Sunday, October 31, 2010


Rich Experience

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Thursday):
When compelled by a shower to take shelter under a tree, we may improve that opportunity for a more minute inspection of some of Nature's works. I have stood under a tree in the woods half a day at a time, during a heavy rain in the summer, and yet employed myself happily and profitably there prying with microscopic eye into the crevices of the bark or the leaves or the fungi at my feet. "Riches are the attendants of the miser: and the heavens rain plenteously upon the mountains." I can fancy that it would be a luxury to stand up to one's chin in some retired swamp a whole summer day, scenting the wild honeysuckle and bilberry blows, and lulled by the minstrelsy of gnats and mosquitoes! A day passed in the society of those Greek sages, such as described in the Banquet of Xenophon, would not be comparable with the dry wet of decayed cranberry vines, and the fresh Attic salt of the moss-beds. Say twelve hours of genial and familiar converse with the leopard frog; the sun to rise behind alder and dogwood, and climb buoyantly to his meridian of two hands' breadth, and finally sink to rest behind some bold western hummock. To hear the evening chant of the mosquito from a thousand green chapels, and. the bittern begin to boom from some concealed fort like a sunset gun!—Surely one may as profitably be soaked in the juices of swamp for one day as pick his way dry-shod over sand. Cold and damp,—are they not as rich experience as warmth and dryness?


The Ancient Elemental Things

Jorge Luis Borges, The Encounter (El Encuentro, tr. Andrew Hurley):
There, I sensed, were the ancient elemental things: the smell of the meat as it turned golden on the spit, the trees, the dogs, the fire that brings men together.

Ahí estaban, sentí, las antiguas cosas elementales: el olor de la carne que se dora, los árboles, los perros, las ramas secas, el fuego que reúne a los hombres.
Albert Bierstadt, The Oregon Trail

Saturday, October 30, 2010



Euripides, Ion 381-383 (tr. David Kovacs):
Mortals are many, and many their fortunes and of many shapes. Yet a human life of unbroken blessedness—that you will hardly find.

πολλαί γε πολλοῖς εἰσι συμφοραὶ βροτῶν,
μορφαὶ δὲ διαφέρουσιν· ἓνα δ' ἂν εὐτυχῆ
μόλις ποτ' ἐξεύροι τις ἀνθρώπων βίον.

ἓνα δ' ἂν εὐτυχῆ
Heath: ἓν δ' ἂν εὐτυχὲς L


A Mess of Pottage

Excerpts from Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle (1863):
This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work. I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in; they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents. An Irishman, seeing me making a minute in the fields, took it for granted that I was calculating my wages. If a man was tossed out of a window when an infant, and so made a cripple for life, or scared out of his wits by the Indians, it is regretted chiefly because he was thus incapacitated for—business! I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.


If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!

Most men would feel 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.


The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse.


If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.


I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.


Yet such, to a great extent, is our boasted commerce; and there are those who style themselves statesmen and philosophers who are so blind as to think that progress and civilization depend on precisely this kind of interchange and activity,—the activity of flies about a molasses-hogshead...


What is called politics is comparatively something so superficial and inhuman, that practically, I have never fairly recognized that it concerns me at all.


I cannot take up a newspaper but I find that some wretched government or other, hard pushed and on its last legs, is interceding with me, the reader, to vote for it,—more importunate than an Italian beggar...


Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its two opposite halves,—sometimes split into quarters, it may be, which grind on each other.
Dangerous, incendiary words—perhaps it would be best if we didn't allow our impressionable young people to read them.

Friday, October 29, 2010


The Malediction of Bishop Ernulphus

From the malediction of Bishop Ernulphus (tr. Lawrence Sterne in Tristram Shandy), here is an excellent, all-purpose curse, suitable for delivery against your worst enemy:
May he be cursed in living, in dying. May he be cursed in eating and drinking, in being hungry, in being thirsty, in fasting, in sleeping, in slumbering, in walking, in standing, in sitting, in lying, in working, in resting, in pissing, in shitting, and in bloodletting!

