four-score can tell
The holy meaning of their dong.
One of the two Letters to Cynthia in Christopher Morley's Mince Pie (1919) is entitled In Praise of Boobs.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Futile Work

William Morris, Useful Work versus Useless Toil:
For a man to be the whole of his life hopelessly engaged in performing one repulsive and never-ending task, is an arrangement fit enough for the hell imagined by theologians, but scarcely fit for any other form of society.
Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle:
Most men would be insulted, if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.
When he wrote about menial work unworthy of man's divine spark, Thoreau often recurred to the myth of the god Apollo tending the flocks of King Admetus as punishment:Other Greek myths illustrate the futility of work. I can think of three — the punishments suffered by Sisyphus, the Danaides (daughters of Danaus), and Ocnus in Hades.

Homer, Odyssey 11.593-600 (tr. Butcher and Lang), first mentions Sisyphus:
Yea and I beheld Sisyphus in strong torment, grasping a monstrous stone with both his hands. He was pressing thereat with hands and feet, and trying to roll the stone upward toward the brow of the hill. But oft as he was about to hurl it over the top, the weight would drive him back, so once again to the plain rolled the stone, the shameless thing. And he once more kept heaving and straining, and the sweat the while was pouring down his limbs, and the dust rose upwards from his head.
Guercino, Sisyphus

Plato, Gorgias 493 b-c (tr. Benjamin Jowett), first refers to the punishment of carrying water in a sieve:
Some ingenious person, probably a Sicilian or an Italian, playing with the word, invented a tale in which he called the soul—because of its believing and make-believe nature—a vessel, and the ignorant he called the uninitiated or leaky, and the place in the souls of the uninitiated in which the desires are seated, being the intemperate and incontinent part, he compared to a vessel full of holes, because it can never be satisfied. He is not of your way of thinking, Callicles, for he declares, that of all the souls in Hades, meaning the invisible world (aeides), these uninitiated or leaky persons are the most miserable, and that they pour water into a vessel which is full of holes out of a colander which is similarly perforated.
But it is not until [Plato], Axiochus 371 e (tr. George Burges), that this punishment is specifically associated with the Danaides:
But they, whose life has been passed in a course of evil doings, are driven by the Furies to Erebus and Chaos through Tartarus, where is the region of the impious, and the unfilled urns of the daughters of Danaus, and the thirst of Tantalus, and the trials of of Tityus, and the uncompleted stone of Sisyphus,
To whom begins again his labour's end.
Bibliography on the Danaides includes Campbell Bonner, "A Study of the Danaid Myth," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 13 (1902) 129-173, Eva Keuls, Water Carriers in Hades: A Study of Catharsis Through Toil in Classical Antiquity (Amsterdam: A.M. Hakkert, 1974), and William Hansen, Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), pp. 69-75 = "Carrying Water in a Sieve." I have not read any of these.

John William Waterhouse, Danaides

Pausanias 10.29.1 (describing Polygnotus' painting of the underworld, tr. Peter Levi) tells the story of Ocnus:
Behind them is sitting a man who the inscription says is Oknos. He has been painted plaiting a rope, and a she-donkey stands beside him eating the rope as he plaits it. They say this Oknos was an industrious man with an extravagant wife; however much he earned working, she soon spent it.
For more on Ocnus see Friedhelm Hoffmann, Seilflechter in der Unterwelt, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994) 339-346.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


An Audience of One

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, last chapter of The Elements of Style:
The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Let him start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and he is as good as dead, although he may make a nice living.
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Joseph Epstein, 'Let All Your Thinks Be Thanks': An appreciation of an adult holiday, Wall Street Journal (Nov. 22, 2007):
For some time in America we have, of course, been living under Kindergarchy, or rule by children. If children do not precisely rule us, then certainly all efforts, in families where the smallish creatures still roam, are directed to relieving their boredom if not (hope against hope) actually pleasing them.
There is no entry for kindergarchy in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It is a hybrid from German Kinder (children) and Greek archē (power, rule). The medial -g- is reminiscent of kindergarten or oligarchy.

There are some examples of kindergarchy in Google Books. The earliest dates from 1946 and comes from Monatshefte, a magazine published by the Department of German at the University of Wisconsin. The Googlemeisters, alas, have concealed the context behind their "Snippet View."

The OED does recognize paedarchy (1830) and paedocracy (1647), which mean the same thing as kindergarchy.

Hat tip: Patrick Kurp.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


November (VI)

Robert Frost, My November Guest:
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
Tom Thomson, Northern River

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Monday, November 26, 2007



Jonathan Swift, Letter to Alexander Pope (Sept. 29, 1725):
[W]hen you think of the world give it one lash the more at my request. I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counsellor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians—I will not speak of my own trade—soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself many years, but do not tell, and so I shall go on till I have done with them.


Intimacy with Nature

Thoreau, Journal (July 26, 1852):
By my intimacy with nature I find myself withdrawn from man. My interest in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening, compels me to solitude.
Thoreau, Journal (July 27, 1852):
I am sure that if I call for a companion in my walk I have relinquished in my design some closeness of communion with Nature. The walk will surely be more commonplace. The inclination for society indicates a distance from Nature. I do not design so wild and mysterious a walk.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


What a Food We Have in Cheeses

Hilaire Belloc, excerpts from On Cheese, in his book of essays First and Last:

This happy Christendom of ours (which is just now suffering from an indigestion and needs a doctor—but having also a complication of insomnia cannot recollect his name) has been multifarious incredibly—but in nothing more than in cheese!

One cheese differs from another, and the difference is in sweeps, and in landscapes, and in provinces, and in countrysides, and in climates, and in principalities, and in realms, and in the nature of things. Cheese does most gloriously reflect the multitudinous effect of earthly things, which could not be multitudinous did they not proceed from one mind.

Consider the cheese of Rocquefort: how hard it is in its little box. Consider the cheese of Camembert, which is hard also, and also lives in a little box, but must not be eaten until it is soft and yellow. Consider the cheese of Stilton, which is not made there, and of Cheddar, which is. Then there is your Parmesan, which idiots buy rancid in bottles, but which the wise grate daily for their use: you think it is hard from its birth? You are mistaken. It is the world that hardens the Parmesan. In its youth the Parmesan is very soft and easy, and is voraciously devoured.

Then there is your cheese of Wensleydale, which is made in Wensleydale, and your little Swiss cheese, which is soft and creamy and eaten with sugar, and there is your Cheshire cheese and your little Cornish cheese, whose name escapes me, and your huge round cheese out of the Midlands, as big as a fort whose name I never heard. There is your toasted or Welsh cheese, and your cheese of Pont-l'evêque, and your white cheese of Brie, which is a chalky sort of cheese. And there is your cheese of Neufchatel, and there is your Gorgonzola cheese, which is mottled all over like some marbles, or like that Mediterranean soap which is made of wood-ash and of olive oil. There is your Gloucester cheese called the Double Gloucester, and I have read in a book of Dunlop cheese, which is made in Ayrshire: they could tell you more about it in Kilmarnock. Then Suffolk makes a cheese, but does not give it any name; and talking of that reminds me how going to Le Quesnoy to pass the people there the time of day, and to see what was left of that famous but forgotten fortress, a young man there showed me a cheese, which he told me also had no name, but which was native to the town, and in the valley of Ste. Engrace, where is that great wood which shuts off all the world, they make their cheese of ewe's milk and sell it in Tardets, which is their only livelihood. They make a cheese in Port-Salut which is a very subtle cheese, and there is a cheese of Limburg, and I know not how many others, or rather I know them, but you have had enough: for a little cheese goes a long way. No man is a glutton on cheese.

What other cheese has great holes in it like Gruyere, or what other is as round as a cannon-ball like that cheese called Dutch? which reminds me:—

Talking of Dutch cheese. Do you not notice how the intimate mind of Europe is reflected in cheese? For in the centre of Europe, and where Europe is most active, I mean in Britain and in Gaul and in Northern Italy, and in the valley of the Rhine—nay, to some extent in Spain (in her Pyrenean valleys at least)—there flourishes a vast burgeoning of cheese, infinite in variety, one in goodness. But as Europe fades away under the African wound which Spain suffered or the Eastern barbarism of the Elbe, what happens to cheese? It becomes very flat and similar. You can quote six cheeses perhaps which the public power of Christendom has founded outside the limits of its ancient Empire—but not more than six. I will quote you 253 between the Ebro and the Grampians, between Brindisi and the Irish Channel.