May he be cursed in all the faculties of his body! May he be cursed inwardly and outwardly! May he be cursed in the hair of his head! May he be cursed in his brains, and in his vertex, in his temples, in his forehead, in his ears, in his eyebrows, in his cheeks, in his jaw-bones, in his nostrils, in his fore-teeth and grinders, in his lips, in his throat, in his shoulders, in his wrists, in his arms, in his hands, in his fingers! May he be damn'd in his mouth, in his breast, in his heart and purtenance, down to the very stomach! May he be cursed in his reins, and in his groin, in his thighs, in his genitals, in his hips, and in his knees, his legs, and feet, and toe-nails!

Maledictus sit vivendo, moriendo, manducando, bibendo, esuriendo, sitiendo, jejunando, dormitando, dormiendo, vigilando, ambulando, stando, sedendo, jacendo, operando, quiescendo, mingendo, cacando, flebotomando.

Maledictus sit in totis viribus corporis. Maledictus sit intus et exterius. Maledictus sit in capillis; maledictus sit in cerebro. Maledictus sit in vertice, in temporibus, in fronte, in auriculis, in superciliis, in oculis, in genis, in maxillis, in naribus, in dentibus, mordacibus sive molaribus, in labiis, in gutture, in humeris, in harnis, in brachiis, in manibus, in digitis, in pectore, in corde, et in omnibus interioribus stomacho tenus, in renibus, in inguinibus, in femore, in genitalibus, in coxis, in genubus, in cruribus, in pedibus, et in unguibus.
The passage above can also be found in Thomas Hearn, ed., Textus Roffensis (Oxford, 1720), pp. 57-58, and in Stephanus Baluzius Tutelensis, i.e., Étienne Baluze of Tulle (1630-1718), Formulae Veteres Exorcismorum et Excommunicationum XX (Migne's Patrologia Latina vol. 87, col. 954). It reminds me of ancient curse tablets. See, e.g., Auguste Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae (Paris: Fontemoing, 1904), p. 191 (#135, side A, as emended on pp. 192 and 420), tr. John G. Gager in Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992; rpt. 1999), p. 172:
Malcius (the son or servant) of Nicona: (his) eyes, hands, fingers, arms, nails, hair, head, feet, thigh, belly, buttocks, navel, chest, nipples, neck, mouth, cheeks, teeth, lips, chin, eyes, forehead, eyebrows, shoulder-blades, shoulders, sinews, bones, merilas, belly, penis, shin: in these tablets I bind (his) business profits and health.

Malcio Nicones oculos
manus di[g]itos brac(h)ia<s> un[gue]s
capil(l)o(s) caput pedes femu[r] vent[r]e(m)
nat[e]s um(bi)licu[m] pectus mamil(l)as
collu[m] os buc(c)as dentes labias
me[nt]u[m] oc(u)los fronte(m) supercili(a)
scap(u)las (h)umerum nervia<s> ossu(m)
merilas vent[r]e(m) mentula(m) crus
qua(e)stu(m) lucru(m) valetudines defi[g]o
in (h)as tabel(l)as.
I haven't seen Leslie F. Smith, "A Pagan Parallel to 'Curse of Ernulphus'," Classical Journal 46.6 (March 1951) 303-304.


An Old Library

Charles Lamb, Oxford in the Vacation:
What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers, that have bequeathed their labours to these Bodleians, were reposing here, as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.
Jorge Luis Borges, foreword to The Maker (El Hacedor), tr. Andrew Hurley:
The sounds of the plaza fall behind, and I enter the Library. Almost physically, I can feel the gravitation of the books, the serene atmosphere of orderliness, time magically mounted and preserved.