I do not write vainly. It is a profound thing.

Nicolaes Gillis (1580-1632)

Donald Hall, O Cheese:

In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.

O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.

Liederkranz ebullient, jumping like a small dog, noisy;
Pont l'Eveque intellectual, and quite well informed; Emmentaler
decent and loyal, a little deaf in the right ear;
and Brie the revealing experience, instantaneous and profound.

O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.

Reblochon openly sexual; Caerphilly like pine trees, small
at the timberline; Port du Salut in love; Caprice des Dieux
eloquent, tactful, like a thousand-year-old hostess;
and Dolcelatte, always generous to a fault.

O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses,
O family of cheeses, living together in pantries,
O cheeses that keep to your own nature, like a lucky couple,
this solitude, this energy, these bodies slowly dying.

Clara Peeters (1594-1659)

Charles Gray wrote Crambo on Cheese after attending a wedding dinner without cheese. Note how every line ends either with the word "cheese" or with a word rhyming with "cheese."

I've dined—but still I'm ill at ease—
For why? my stomach lacks the cheese.
I try its cravings to appease,
But all won't do—I sigh for cheese.
A glass of port, sir?' If you please—
But what is port without the cheese!
The wine of life is on the lees,'
Unless a dinner ends with cheese!
I take a pinch, and loudly sneeze.
Sly madam Echo answers 'Cheese!'
I love a song—am fond of glees—
A song I'll write in praise of cheese.
If fair Miss Sally touch the keys,
To me they vibrate, che, che, cheese!
I'll never sue on bended knees,
To lady fair that spurns at cheese.
The world, in vain, may try to tease
The man that is content with cheese.—
May you, my friend, live at your ease
And never want your bread and cheese:
To Mrs H. a lengthened lease
Of life's good things—including cheese.
Last night she braved the stormy breeze,
Got wet—the Doctor lost the cheese!
I'd rather far that his degrees—
I mean his muckle M's and D's,
Had lost their mark, than we the cheese.
May hungry ruin on him seize,
That stole, and then devoured the cheese;
Long may he feel what drunkard drees,
A burning drouth—sans drink, sans cheese!
Sweeter than honey to wild bees,
Or to the fists of lawyers, fees,
Is port, or porter, after cheese!
At lunch, I give my heart a heeze,
With ale, brown stout, and Cheshire cheese.
Though eld my hair should silvereeze,
There's youth, and truth, in Stilton cheese.
If cold, in winter, make you wheeze,
Then clear your windpipe out with cheese.
For indigestion—sad disease!
What is so good as mouldy cheese?
Ill fares the man that never prees
A rabbit, made of Glos'ter cheese.
Had I, on earth, but four Tarees,
With them I'd buy a pound of cheese;
Or mouths like the twin Siamese,
I'd feed them both with toasted cheese.
Till death life's genial current freeze
My rhymes shall run in praise of cheese.—
Your friendly hand I soon shall squeeze;
Meantime, provide the house with cheese:
I'll drink, while you repeat the threes
'Hip, hip—hurra! the cheese, the cheese!'
While rivers run to join the seas;
While leaves in spring shall clothe the trees,
And daisies star the verdant leas,
Shall mankind munch their bread and cheese!
Rhymes yet remain, as frieze, and pease,
And C's and G's, and E's and T's;
And twenty more as good as these,
When next I chant, or chime, on cheese.
So having made you my congees,
I drop my crambo-clink on cheese!

Floris van Dijck (1575—1651)

I borrowed the title of this blog post from new words written to the old hymn tune "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The lyrics are in Marcia and Jon Pankake, Joe's Got a Head Like a Ping-Pong Ball: A Prairie Home Companion Song Book (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 12:

What a food we have in cheeses
Mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss
Bleu and Limburger's sweet breezes
Lingering like a lover's kiss
Humble milk's apotheosis
Muenster, Provolone, Brie
Damn cholesterol's thrombosis
Cheese is Gouda stuff by me!

Heed the U.S. Dairy Council
Keep the Gruyère on the shelf
Just a tiny ounce'll
Give you Vitamin B-12
Gather, pilgrims, at the deli
Buying Edam and Havarti
Wedges moist and cold and smelly
Bring home lots and have a party!

Floris van Schooten (1590-1655)

Saturday, November 24, 2007



My son and his fiancée recently sent me a package of gifts, and in the package were horehound drops, made by Claey Candy Inc. of South Bend, Indiana. They are supposed to be "soothing to the throat," and I find them so, especially as I'm troubled by a persistent cough now.

The gift also piqued my curiosity about horehound, in particular the etymology of the word and the use of the herb.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives the following etymology of horehound:
OE. háre húne, f. hár hoar, hoary + húne name of a plant, of uncertain origin; thence ME. hôrhowne, altered by popular etymology to horehound, which puts some appearance of meaning into the second element. The analogical spelling is hoar-, but this is much less usual in England than hore-.
I haven't seen John A.C. Greppin, "A Note on the Etymology of English Horehound," in Dorothy Disterheft et al., edd., Studies in Honor of Jaan Puhvel, Part 1: Ancient Languages and Philology (Washington, 1997), pp. 71-74. Anatoly Liberman, An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), scheduled for release on Dec. 21, 2007, supposedly has a detailed discussion of the etymology of horehound.

Let's look at the hoary part of horehound first. Hoar and hoary mean "gray or white with age," and W.W. Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. hoarhound, cites Johns, Flowers of the Field, for the proposition that horehound got its name because its stem is "covered with white wooley down." But the 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper says that the "crumpled rough leaves" of horehound have "a sullen hoary green colour." Similarly Thoreau, Journal (Oct. 22, 1855), refers to "the pale whitish leaves of horehound," and so perhaps the name arose not from the stem but from the gray-green leaves. The flowers are also white.

Photograph by Kurt Stueber.

As for the OED's statement that popular etymology put "some appearance of meaning into the second element," I wonder if that meaning was helped along by the belief that horehound helped cure dog bites. Culpeper says, "The green leaves bruised, and boiled in old hog's grease into an ointment, healeth the bitings of dogs," and this belief goes back at least as far as Antonius Castor, one of Pliny the Elder's sources for Natural History 20.89 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley): "Beaten up, too, with stale axle-grease and applied topically, he says, horehound is a cure for the bite of a dog."

The scientific name of horehound is Marrubium vulgare. Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, 17.58, tr. Stephen A. Barney) says:
Horehound (marrubium), which the Greeks call πράσιον, is so called because of its bitterness (amaritudo).
There is no connection to amaritudo, but Isidore is probably right that it "is so called because of its bitterness." The consensus is that Latin marrubium is related etymologically to Hebrew marror or maror, the bitter herbs eaten on Passover.

People also make tea and a kind of ale from horehound. Despite its medicinal properties, it is considered a weed in many parts of the world.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Forget Tomorrow's Blueberries

At the local public library I recently happened upon Donald Hall's White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), and on a whim I checked it out. Browsing through it, I noticed several poems that seemed to be imitations of odes by Horace. Indeed, Hall based his collection The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993) entirely on Horace's first book of odes. Here is Hall's imitation of Horace, Ode 1.11, followed by the Latin original and my pedestrian literal translation.

Camilla, never ask when it will happen, for we'll never know
how it comes or when. Leave divination to Julia, our friend
who orders predestination from catalogues of remaindered
theologies. Let us determine to take what comes, hot or cold,
whether we stay alive into old age or drop dead next Tuesday,
which is doubtless as good a day as any. Tonight let us fill
our wineglasses without fretting about the future, which only
sours the Beaujolais. Forget tomorrow's blueberries; eat today's.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


November (V)

Thomas Hardy, The Later Autumn:
Gone are the lovers, under the bush
        Stretched at their ease;
        Gone the bees,
Tangling themselves in your hair as they rush
        On the line of your track,
        Leg-laden, back
        With a dip to their hive
        In a prepossessed dive.

Toadsmeat is mangy, frosted, and sere;
        Apples in grass
        Crunch as we pass,
And rot ere the men who make cyder appear.
        Couch-fires abound
        On fallows around,
        And shades far extend
        Like lives soon to end.

Spinning leaves join the remains shrunk and brown
        Of last year's display
        That lie wasting away,
On whose corpses they earlier as scorners gazed down
        From their aery green height:
        Now in the same plight
        They huddle; while yon
        A robin looks on.
Toadsmeat = toadstools
Couch = couch-grass (Triticum repens)

Caspar David Friedrich, Forest in Late Autumn

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Orange Speck

In his essay Wild Apples, Thoreau amused himself by inventing pseudo-scientific monikers for various types of apples:
There is, first of all, the Wood-Apple (Malus sylvatica); the Blue-Jay Apple; the Apple which grows in Dells in the Woods, (sylvestrivallis), also in Hollows in Pastures (campestrivallis); the Apple that grows in an old Cellar-Hole (Malus cellaris); the Meadow-Apple; the Partridge-Apple; the Truant's Apple, (Cessatoris), which no boy will ever go by without knocking off some, however late it may be; the Saunterer's Apple,—you must lose yourself before you can find the way to that; the Beauty of the Air (Decus Aëris); December-Eating; the Frozen-Thawed, (gelato-soluta,) good only in that state; the Concord Apple, possibly the same with the Musketaquidensis; the Assabet Apple; the Brindled Apple; Wine of New England; the Chickaree Apple; the Green Apple (Malus viridis);—this has many synonyms; in an imperfect state, it is the Cholera morbifera aut dysenterifera, puerulis dilectissima;—the Apple which Atalanta stopped to pick up; the Hedge-Apple (Malus Sepium); the Slug-Apple (limacea); the Railroad-Apple, which perhaps came from a core thrown out of the cars; the Apple whose Fruit we tasted in our Youth; our Particular Apple, not to be found in any catalogue,—Pedestrium Solatium; also the Apple where hangs the Forgotten Scythe; Iduna's Apples, and the Apples which Loki found in the Wood; and a great many more I have on my list, too numerous to mention,—all of them good. As Bodæus exclaims, referring to the cultivated kinds, and adapting Virgil to his case, so I, adapting Bodæus,—
Not if I had a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths,
An iron voice, could I describe all the forms
And reckon up all the names of these wild apples."
Charles Asbury Stephens (1844-1931) wrote fiction for children, but the names of apple varieties in this passage from his book When Life was Young at the Old Farm in Maine (Norway, Maine: The Old Squire's Bookstore, 1912), pp. 16-17, do not seem to be fictional:
"I am going to show you the good apple trees," she continued, and led the way through the orchard. "These three great ones, here below the garden wall, are Orange Speck trees; they are real nice apples for winter; and there is the Gilliflower tree. Over here is the Early Sweet Bough; and that big one is the August Sweeting; and out there are the three August Pippins. All those away down there toward the road are Baldwins and Greenings. Those two by the lane wall are None Such trees. Out there by the corn-field wall are four Sweet Harvey trees and next below them, two Georgianas. I learned all their names last year. But this one here by the currant bushes is a Sops-in-wine. Oh, they are so good! and they get ripe early, too, and so do the August Pippins and the Harveys and the August Sweetings; they are all nice."
Most of the apples mentioned by Stephens are attested elsewhere, but I cannot locate any other reference to the Orange Speck apple. Was it an otherwise unknown variety that has now vanished, or was it simply a local name for a better known variety such as Orange Sweet or Cox's Orange Pippin? The children's stories of Charles Asbury Stephens are a generally reliable, if largely untapped, resource for details about 19th century rural life in Maine, and I wonder if the Orange Speck apple was a genuine variety and if other references to it might lurk in the pages of old undigitized magazines and newspapers.

W.M. Munson, Preliminary Notes on the Seedling Apples of Maine = Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 143 (1907), doesn't mention Orange Speck. Unfortunately I don't have access to George Albert Stilphen, The Apples of Maine: A Compilation of the History, Physical and Cultural Characteristics of all the Varieties of Apples Known to Have Been Grown in the State of Maine (Bolster's Mills/Harrison, Me.: Stilphen's Crooked River Farm, 1993; rpt. 2000) or its predecessor Frederick Charles Bradford, Apple varieties in Maine, Thesis (M.S.) in Agriculture, University of Maine, 1911.

A story entitled "The Stranger Guest" appeared as Chapter XXII of Charles Asbury Stephens, Haps and Mishaps at The Old Farm (Norway, Maine: The Old Squire's Bookstore, 1925), pp. 219-227. Guess who the stranger guest is from this excerpt:
About eight o'clock they heard a knock at the side door. On opening it the old squire dimly perceived a stranger—a medium-sized man, wearing a cap and jacket and carrying a stout stick in his hand.

"Good evening, sir!" the old squire said, peering out at him. "What's wanted?"

The stranger asked whether they could entertain him for the night. "I am taking a long walk," he added, "and I can find no tavern."

"I guess we will try to put you up," the old squire replied. "Are you alone?"

"Alone and afoot," the stranger replied dryly. "Perhaps I ought to tell you before I come in that I've been in jail once."

"That so?" the old squire said. "Well, step inside here, and let me have a look at you."

The stranger entered and stood just within the doorway, perfectly still, with a curious smile on his face, but without speaking, as the old squire brought a lamp.

"You don't look like a very bad man, and rogues are not likely to tell of their being in jail," the old squire remarked, with a smile. "Excuse me for asking, but what's your business in these parts?"

"Stealing apples," the odd visitor replied.

"How do you get them away, without a team?" the old squire inquired skeptically.

"I don't get them away," the stranger said. "I merely bite them and throw them down. I'm only after the flavor. I bite only natural fruit, mostly apples growing wild by the roadsides or in pastures. Grafts I don't care for. Natural fruit has the fine flavors."

"Just so," the old squire rejoined, amused, but with some misgivings as to the fellow's sanity.
If you guessed Thoreau, you're right.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Crossing the Seas

Henry David Thoreau, Travelling:
If e'er our minds are ill at ease
It is in vain to cross the seas
Or when the fates do prove unkind
To leave our native land behind.
The ship becalmed at length stands still
The steed will rest beneath the hill.
But swiftly still our fortunes pace
To find us out in every place.
There is a longer version, with the first two lines omitted, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Monday):
Though all the fates should prove unkind,
Leave not your native land behind.
The ship, becalmed, at length stands still;
The steed must rest beneath the hill;
But swiftly still our fortunes pace
To find us out in every place.

The vessel, though her masts be firm,
Beneath her copper bears a worm;
Around the cape, across the line,
Till fields of ice her course confine;
It matters not how smooth the breeze,
How shallow or how deep the seas,
Whether she bears Manilla twine,
Or in her hold Madeira wine,
Or China teas, or Spanish hides,
In port or quarantine she rides;
Far from New England's blustering shore,
New England's worm her hulk shall bore,
And sink her in the Indian seas,
Twine, wine, and hides, and China teas.
The germ of this idea appears in Horace, Epistles 1.11.27: "They who run across the sea get a change of sky but not of mind." (caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.)

Related posts:


Petrarch and Greek

Dear Mr.Gilleland,

Thanks for the entertaining snatch of dialogue from Petrarch. Christopher Robinson's Lucian does happen to be among my librorum copia so I can confirm what the top of your head told you; the first Latin translations of Lucian didn't appear until a decade or two after Petrarch's death. The last section you quote ("Multos in vinculis tenes, qui si forsan erumperent ...") reminds me of the library of Petrarch himself — a very reluctantly ignorant book-collector where Greek was concerned. His manuscripts of Plato and Homer were among his most treasured possessions but unintelligible to him — literally "in vinculis", the litterae, those deltas, thetas, rhos and omegas like so many links in a chain. He had the Hellenophone Calabrian monk Leontius Pilatus translate some of the Homer for him. Petrarch must have had just a smattering of Greek himself. How much can you learn in a summer (he had an intensive course in Avignon in 1342)?

He begins his letter to Homer (1360): "I have long desired to address you in writing, and would have done so without hesitation if I had had a ready command of your language. But alas! Fortune was unkind to me in my study of Greek." There's also a letter to Boccaccio (August 18th 1360) on the subject of the Homer translation: "Had Fate smiled more kindly upon me when I entered upon the student's career, and had not death so untimely overtaken my illustrious teacher, I should today, perhaps, have something more than a rudimentary knowledge of Greek." His teacher, another Italo-Greek, Barlaam of Calabria died of the plague, and Pilatus was killed by a bolt of lightning on his way back from Constantinople to Venice, where Petrarch was eagerly awaiting the arrival of more manuscripts he'd no hope of being able to read. Bad luck all round.