Los rumores de la plaza quedan atrás y entro en la Biblioteca. De una manera casi física siento la gravitación de los libros, el ámbito sereno de un orden, el tiempo disecado y conservado mágicamente.
Conrad Buno (1613-1671), Augustus the Younger,
Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in His Library

Thursday, October 28, 2010


We Care Not a Louse

Alexander Brome (1620-1666), Song XL (The Murmurer), lines 1-8:
Let's lay aside plotting and thinking,
  And medling with matters of State,
Since we have the freedome of drinking,
  'Tis a folly to scribble or prate.
The great ones have nothing to think on,
  But how to make fools of the small;
We Cavaliers suffer and drink on,
  And care not a louse for 'um all.
As I am a graduate of the University of Virginia, I suppose I may be called a Cavalier. "Wah-hoo-wah," said Tom cavalierly.


The Restoration of Ancient Inscriptions

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774), The Citizen of the World, Letter V:
Naples.—"We have lately dug up here a curious Etruscan monument, broken in two in the raising. The characters are scarce visible; but Nugosi, the learned antiquary, supposes it to have been erected in honor of Picus, a Latin king, as one of the lines may be plainly distinguished to begin with a P. It is hoped this discovery will produce something valuable, as the literati of our twelve academies are deeply engaged in the disquisition."


Questions for Prospective Teachers

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774), The Vicar of Wakefield, Chapter XX:
But are you sure you are fit for a school? Let me examine you a little. Have you been bred apprentice to the business? No. Then you won't do for a school. Can you dress the boys' hair? No. Then you won't do for a school. Have you had the small-pox? No. Then you won't do for a school. Can you lie three in a bed? No. Then you will never do for a school. Have you got a good stomach? Yes. Then you will by no means do for a school. No, Sir; if you are for a genteel easy profession, bind yourself seven years as an apprentice to turn a cutler's wheel; but avoid a school by any means.
Related post: The Joy of Teaching.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010



Mrs. Laudator once overheard some Germans laughing at a sign that said "Gift Shop." "Gift" means poison in German. She wonders whether the French would find a "Pet Shop" sign amusing.


Pretenders to Knowledge

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), A Journey from This World to the Next, Introduction:
I presently communicated this manuscript to my friend parson Abraham Adams, who, after a long and careful perusal, returned it me with his opinion, that there was more in it than at first appeared; that the author seemed not entirely unacquainted with the writings of Plato; but he wished he had quoted him sometimes in his margin, "That I might be sure," said he, "he had read him in the original; for nothing," continued the parson, "is commoner than for men now-a-days to pretend to have read Greek authors, who have met with them only in translations, and cannot conjugate a verb in mi."



Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Journal (January 7, 1857), tr. Robert Baldick in Pages from the Goncourt Journal (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 24:
There has never been an age so full of humbug. Humbug everywhere, even in science. For years now the scientists have been promising us every morning a new miracle, a new element, a new metal, guaranteeing to warm us with copper discs immersed in water, to feed us with nothing, to kill us at no expense whatever on a grand scale, to keep us alive indefinitely, to make iron out of heaven knows what. And all this fantastic, scientific humbugging leads to membership of the Institut, to decorations, to influence, to stipends, to the respect of serious people. In the meantime the cost of living rises, doubles, trebles; there is a shortage of raw materials; even death makes no progress—as we saw at Sebastopol, where men cut each other to ribbons—and the cheapest goods are still the worst goods in the world.

Jamais siècle n'a plus blagué. La blague partout, et même dans la science. Voilà des anneés que les Bilboquets nous promettent tous les matins un miracle, un élément, un métal nouveau—de nous chauffer des ronds de cuivre dans l'eau, de nous nourrir avec rien, de nous tuer pour rien et en grand, de nous faire vivre indéfiniment, de nous faire du fer avec n'importe quoi. Tout cela, blagues académiques et énormes, qui conduisent à l'Institut, aux décorations, aux influences, au traitement, à la consideration des gens sérieux. La vie augmente pendant ce temps, double, triple; les matières premières manquent; la mort même ne progresse pas,—on l'a bien vu à Sébastopol où l'on s'est écharpé,—et le bon marché est toujours le plus mauvais marché du monde.


Of No Practical Use

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), The Empire of Business (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1902), pp. 79-80:
Men have wasted their precious years trying to extract education from an ignorant past whose chief province is to teach us, not what to adopt, but what to avoid. Men have sent their sons to colleges to waste their energies upon obtaining a knowledge of such languages as Greek and Latin, which are of no more practical use to them than Choctaw....They have been crammed with the details of petty and insignificant skirmishes between savages, and taught to exalt a band of ruffians into heroes; and we have called them "educated." They have been "educated" as if they were destined for life upon some other planet than this. They have in no sense received instruction. On the contrary, what they have obtained has served to imbue them with false ideas and to give them a distaste for practical life.
Related post: The Endangered Species List.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Filthy Lucre

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 87.17 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Was it his money that made him unclean, or did he himself besmirch his money? Money tumbles into the hands of certain men as a shilling tumbles down a sewer.

Quid ergo? utrum illum pecunia inpurum effecit an ipse pecuniam inspurcavit? quae sic in quosdam homines quomodo denarius in cloacam cadit.


Modern Philology

Ezra Pound, An Anachronism at Chinon, from Pavannes and Divisions (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918), pp. 11-22 (at 16):
I speak in no passion when I say that the whole aim, or at least the drive, of modern philology is to make a man stupid; to turn his mind from the fire of genius and smother him with things unessential.


For the Sole Benefit of the Performer

James Reeves, prefatory note to his volume of poems entitled Subsong, in Collected Poems, 1929-1974 (London: Heinemann, 1974), p. 122:
I owe the title of this volume to Mr D.W. Snow, who has kindly allowed me to quote, by way of explanation, from his beautiful book, A Study of Blackbirds (Allen and Unwin, 1958, to whom also grateful acknowledgments are made). Subsong, Mr Snow writes, differs chiefly from subdued song and full autumn song 'in being much quieter, only audible a few yards away, and delivered with the beak closed and throat barely moving. I have recorded subsong,' he continues, 'from both old and young males from August right through the winter, but most often from young birds on fine days in October and November. It seems to have no function with respect to other birds, and, as Gurr says, to be given "for the sole benefit of the performer."'
Gurr is possibly L. Gurr, "A Study of the Blackbird Turdus Merula in New Zealand," Ibis 96.2 (April 1954) 225-261, which I haven't seen.

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (July 11, 1780):
I never write but for my amusement; and what I write is sure to answer that end, if it answers no other. If, besides this purpose, the more desirable one of entertaining you be effected, I then receive double fruit of my labour, and consider this produce of it as a second crop, the more valuable, because less expected.
Related posts:

Monday, October 25, 2010


The New Enclosure Acts

Patrick Hennessy and Rebecca Lefort, "Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain's forests," The Telegraph (October 23, 2010):
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020.

The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies.

Legislation which currently governs the treatment of "ancient forests" such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest is likely to be changed giving private firms the right to cut down trees....

Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986; rpt. London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 139: "Forests were hard hit by Enclosure Acts, which gave landowning parties the power to do what they pleased and expropriated the rights of commoners and the Crown....When a Forest was enclosed, its wood-pasture, heath, etc., passed to private owners who, with rare exceptions, instantly destroyed them."

Among the poetical remains of Francis Noel Clarke Mundy (1739-1815) are two poems about the pending and actual enclosure of Needwood Forest in Staffordshire, which started in 1801. The first poem, in five parts, was published in Needwood Forest (Litchfield: John Jackson, 1776), pp. 3-44. The fifth part (pp. 41-44, here with the author’s notes), deals with the planned deforestation (or disafforestation, as the British call it):
Whence, NEEDWOOD, that tremendous sound!—
—Low dying murmurs run around,
A deeper gloom the wood receives,
And horror shivers on the leaves,
Loud shrieks the hern, the raven croaks—
Destruction's arm arrests thy oaks!
Onward with giant strides he towers,
Dooms with dread voice thy withering bowers,
High o'er his head the broad axe wields,
Stamps with his iron foot, and shakes the fields!

When from her lawless rocks and sands
Arabia pours her ruffian bands,
The village hinds in wild distress
Around some holy hermit press
Orb within orb, their wrongs declare,
And ask his counsel and his prayer;
All white with age, inspir'd he stands,
And lifts to heaven his wrinkled hands!