Best Regards,

Peter Watson

Monday, November 19, 2007


An Abundance of Books

This long post contains an English paraphrase of Petrarch, De remediis utriusque fortunae 1.43 (De librorum copia), followed by the original Latin. The paraphrase comes from Charles Isaac Elton and Mary Augusta Elton, The Great Book-Collectors (London Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. 1893), pp. 44-47. The Latin comes from the Google cache of a web page no longer available, which is why I wanted to preserve it for myself here. There is a complete translation of Petrarch's De remediis by Conrad H. Rawski (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

This amusing dialogue by Petrarch On an Abundance of Books reminds me of Lucian's dialogue The Ignorant Book-Collector, although there can be no question of inspiration or influence, since there were no Latin translations of Lucian in the time of Petrarch, who knew no Greek. I'm just speaking off the top of my head here — to get the real story, you'd have to consult Christoper Robinson, Lucian and His Influence in Europe (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979), which is not among my librorum copia.

In his treatise on Fortune, Petrarch has left us a study on book-collecting in the form of a dialogue between his natural genius and his critical reason. He argues, as it were, in his own person against the imaginary opponent. A paraphrase will show the nature and the result of the contest.

Petrarch. I have indeed a great quantity of books.

Critic. That gives me an excellent instance. Some men amass books for self-instruction and others from vanity. Some decorate their rooms with the furniture that was intended to be an ornament of the soul, as if it were like the bronzes and statues of which we were speaking. Some are working for their own vile ends behind their rows of books, and these are the worst of all, because they esteem literature merely as merchandise, and not at its real value; and this new fashionable infliction becomes another engine for the arts of avarice.

Pet. I have a very considerable quantity of books.

Crit. Well! it is a charming, embarrassing kind of luggage, affording an agreeable diversion for the mind.

Pet. I have a great abundance of books.

Crit. Yes, and a great abundance of hard work and a great lack of repose. You have to keep your mind marching in all directions, and to overload your memory. Books have led some to learning, and others to madness, when they swallow more than they can digest. In the mind, as in the body, indigestion does more harm than hunger; food and books alike must be used according to the constitution, and what is little enough for one is too much for another.

Pet. But I have an immense quantity of books.

Crit. Immense is that which has no measure, and without measure there is nothing convenient or decent in the affairs of men.

Pet. I have an incalculable number of books.

Crit. Have you more than Ptolemy, King of Egypt, accumulated in the library at Alexandria, which were all burned at one time? Perhaps there was an excuse for him in his royal wealth and his desire to benefit posterity. But what are we to say of the private citizens who have surpassed the luxury of kings? Have we not read of Serenus Sammonicus, the master of many languages, who bequeathed 62,000 volumes to the younger Gordian? Truly that was a fine inheritance, enough to sustain many souls or to oppress one to death, as all will agree. If Serenus had done nothing else in his life, and had not read a word in all those volumes, would he not have had enough to do in learning their titles and sizes and numbers and their authors' names? Here you have a science that turns a philosopher into a librarian. This is not feeding the soul with wisdom: it is the crushing it under a weight of riches or torturing it in the waters of Tantalus.

Pet. I have innumerable books.

Crit. Yes, and innumerable errors of ignorant authors and of the copyists who corrupt all that they touch.

Pet. I have a good provision of books.

Crit. What does that matter, if your intellect cannot take them in? Do you remember the Roman Sabinus who plumed himself on the learning of his slaves? Some people think that they must know what is in their own books, and say, when a new subject is started: 'I have a book about that in my library!' They think that this is quite sufficient, just as if the book were in their heads, and then they raise their eyebrows, and there is an end of the subject.

Pet. I am overflowing with books.

Crit. Why don't you overflow with talent and eloquence? Ah! but these things are not for sale, like books, and if they were I don't suppose there would be many buyers, for books do make a covering for the walls, but those other wares are only clothing for the soul, and are invisible and therefore neglected.

Pet. I have books which help me in my studies.

Crit. Take care that they do not prove a hindrance. Many a general has been beaten by having too many troops. If books came in like recruits one would not turn them away, but would stow them in proper quarters, and use the best of them, taking care not to bring up a force too soon which would be more useful on another occasion.

Pet. I have a great variety of books.

Crit. A variety of paths will often deceive the traveller.

Pet. I have collected a number of fine books.

Crit. To gain glory by means of books you must not only possess them but know them; their lodging must be in your brain and not on the book-shelf.

Pet. I keep a few beautiful books.

Crit. Yes, you keep in irons a few prisoners, who, if they could escape and talk, would have you indicted for wrongful imprisonment. But now they lie groaning in their cells, and of this they ever complain, that an idle and a greedy man is overflowing with the wealth that might have sustained a multitude of starving scholars.

G. Librorum copia magna est.

R. Opportune admodum de his sermo oritur. Nam ut quidam discipline, sic alii voluptati et iactantie libros querunt. Sunt qui hac parte suppellectilis exornent thalamos que animis exornandis inventa est neque aliter his utantur quam Corinthiis vasis aut tabulis pictis ac statuis ceterisque de quibus proxime disputatum est. Sunt qui obtentu librorum avaritie inserviant, pessimi omnium non librorum vera pretia, sed quasi mercium extimantes: pestis mala sed recens et que nuper divitum studiis obrepsisse videatur, que unum concupiscentie instrumentum atque una ars accesserit.

G. Librorum larga copia est.

R. Operosa sed delectabilis sarcina et animi iucunda distractio.

G. Ingens est copia librorum.

R. Ingens simul et laboris copia et quietis inopia: huc illuc circumagendum ingenium, his atque illis pregravanda memoria. Quid vis dicam? Libri quosdam ad scientiam, quosdam ad insaniam deduxere, dum plus hauriunt quam digerunt; ut stomachis sic ingeniis nausea sepius nocuit quam fames. Atque ut ciborum sic librorum usus pro utentis qualitate limitandus est: in rebus omnibus quod huic parum, illic est nimium. Itaque sapiens non copiam, sed sufficientiam rerum vult; illa enim sepe pestilens, hec semper est utilis.

G. Immensa copia librorum est.

R. Immensum dicimus quod mensura caret, sine qua humanis quid in rebus rectum sibique conveniens, tu metire. Est in his etiam que optima iudicantur immensitas atque immoderatio fugienda semperque pre oculis habendum illud comicum: "Nequid nimis".

G. Librorum inextimabilis multitudo est.

R. Maiorne tibi quam Ptolemeo Philadelpho regi Egypti? Quem Alexandrine bibliothece quadraginta librorum milia coacervasse compertum est, qui tamen diversis ex locis diu magno studio quesiti, simul omnes arserunt; quod elegantie regum cureque opus egregium fuisse ait Livius, quem Seneca reprehendit, non id elegantie cureque regie opus dicens sed studiose luxurie, immo ne id quidem, sed seipsam conquisitis spectaculis inaniter ostentantis. Et Livii tamen dictum et Ptolemei factum, utrumque forsitan regie opes excusent; et in longum publicis usibus prospiciens regis intentio in hoc certe laudabilis, quod sacras literas mundo non utiles modo, sed necessarias, summa diligentia atque impensa per electos ad tantum opus viros in Grecam linguam ex Hebraico fonte transfudit. At quid facias privatis, non equantibus sed superantibus apparatus regios? Sereno equidem Sammonico doctrine viro ingentis sed maioris cure, plurimarum literarum sed plurium voluminum, duo et sexaginta milia librorum fuisse legimus, quos omnes Gordiano iuniori, cuius patri fuisset amicissimus, ille moriens reliquit. Magna prorsus hereditas et multis suffectura ingeniis: num vero quis dubitet oppressura? Quid hic autem, queso, si nil aliud egisset in vita, nullum illi vel scribendi studium fuisset vel querendi labor, nichil omnium tot voluminibus comprehensorum legere atque intelligere laborasset? An non satis habuit negotii libros ipsos ac librorum titulos et auctorum nomina et voluminum formas numerumque cognoscere? Pulchra vero ars, que de philosopho librarium facit: crede michi, non est hoc nutrire scriptis ingenium, sed necare mole rerum et obruere, vel fortasse mediis in undis more Tantaleo siti animam torquere, rebus attonitam, degustantem nichil atque omnibus inhiantem.