Destruction’s arm, etc.] By order from the Dutchy Court of LANCASTER, to which the forest of NEEDWOOD belongs, the timber is now felling under the direction of an officer of that Court.

So seems the affrighted forest, drawn
In crowds around this lonely lawn:
High in the midst with many a frown
Huge SWILCAR shakes his tresses brown.
Out-spreads his bare arms to the skies,
The ruins of six centuries.
Deep groans pervade his rifted rind—
—He speaks his bitterness of mind.
“Your impious hands, barbarians, hold!
“Ye pause! but fir'd with lust of gold,
“Your leader lifts his axe, and like
“Accursed JULIUS, bids you strike.
“Deaf are the ruthless ears of gain,
“And youth and beauty plead in vain.
“—Loud groans the wood with thick'ning strokes!
“Yes, ye must perish, filial oaks!
“In heaps your wither'd trunks be laid,
“And wound the lawns, ye used to shade;
“Whilst Avarice on the naked pile
“Exulting casts a hideous smile.
“Strike here! on me exhaust your rage,
“Nor let false pity spare my age!

Huge SWILCAR, etc.] SWILCAR Oak stands singly upon a beautiful small lawn surrounded with extensive woods, —it is of remarkable size, and supposed to be six hundred years old.

Accursed JULIUS, etc.] CAESAR cuts down a consecrated grove. LUCAN, lib. 3.

“No pity dwells with sordid slaves;
“'Tis want of worth alone that saves.
“Yes, ye will leave me with disdain
“A mouldring land-mark on the plain,
“Where many a reign my trunk hath stood
“Proud father of the circling wood.
“In freedom's dearest days I grew,
“And HENRY'S jealous nobles knew;
“I saw them pierce the bounding game,
“And heard their horn announce the claim.
“No more, beneath my favorite shades
“The forest youth and village maid
“Shall meet to plight their troth, and mark
“Their loves memorial on my bark.

“Yet, yet, fond Hope, thy distant light
“Beams unexpected on my sight;
“Lo VERNON hastes, the common friend!
“The affrighted forest to defend;

In freedom’s dearest days, etc.] The charter of HEN. 3. confirms the privilege to Lords of parliament of killing a Deer or two in any of the royal forests in their way to or from parliament, in the presence of the keeper, or on blowing a horn in his absence. —‘tis about six hundred years since that king reigned.

Yet, yet, fond Hope, etc.] Upon the above order from the Dutchy Court, Ld. VERNON proposed an inclosure of some parts of the forest, for the preservation of the young timber, and the beauty of the place.

“Bids the keen axe the saplings spare,
“And makes posterity his care.
“Yes, Joy shall see these scenes renew'd,
“Shall wake his sister Gratitude,
“Shall call on lawns and hills and dells
“The silent echoes from their cells,
“Long trains of golden years proclaim,
“And NEEDWOOD ring with VERNON's name."

He ceas'd, and shook his hoary brow:
Glad murmurs fill the vale below,
The deer in gambols bound along,
The plighted birds resume their song.