G. Libri innumerabiles sunt michi.

R. Et errores innumeri, quidam ab impiis, alii ab indoctis editi. Illi quidem religioni ac pietati et divinis literis, hi nature ac iustitie moribusque et liberalibus disciplinis seu historie rerumque gestarum fidei, omnes autem vero adversi inque omnibus et presertim primis ubi maioribus agitur de rebus et vera falsis immixta sunt, perdifficilis ac periculosa discretio est. Ut ad plenum auctorum constet integritas, quis scriptorum inscitie inertieque medebitur corrumpenti omnia miscentique? Cuius metu multa iam, ut auguror, a magnis operibus clara ingenia refrixerunt meritoque id patitur ignavissima etas hec, culine sollicita, literarum negligens et coquos examinans, non scriptores. Quisquis itaque pingere aliquid in membranis manuque calamum versare didicerit, scriptor habebitur, doctrine omnis ignarus, expers ingenii, artis egens. Non quero iam nec queror orthographiam, que pridem interiit: qualitercunque utinam scriberent, quod iubentur! Appareret scriptoris infantia, rerum substantia non lateret! Nunc confusis exemplaribus et exemplis, unum scribere polliciti, sic aliud scribunt, ut quod ipse dictaveris non agnoscas. An si redeat Cicero aut Livius multique alii veterum illustrium, ante omnes Plinius Secundus, sua scripta relegentes, intelligent et non passim hesitantes, nunc aliena credent esse, nunc barbara? Inter humanarum inventionum tot ruinas litere sacre stant, cum maiore hominum studio, tum vel maxime protegente sua sancta poemata, suas sanctas historias divinasque suas leges auctore illarum Deo suamque perennitatem suis inventionibus largiente; reliquorum nobilissime pereunt et iam magna ex parte periere. Sic ingentis damni nullum est remedium quia nullus est sensus neque id novum hac in re, et virtutum et morum damna ingentia negliguntur: cum tanto studio minoribus occurratur, literarum iacturam inter minimas numeratis; sunt qui numerent inter lucra. Fuit nuper non in agris aut in silvis, sed in maxima florentissimaque et, quod stupeas, urbe Italie neque is pastor aratorve, sed vir nobilis magnique apud suos cives loci, qui iuraret se magno pretio empturum ne quis unquam suam patriam literatus incoleret aut intraret. O vox saxei pectoris! Fertur tale aliquid sensisse Licinius infestus literis, ut scriptum est, quas virus ac pestem publicam nominabat. Sed origo illum rustica forsan excuset; etsi enim usque ad Cesarem nomen ascendisset, naturam tamen non exuerat. Verum est enim illud Flacci:
Fortuna non mutat genus.
Sed quid de nobilibus vestris dicam, qui non modo perire literas patiuntur, sed exoptant votis? Equidem huius rei pulcherrime contemptus atque odium brevi vos in profundum ignorantie demerserint. Accedunt, ne a proposito deerrem, et scriptores nulla frenati lege, nullo probati examine, nullo iudicio electi; non fabris, non agricolis, non textoribus, non ulli fere artium tanta licentia est, cum sit in aliis leve periculum, in hac grave. Sine delectu tamen ad scribendum ruunt omnes et cuncta vastantibus certa sunt pretia. Nec vero hec scriptorum magis humano more lucra captantium quam studiosorum publicisque rebus presidentium culpa est, quibus nulla unquam rei huius cura fuit, oblitis quid Eusebio Palestine Constantinus iniunxerit, ut libri scilicet non nisi ab artificibus iisque antiquariis et perfecte artem scientibus scriberentur.

G. Librorum bona copia est.

R. Quid si capax animus non est? Meministi Sabinum illum apud Senecam servorum suorum scientia gloriantem: quid inter te atque illum interest, nisi quod aliquanto tu stultior? Uterque equidem alieno, verum ille servorum et certe suorum, at tu librorum nil ad te pertinentium ingenio gloriaris. Sunt qui quicquid in libris scriptum domi habent nosse sibi videantur cumque ulla de re mentio incidit, "hic liber" inquiunt "in armario meo est": hoc tantum idque sufficere opinantes, quasi simul in pectore sit, elato supercilio conticescunt. Ridiculum genus!

G. Libris affluo.

R. Quam mallem ingenio et eloquentia et doctrina multoque maxime innocentia et virtute! Sed hec venalia non habentur ut libri et si haberentur nescio an emptores totidem reperturi quot libri. Illi enim muros vestiunt, hec animos, qui, quoniam oculis non videntur ab hominibus, negliguntur. At profecto si librorum copia doctos faceret aut bonos, doctissimi omnium atque optimi sepe esse possent qui ditissimi, cuius sepe contrarium videmus.

G. Adminicula ad discendum libros habeo.

R. Vide autem ne impedimenta sint potius: ut nonnullis ad vincendum multitudo bellatorum, sic librorum multitudo multis ad discendum nocuit et ex copia, ut fit, inopia orta est; qui si ultro adsint non abiciendi equidem, sed sequestrandi erunt utendumque melioribus et cavendum ne qui forsan in tempore profuturi essent intempestivi obsint.

G. Multi et varii michi sunt libri.

R. Fallit sepe viarum multiplicitas viatorem et qui uno calle certus ibat, hesit in bivio multoque maior est trivii error aut quadrivii; sic sepe qui librum unum efficaciter elegisset, inutiliter multos aperuit evolvitque. Multa sunt onerosa discentibus, doctis pauca sufficiunt; nimia utrisque sunt importuna, sed fortioribus humeris subvectantur agilius.

G. Librorum nobilium magnum numerum contraxi.

R. Librorum numero nemo qui nunc occurrat preter regem illum Egyptium nobilitatus est neque id sibi tam numerus dedit, quam famosa translatio; haud dubie mirum opus tot ingeniorum, nisi unius post ingenii miraculum maius esset. Calle alio niti oportet, ut ex libris gloriam queras; non habendi sed noscendi, neque bibliothece sed memorie committendi cerebroque, non armario, concludendi sunt; alioquin vel librario publico vel armario ipso gloriosior nemo erit.

G. Egregios multos libros servo.

R. Multos in vinculis tenes, qui si forsan erumperent et loqui possent ad iudicium te privati carceris evocarent; nunc flent taciti multa quidem, nominatim illud quod persepe unus iners affluit avarus, quibus multi egeant studiosi.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Walking and Thinking

Søren Kierkegaard, Writings, XXV = Letters and Documents (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 214 (Letter 150, to Henriette Kierkegaard, 1847, tr. Henrik Rosenmeier):
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows 34 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit. Only thoughts reached by walking have value.
Related post: Wanderlieder.


Late Autumn

Theodor Fontane, Late Autumn (Spätherbst):
The verdant leaves are mingled with red,
Withered are asters and mignonettes,
Grapes are plucked, oats are mown,
Autumn arrives, the year grows old.

In spite of Autumn, the sun still shines —
Your mood should not be overcast!
Hold care at bay, enjoy life's gifts,
'Ere silence, snow, and winter come.

Schon mischt sich Rot in der Blätter Grün,
Reseden und Astern sind im Verblühn,
Die Trauben geschnitten, der Hafer gemäht,
Der Herbst ist da, das Jahr wird spät.

Und doch (ob Herbst auch) die Sonne glüht, -
Weg drum mit der Schwermut aus deinem Gemüt!
Banne die Sorge, genieße, was frommt,
Eh' Stille, Schnee und Winter kommt.
Related post: Autumnal Sunshine.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Scraps of Learning

Edward Young, Love of Fame (Satire I):
Some, for renown, on scraps of learning dote,
And think they grow immortal as they quote.
To patch-work learn'd quotations are allied;
Both strive to make our poverty our pride.

Related post: Quotations.


November (IV)

Dear Mike,

I've been enjoying your string of "November" poems. Here's another that might interest you. It's by the contemporary American poet, Samuel Menashe. He's quite old now, a World War II veteran. Here's "November":
"Now sing to tarnish and good weathering
A praise of wrinkles which sustain us
Savoury as apples whose heaps in attics
Keep many alive through old winter wars"
That's from Collected Poems, published in 1986 by the National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine. It was published originally in The Many Named Beloved (1961).


I would have expected apples to be stored in the cellar, in particular the root cellar, but apparently storing apples in the attic was not uncommon. See this description in Mary Webb's Precious Bane (1924):
The roof came down to the floor all round, and all the beams and rafters were oak, and the floor went up and down like stormy water. The apples and pears had their places according to kind all round the room. There were codlins and golden pippins, brown russets and scarlet crabs, ciffins, nonpareils and queanings, big green bakers, pearmains and red-streaks. We had a mort of pears too, for in such an old garden, always in the family, every generation'll put in a few trees. We had Worcester pears and butter pears, jargonelle, bergamot and Good Christian. Just after the last gathering, the attic used to be as bright as a church window, all reds and golds.