Thrice-venerable Druid, hail!
O may thy sacred words prevail,
May NEEDWOOD'S oaks successive stand
The lasting wonder of the land!—
And may some powerful bard arise,
Tho' heaven to me that power denies,
The POPE or DENHAM of his days,
Whose lofty verse shall match their praise.
Deforestation proceeded apace after the act enclosing Needwood Forest in 1801. There is an eyewitness description in Sir Oswald Mosley, History of the Castle, Priory, and Town of Tutbury, in the County of Stafford (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1832), pp. 303-304:
Upon Christmas day 1802, the forest was disafforested, and a scene of melancholy devastation rapidly ensued; the trees which had hitherto clothed it in all the rich luxuriance of unrestrained nature, were felled in every quarter with little regard to size, although the act provided that none should be cut down under six inches in girth. The coverts and underwood were quickly cleared away, and a dreary waste appeared on every side, deformed still more by naked trunks and lopped branches strewed in various directions, and relieved only by a few picturesque groups of charcoal burners and woodmen....Troops of idle peasants, now restrained no longer by the terrors of the law, chased the affrighted deer from their accustomed haunts, and destroyed them without mercy; some more fortunate than the rest escaped into adjacent parks, and intermingled with the herds already reared there; while a few were found during several subsequent years lurking in the woods of Foremark and other distant places, where the yells and shouts of their ruthless pursuers had driven them, but could no longer assail their ears.
Mundy penned another poem deploring the enclosure and its effects, in The Fall of Needwood (Derby: J. Drewry, 1808), pp. 3-36. The second poem is too long to quote in its entirety, but here are two excerpts, the first from p. 8, and the second from pp. 17-18:
'Twas Avarice with his harpy claws,
Great Victim! rent thy guardian laws;
Loos'd Uproar with his ruffian bands;
Bade Havoc show his crimson'd hands;
Grinn'd a coarse smile, as thy last deer
Dropp'd in thy lap a dying tear;
Exulted in his schemes accurst,
When thy pierc'd heart, abandon'd, burst;
And, glozing on the public good,
Insidious demon! suck'd thy blood.
Detested ever be that day,
Which left thee a defenceless prey!
May never sun its presence cheer!
O be it blotted from the year!


Region, where all delights were found,
How look'st thou now a burial ground!
With sad memorials, here and there,
Of what was noble, free, and fair.
King's standing, with a tortur'd frown,
Marks its own splendour overthrown.
Whate'er of wood or lawn could please,
Whate'er of hills that rang'd with ease,
In grand assemblage broad display'd,
This far commanding mount survey'd.
How chang'd! those oaks, that tower'd so high,
Dismember'd, stript, extended, lie;
On the stain'd turf their wrecks are pil'd,
Where thousand Summers bask'd and smil'd;
In smouldering heaps their limbs consume;
The dark smoke marks their casual tomb;
From blacken'd brakes, the choak'd winds toss
The ashes of the golden goss;
While great with power, yon Wretch derides
And boasts the mischief, which he guides.
Benjamin West (1738-1820), Woodcutters in Windsor Park



The Tail End of a Letter by Cowper

In August 1758, William Cowper wrote a letter in Latin to his friend Clotworthy Rowley. The letter ends with this paragraph:
Quod ad amicum nostrum Alston attinet, neque Epistolam mihi misit quamlibet, neque missurum reor; scio enim jamdudum ignavam hominis naturam, et obliviosam. Si videris, objurgationes aliquos a me in eum confer, Culumque meum osculetur, jube.
James King and Charles Ryskamp, in their edition of The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, Vol. I: Adelphi and Letters 1750-1781 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 82, content themselves with reproducing the following English translation of the final paragraph, by Thomas Wright, from his edition of The Correspondence of William Cowper Arranged in Chronological Order, Vol. I (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), p. 17:
As to our friend Alston, he has not written to me, nor is he likely to write; for I have long understood the sluggish and forgetful nature of the man. Should you see him, give him a sound rating for me.
This translation omits the last half of Cowper's final sentence ("Culumque meum osculetur, jube"), that is, "And bid him kiss my arse." As the omitted imperative presents to us a side of Cowper rarely seen, I think it is worthy of translation and publication. It is also not out of place here to quote from a poetical riddle by Cowper:
I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold,
And the parent of numbers that cannot be told.
I am lawful, unlawful—a duty, a fault,
I am often sold dear, good for nothing when bought.
An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course,
And yielded with pleasure—when taken by force.
Alike the delight of the poor and the rich,
Tho' the vulgar is apt to present me his breech.
The answer to the riddle is a kiss.

For another glimpse at this hidden side of William Cowper, see a post by fellow blogger Tom Turdman: I Lose No Time.