Gustave Courbet, Still Life with Apples and Pomegranate, National Gallery, London

Related posts:

Friday, November 16, 2007


Life's Candle

In The Time Allotted, I discussed the idea that we have a fixed amount of time to live. Two expressions of this idea in mythology and literature are (1) a thread whose length is decided when we are born, and (2) a barrel with an predetermined amount of wine that keeps spilling out until the barrel is dry and we are dead.

There is another expression of the same idea in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale Godfather Death (Der Gevatter Tod, tr. Jack Zipes):
He grabbed the doctor so hard with his icy hand that the young man could not resist. Then he led him down into an underground cave. There the doctor saw thousands and thousands of candles burning in countless rows, some large, some medium, others small. With every moment some went out and others flared up again, so that the little flames seemed to be constantly changing and popping up and down.

"You see," said Death, "these candles are the lights of people's lives. The large ones belong to the children, the medium ones to married couples in their best years, the small ones to old people. But often children and young people can have small candles too."

"Show me my life candle," the doctor said, for he thought it would still be quite large.

Death pointed to a tiny stub that was just about to go out and said, "There it is. You see it?"

Thursday, November 15, 2007



Susan Stellin, "As Deer Think of Wooing, Maine Thinks of Deer," New York Times (Nov. 9, 2007):
Inside, espresso drinks listed on the menu suggested a city background, but Ms. Stevenson was also embracing country life: she said she was going deer hunting herself that afternoon for the first time.

"I figured when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and everybody around here hunts," she said, excusing herself to check on the muffins baking in the oven and to fetch a photo of herself holding a grouse she had shot.

She wasn't the only female resident of Jackman who went hunting that day. Nancy Jackson, a petite woman with gray hair, was one of the first people to bring a deer in to Bishop's, followed shortly by Skip Parlin, the gruff hunter we'd met in the woods.
In ancient Greek religion and mythology a female known for hunting is the goddess Artemis, whose Roman counterpart is Diana. One of the cult titles of Artemis is ἐλαφηβόλος (elaphēbolos = deer striker), a compound which comes from ἔλαφος (elaphos = deer) and βόλος (bolos = striker, itself from ballō = to strike, throw). We see ἔλαφος in the scientific name Cervus elaphus (red deer, now recognized as distinct from elk) and the element -βόλος in other Greek compounds, such as an epithet of Artemis' brother Apollo, ἑκατηβόλος (hekatēbolos = who strikes from afar). The latter root is found in some English words derived from Greek, such as amphibolous and diabolical.

The ninth month of the Attic calendar is Ἐλαφηβολιών (Elaphēboliōn), so called from Ἐλαφηβόλια (Elaphēbolia), which are rites in honor of Artemis Elaphēbolos (Artemis Deer-Striker).

Artemis hunts deer with a bow. In classical iconography she is often shown with a bow and a quiver of arrows, accompanied by a stag or doe.

This painting of Diana the Huntress by Renoir (1867) hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC:

Here is a bronze cast of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Thinking Doesn't Pay

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, Part I, Chapter III (tr. Constance Garnett):
"But why is it you do nothing now?"

"I am doing . . ." Raskolnikov began sullenly and reluctantly.

"What are you doing?"

"Work . . ."

"What sort of work?"

"I am thinking," he answered seriously after a pause.

Nastasya was overcome with a fit of laughter. She was given to laughter and when anything amused her, she laughed inaudibly, quivering and shaking all over till she felt ill.

"And have you made much money by your thinking?" she managed to articulate at last.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


An Ancient Form of Insult

To take the normally masculine termination of a name and make it feminine is an insult. There are probably lots of examples, but I can think of only the following.

Homer, Iliad 2.235 (tr. W. Leaf):
Ye women of Achaia and men no more...

Ἀχαιΐδες οὐκέτ᾽ Ἀχαιοὶ...
Vergil, Aeneid 9.617 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
O ye Phrygian women, indeed!—for Phrygian men are ye not...

o vere Phrygiae, neque enim Phryges...
Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.34.93:
He always used to call Chrysippus Chrysippa.

Chrysippum numquam nisi Chrysippam vocabat.


November (III)

Edward Thomas, November:
November's days are thirty:
November's earth is dirty,
Those thirty days, from first to last;
And the prettiest things on ground are the paths
With morning and evening hobnails dinted,
With foot and wing-tip overprinted
Or separately charactered,
Of little beast and little bird.
The fields are mashed by sheep, the roads
Make the worst going, the best the woods
Where dead leaves upward and downward scatter.
Few care for the mixture of earth and water,
Twig, leaf, flint, thorn,
Straw, feather, all that men scorn,
Pounded up and sodden by flood,
Condemned as mud.

But of all the months when earth is greener
Not one has clean skies that are cleaner.
Clean and clear and sweet and cold,
They shine above the earth so old,
While the after-tempest cloud
Sails over in silence though winds are loud,
Till the full moon in the east
Looks at the planet in the west
And earth is silent as it is black,
Yet not unhappy for its lack.
Up from the dirty earth men stare:
One imagines a refuge there
Above the mud, in the pure bright
Of the cloudless heavenly light:
Another loves earth and November more dearly
Because without them, he sees clearly,
The sky would be nothing more to his eye
Than he, in any case, is to the sky;
He loves even the mud whose dyes
Renounce all brightness to the skies.
Related posts:

Monday, November 12, 2007



By Portuguese poet Eugénio de Andrade (1923-2005), translated by Eric Thomson:
On the flyleaf of a copy of The Georgics

Books. Their tanned skin,
warm, smooth, serene. Loving
company. Ever willing to
share the sun
of their waters. So docile,
silent, loyal.
So luminous in their
white and vegetable and enclosed
melancholy. Beloved
as none other of the soul's
companions. So musical
in the fluvial and overflowing
fervour of each day.

Num exemplar das Geórgicas

Os livros. A sua cálida
Terna, serena pele. Amorosa
Companhia. Dispostos sempre
A partilhar o sol
Das suas águas. Tão dóceis
Tão calados, tão leais.
Tão luminosos na sua branca e vegetal e cerrada
Como nenhuns outros companheiros
Da alma. Tão musicais
No fluvial e transbordante
Ardor de cada dia.
From an interview of Eugénio de Andrade by Paulo da Costa:
He does not think much of the electronic advancements and their impact on writing and reading, "I don't forego the smell of ink," he says. He considers the new technologies an impoverishment. He writes by hand, likes the texture of paper, the pleasure of holding and re-reading.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Two Views of Old Age

Montaigne, On Repentance (Essais 3.2, tr. Charles Cotton):
But, methinks, our souls, in old age, are subject to more troublesome maladies and imperfections than in youth; I said the same when young and when I was reproached with the want of a beard; and I say so now that my gray hairs give me some authority. We call the difficulty of our humors and the disrelish of present things wisdom; but, in truth, we do not so much forsake vices as we change them, and, in my opinion, for worse. Besides a foolish and feeble pride, an impertinent prating, froward and insociable humors, superstition, and a ridiculous desire of riches when we have lost the use of them, I find there more envy, injustice and malice. Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face; and souls are never, or very rarely seen, that in growing old do not smell sour and musty. Man moves all together, both toward his perfection and decay.

Mais il me semble qu'en la vieillesse, nos ames sont subjectes à des maladies et imperfections plus importunes, qu'en la jeunesse : Je le disois estant jeune, lors on me donnoit de mon menton par le nez : je le dis encore à cette heure, que mon poil gris m'en donne le credit : Nous appellons sagesse, la difficulté de nos humeurs, le desgoust des choses presentes : mais à la verité, nous ne quittons pas tant les vices, comme nous les changeons : et, à mon opinion, en pis. Outre une sotte et caduque fierté, un babil ennuyeux, ces humeurs espineuses et inassociables, et la superstition, et un soin ridicule des richesses, lors que l'usage en est perdu, j'y trouve plus d'envie, d'injustice et de malignité. Elle nous attache plus de rides en l'esprit qu'au visage : et ne se void point d'ames, ou fort rares, qui en vieillissant ne sentent l'aigre et le moisi. L'homme marche entier, vers son croist et vers son décroist.

Edward Hoagland, "Heaven and Nature," from Heart's Desire (1988; rpt. New York: Touchstone, 1991), p. 360:
Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty. Incipient cataracts or arthritis, outlandish snores, tooth-grinding, ankles that threaten to turn are part of the game. But not to trust one's mind? That's a surprise. The single attribute that older people were supposed to have (we thought as boys) was a stodgy dependability, a steady temperance or caution. Adults might be vain, unimaginative, pompous, and callous, but they did have their affairs rightly in hand. It was not till my thirties that I began to know friends who were in their fifties on equal terms, and I remember being amused, piqued, irritated, and slightly bemused to learn that some of them still felt as marginal or rebellious or in a quandary about what to do with themselves for the next dozen years as my contemporaries were likely to. That close to retirement, some of them harbored a deep-seated contempt for the organizations they had been working for, ready to walk away from almost everybody they had known and the efforts and expertise of decades with very little sentiment.



The Hermitage

Otto Erich Deutsch, The Schubert Thematic Catalogue (1951; rpt. New York: Dover Publications, 1995), lists three settings by Franz Schubert in 1816 and 1817 of the Swiss poet Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis' poem Die Einsiedelei (The Hermitage). Two are solo songs (D393 and D563, in A major and A minor respectively), and one is a setting for chorus with two tenor and two bass parts (D337, in G minor). In none of these three pieces did Schubert set the entire poem to music.

John Reed, The Schubert Song Companion (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 154, translates stanzas 1, 4, 5, and 6 of Die Einsiedelei. My German was never very good and is rusty now from lack of use, but because I can't find a translation of the complete poem, I'll make an effort at translating stanzas 2 and 3. The original poem follows the translation.
[1] Within the oak grove a stream runs clear. There I chose to sojourn on my lonely way. A grotto, cool and airy, serves as my chapel, my hermitage, hidden among the greenery.

[2] The true wilderness is gloomy and bleak, to be sure. But so much the dearer is the satisfying dream. There I often rest amid the thick heather in bloom; the swaying spruces wave and moan loud sighs above me.

[3] Where tangled woodbine creeps past juniper bushes up the flinty path, there I make a trail for myself; across the hewn stump, where wild strawberries grow, I climb upon a pile of rocks, to look around at the land.

[4] Nothing disturbs the silence of the forest far and wide, save when a green woodpecker pecks and screams at the dry branches. A raven croaks on the tall spire of a mossy fir tree, and in the rocky crevice a ring-dove moans.

[5] How the heart is uplifted in the dense confines of the wood. Its secret shade soon cheers dull melancholy. Here no officious prying eye can trace my steps: here I am free, close to nature and simplicity.

[6] O that I might remain unfettered by the turmoil of the world, and that I could fly to you, beloved hermitage, glad to escape the din of the crowds. Here I should build a refuge for my love and me.

[1] Es rieselt, klar und wehend,
Ein Quell im Eichenwald;
Da wähl' ich, einsam gehend,
Mir meinen Aufenthalt.
Mir dienet zur Kapelle
Ein Gröttchen, luftig, frisch;
Zu meiner Klausnerzelle
Verschlungenes Gebüsch.

[2] Zwar düster ist und trüber
Die wahre Wüstenei;
Allein nur desto lieber
Der stillen Phantasei.
Da ruh' ich oft im dichten,
Beblümten Heidekraut;
Hoch wehn die schwanken Fichten,
Und stöhnen Seufzerlaut.

[3] Wo von Wacholdersträuchen
Den Kieselsteig hinan
Verworrene Ranken schleichen,
Da brech' ich mir die Bahn;
Durch des Gehaues Stumpen,
Wo wilde Erdbeern stehn,
Klimm ich auf Felsenklumpen,
Das Land umher zu sehn.

[4] Nichts unterbricht das Schweigen
Der Wildnis weit und breit,
Als wenn auf dürren Zweigen
Ein Grünspecht hackt und schreit,
Ein Rab' auf hoher Spitze
Bemooster Tannen krächzt,
Und in der Felsenritze
Ein Ringeltäubchen ächzt.

[5] Wie sich das Herz erweitert
Im engen, dichten Wald!
Den öden Trübsinn heitert
Der traute Schatten bald.
Kein überleg'ner Späher
Erforscht hier meine Spur;
Ich bin hier frei und näher
Der Einfalt und Natur.

[6] O blieb' ich von den Ketten
Des Weltgewirres frei!
Könnt' ich zu dir mich retten,
Du traute Siedelei!
Froh, dass ich dem Gebrause
Des Menschenschwarms entwich,
Baut' ich hier eine Klause
Für Liebchen und für mich.
Jervis McEntee, Forest Interior.

Saturday, November 10, 2007



Nowadays, it seems, the only music heard by most people out walking or hiking comes from iPods or other electronic devices plugged into their ears. But there is a tradition of walking songs which, like many old-fashioned customs, should be revived. What got me thinking about this was Ivor Gurney's Walking Song:
The miles go sliding by
Under my steady feet,
That mark a leisurely
And still unbroken beat,
Through coppices that hear
Awhile, then lie as still
As though no traveller
Ever had climbed their hill.
My comrades are the small
Or dumb or singing birds,
Squirrels, field things all
And placid drowsing herds.
Companions that I must
Greet for a while, then leave
Scattering the forward dust
From dawn to late of eve.
Gurney was a composer as well as a poet — I don't know if he ever set his own Walking Song to music.

There are a few walking songs in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, including this one:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow it, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The only walking song I know how to sing is Friedrich W. Möller's Der fröhliche Wanderer, in its English translation The Happy Wanderer. I learned it when I was a boy from a somewhat unusual source — The Bud Leavitt Show, a locally-produced television show about the outdoors, fishing, and hunting, which used to air on WABI in Bangor, Maine. The Happy Wanderer was the rollicking theme song of the TV show. Here are the lyrics:
I love to go a-wandering
Along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.

Valderi, Valdera,
Valderi, Valdera ha ha ha ha ha
Valderi, Valdera,
My knapsack on my back.

I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun,
So joyously it calls to me,
Come join my happy song.
Valderi, Valdera . . . .

I wave my hat to all I see,
And they wave back to me
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From every greenwood tree.
Valderi, Valdera . . . .

O may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die,
O may I always laugh and sing
Beneath God's clear blue sky.
Valderi, Valdera . . . .
You can find sheet music for The Happy Wanderer here, although it's pitched too high. I recommend transposing down a fifth.

Richard Koop has a nice web page devoted to German Wanderlieder, with lyrics and tunes (MIDI format). It would be even better with sheet music.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Eating By My Lonesome

Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part I, Chap. XI (tr. Walter Starkie):
"Many thanks for your favor," replied Sancho, "but I must tell your worship that provided I have plenty to eat, I can eat as well and better on my feet and by my lonesome than if I was perched up on a level with an emperor. To tell you the honest truth, what I eat in my own corner without fuss and frills tastes far better, though it's nought but bread and onion, than turkey at tables where I have to chew slowly, drink but a sip, wipe my mouth often, neither sneeze nor cough even when I'm dying to do so, nor do other things that a man is free to do when he's alone."
I leave to your imagination what other things a man is free to do when he is dining alone. Bread and onion are proverbially the diet of the impoverished. Spanish proverbs referring to the two foods eaten together include the rhyming "A falta de polla, pan y cebolla" ("In the absence of chicken, bread and onion") and "Contigo pan y cebolla" ("With thee, bread and onion," i.e. "Provided that you are by my side, bread and onion are enough").

But solitary gourmands who can afford it want something more elaborate than bread and onion, as this anecdote from Plutarch's Life of Lucullus 41.2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin) shows:
And once, when he was dining alone, and a modest repast of one course had been prepared for him, he was angry, and summoned the servant who had the matter in charge. The servant said that he did not suppose, since there were no guests, that he wanted anything very costly. "What sayest thou?" said the master, "dost thou not know that to-day Lucullus dines with Lucullus?"
M.F.K. Fisher embellishes the story of Lucullus with flair in her essay "On Dining Alone," Serve It Forth (1937; rpt. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989), pp. 114-118.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Thoreau's Grand-Niece

M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me (1943; rpt. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989), p. 126:
We ate and drank and heard our own suddenly friendly voices over the dark waters, and forgot that Mrs. Feinemann was in her cabin because the captain wouldn't put the Italian wrestler in irons for "making a pass at her," and that Thoreau's grand-niece was very pale from the hemorrhage that had engulfed her earlier in the day.
The anemic lady aboard ship may have claimed or even believed herself to be Thoreau's grand-niece, but she could not have been Thoreau's grand-niece in fact. Thoreau and his siblings (Helen, John, and Sophia) never married and had no children. According to Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau: A Biography (1965; rev. ed. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1982), p. 21, Thoreau's "Aunt Maria, at her death in Bangor, Maine, in 1881, was the last remaining descendant of the John Thoreau who had immigrated to Boston in 1773."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Happy the Man

Alexander Pope, Ode on Solitude:
Happy the man, whose wish and care
    A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
        In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
    Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
        In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
    Hours, days, and years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
        Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
    Together mixt; sweet recreation;
And Innocence, which most does please
        With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
    Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
        Tell where I lie.
Pope said that he wrote this poem when he was twelve years old.

Related post: Recipes for Happiness.


November (II)

John Clare, Written in November:
Autumn I love thy latter end to view
In cold novembers day so bleak and bare
When like lifes dwindld thread worn nearly thro
Wi lingering pottering pace and head bleached bare
Thou like an old man bids the world adieu
I love thee well and often when a child
Have roamd the bare brown heath a flower to find
And in the moss clad vale and wood bank wild
Have cropt the little bell flowers paley blue
That trembling peept the sheltering bush behind
When winnowing north winds cold and blealy blew
How have I joyd wi dithering hands to find
Each fading flower and still how sweet the blast
Woud bleak novembers hour Restore the joy thats past
What is Clare's bell flower? Is it Campanula rotundifolia (shown above)? Is it the same as the "blue heath-bell" which Clare in The Wild-Flower Nosegay calls "last-lingering of the flowery kind"?
And when the summer's swarms, half-nameless, fled,
  And autumn's landscape faded bleak and wild,
When leaves 'gan fall and show their berries red,
  Still with the season would I be beguil'd

Lone spots to seek, home leaving far behind,—
  Where wildness rears her lings and teazle-burs,
And where, last-lingering of the flowery kind,
Blue heath-bells tremble 'neath the shelt'ring furze.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


A Sinister Temptation

Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part II, Prologue (tr. Walter Starkie):
I know only too well what the temptations of the Devil are, and that one of his most sinister is to give a man the notion that he is able to write and print a book by which he will gain as much fame as money.


Fury and Phlegm

Henry David Thoreau, Letter to Samuel Ripley Bartlett (Jan. 19, 1860):
I have found that the precept "Write with fury, and correct with flegm" required me to print only the hundredth part of what I had written.
The precept comes from Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon's Essay on Translated Verse:
But, though we must obey when Heaven commands,
And man in vain the sacred call withstands,
Beware what spirit rages in your breast;
For ten inspired, ten thousand are possess'd:
Thus make the proper use of each extreme,
And write with fury, but correct with phlegm.
With fury = passionately, with phlegm = dispassionately.

Related post: Revise and Rewrite.

Monday, November 05, 2007


November (I)

John Clare, November:
Sybil of months, and worshipper of winds,
  I love thee, rude and boisterous as thou art;
And scraps of joy my wandering ever finds
  Mid thy uproarious madness—when the start
Of sudden tempests stirs the forest leaves
  Into hoarse fury, till the shower set free
Stills the huge swells. Then ebb the mighty heaves,
  That sway the forest like a troubled sea.
I love thy wizard noise, and rave in turn
  Half-vacant thoughts and rhymes of careless form;
Then hide me from the shower, a short sojourn,
  Neath ivied oak; and mutter to the storm,
Wishing its melody belonged to me,
  That I might breathe a living song to thee.


Crime and Punishment

Amanda Korman in The Williams Record (Oct. 17, 2007):
Talk about the cusp of a trend: the term "bio-cleanup" does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary or Wikipedia, and yet it has been at the tip of administrators' and custodians' tongues since the beginning of the school year.
Bio-cleanup at Williams College is not the same as bioremediation, which Wikipedia defines as "any process that uses microorganisms, fungi, green plants or their enzymes to return the environment altered by contaminants to its original condition." I've recently been reading about bioremediation in Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005), chapter 7 (Mycoremediation).

No, bio-cleanup at Williams College means something quite different, as Korman explains:
The term refers to any custodial cleanup of vomit, urine or fecal matter on College property, particularly in common or residential areas. As of Sunday, an unprecedented 24 bio-cleanups have been performed on campus, a trend many find disconcerting.
Yue-Yi Hwa, Bio-cleanup warning falls on deaf ears, The Williams Record (Oct. 24, 2007), describes the policy adopted by campus authorities to deal with this disconcerting trend:
According to the new policy, any student who admits to creating and leaving a biohazard – urine, vomit or excrement outside a toilet – is responsible for cleaning it up using a special cleaning kit provided by Facilities. A refusal to do so will result in disciplinary action, including possible suspension.

If no one comes forward after an incident takes place at a party hosted by a student organization, the organization is expected to clean up using the kit and will be fined and barred from hosting events for a minimum of one month if they do not comply. If neither culprit nor event organizer is identifiable, responsibility falls on the residences. If residents do not clean up, they are billed for cleanup; and the residence is placed on residents-only card access and denied registered parties for a minimum of one month.

The policy is the result of many weeks of discussion between the Dean's Office, Campus Life and Facilities, in consultation with Neighborhood Governance Boards (NGB), faculty and other schools in the region.
If the college authorities had consulted with me, I would have suggested the revival of a more ancient, fitting punishment — the cucking-stool, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as
An instrument of punishment formerly in use for scolds, disorderly women, fraudulent tradespeople, etc., consisting of a chair (sometimes in the form of a close-stool), in which the offender was fastened and exposed to the jeers of the bystanders, or conveyed to a pond or river and ducked.
The OED gives the following etymology of cucking-stool:
app. f. CUCK v.1 + STOOL; cf. CUCK-STOOL. Called in the Chester Domesday (I. 262b) cathedra stercoris (Way, Promp. Parv.).
Here is the OED definition of CUCK, v.1:
intr. To void excrement. Cf. CACK. Hence cucker; cucking vbl. n.; also attrib.

c1440 Promp. Parv. 143 Esyn or cukkyn..or voydyn as man at priuy place [H. cuckyn, P. kackyn], stercoriso, merdo, egero. Ibid. 106 Cukkynge, or pysynge vesselle, scaphium. a1605 MONTGOMERIE Flyting w. Polwart 87 Where I cuckied. Ibid. 735 Closet mucker, house cucker. 1606 Choice, Chance, &c. (1881) 69 Hatcht out of a Cucker broode.
And here is one of the OED's definitions of STOOL (5.a):
A seat enclosing a chamber utensil; a commode; more explicitly stool of ease. Also, a privy.

For groom of the stool (stole), see STOLE n.2

1410-1869 [see CLOSE-STOOL]. 1501 Acc. Ld. High Treas. Scot. II. 25 Item,..giffin for ane stule of es bocht to the King viijd. 1516-17 Rec. St. Mary at Hill (1905) 292 Paid for makyng clene of the Rectors stolys ijd. 1528 A prevey stole [see PRIVY a. 8c]. 1561 Invent. R. Wardr. (1815) 139 Item ane stuill of ease coverit with crammosie broun velvot. 1573 L. LLOYD Pilgr. Princes (1586) 145 The Emperour Heliogabalus was killed vpon his stole at his easement. 1645 MILTON Colast. 13, I send them by his advice to sit upon the stool and strain. 1768-74 TUCKER Lt. Nat. (1834) II. 147 If Alexander and Cæsar could never be easy off the stool, I would not deny them that needful utensil.
John Webster Spargo, Juridical Folklore in England: Illustrated by the Cucking Stool (Durham: Duke University Press, 1944), argues that there is no connection between cucking-stool and cuck, but the etymology is defended by Lynda E. Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member," Shakespeare Quarterly 42.2 (Summer, 1991) 179-213 (at n. 14, pp. 185-186):
His argument is ultimately unpersuasive and seems ultimately to depend on no more than his own determination not to believe that this could have been possible. It seems to me, however, quite logical to believe that cucking-stool punishments would have included the additional humiliation of enthroning a woman on a privy stool before riding her through town and ducking her.
Boose, p. 187, reproduces illustrations of cucking-stools from T.N. Brushfield, "On Obsolete Punishments, With Particular Reference to Those of Chesire," Chester Archaeological and Historic Society Journal 2 (1855-1862) 31-48 and 203-234:The use of the cucking-stool as a punishment might involve not only public humiliation and disgrace, but also ducking the offender in water. For this purpose, the Hoosic River might be handy. It flows past Williamstown, Massachusetts, the site of Williams College. But before inflicting this part of the punishment on the incontinent students of Williams College, we should probably await the opinion of Michael Mukasey, candidate for Attorney General of the United States, as to whether water boarding is torture.

Hat tip: Dave Haxton.

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