No Relish for the Sweets of Society

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (November 26, 1781):
There are indeed all sorts of characters in the world, there are some whose understandings are so sluggish, and whose hearts are such mere clods, that they live in society without either contributing to the sweets of it, or having any relish for them. A man of this stamp passes by our window continually. He draws patterns for the lace-makers. I never saw him conversing with a neighbour but once in my life, though I have known him by sight these 12 years. He is of a very sturdy make, has a round belly extremely protuberant, which he evidently considers as his best friend because it is his only companion, and it is the labour of his life to fill it. I can easily conceive that it is merely the love of good eating and drinking, and now and then the want of a new pair of shoes, that attaches this man so much to the neighbourhood of his fellow mortals. For suppose these exigencies and others of a like kind to subsist no longer, and what is there that could possibly give Society the preference in his esteem? He might strut about with his two thumbs upon his hips in a wilderness, he could hardly be more silent than he is at Olney, and for any advantage or comfort or friendship or brotherly affection, he could not be more destitute of such blessings there than in his present situation.
Cowper evidently regarded this silent, fat fellow with disapprobation, but I look fondly on him, as a man after my own heart and with my own habits and inclinations.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Translations of Catullus by James Reeves

James Reeves, in his Collected Poems, 1929-1974 (London: Heinemann, 1974), includes translations of four poems by Catullus, which I've transcribed below, together with the Latin.

pp. 66-67 (title Catullus to Lesbia = Catullus 5):
I tell you, Lesbia, life is love,
Though rumbling dotards disapprove
  And chew their beards in spite.
For ever shines the blessed sun,
But we have little space to run,
And after our brief day is done,
  How long will be the night.

So kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, sweet.
Kiss me neither once nor twice,
But kiss me several hundred times
  And then the tale repeat.
A thousand, then a thousand times,
  And that will not suffice—
A thousand, then a hundred more,
And after many thousand kisses
  We'll forget the score,
In case some mad misanthropist,
Hearing how many times we've kissed,
Should bring down curses on our heads
  To think what he has missed.

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt;
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum;
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum;
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus—
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
p. 82 (title Three Poems after Catullus = Catullus 60, 85, and 58):
What lioness that roamed the Libyan waste
  Or raucous Scylla barking from her womb
Bore you, she-monster of the stony will?
  For when in the extremity of doom
Your vassal calls, you hold his words in scorn.
Too savage heart, of what beast were you born?

Num te leaena montibus Libystinis
aut Scylla latrans infima inguinum parte
tam mente dura procreavit ac taetra,
ut supplicis vocem in novissimo casu
contemptam haberes, a nimis fero corde?

I hate: yet where I hate, I love.
  You ask me why: I cannot tell.
But this I know—I feel it so.
  And suffer all the pangs of hell.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
  nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Think of it, Caelius, only think, my friend:
  Lesbia, that Lesbia, Lesbia our dearest,
  She whom Catullus better than his nearest
Better than his own soul loved without end,
Now where the noblest sons of Rome explore
Rome's dirtiest backstreets, there she plays the whore.

Caeli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
plus quam se atque suos amavit omnes,
nunc in quadriviis et angiportis
glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The Top of My Desires

John Oldham (1653-1683), from A Satire Addressed to a Friend That is About to Leave the University, and Come Abroad in the World:
'T has ever been the top of my desires,
The utmost height to which my wish aspires,
That Heaven would bless me with a small estate,
Where I might find a close obscure retreat;
There, free from noise and all ambitious ends,
Enjoy a few choice books, and fewer friends,
Lord of myself, accountable to none,
But to my conscience, and my God alone:
There live unthought of, and unheard of die,
And grudge mankind my very memory.
But since the blessing is, I find, too great
For me to wish for, or expect of fate;
Yet, maugre all the spite of destiny,
My thoughts and actions are, and shall be, free.
Charles Spencelayh, A Lover of Dickens

Related posts:

Friday, October 22, 2010


Shadows Brown

John Milton, Il Penseroso, lines 131-138:
And, when the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me goddess bring
To archèd walks of twilight groves,
And shadows brown, that Sylvan loves,
Of pine, or monumental oak,
Where the rude axe with heavèd stroke,
Was never heard the nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
Il Penseroso is the melancholy man, whose pleasure it is to walk in the woods. See, e.g., Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. 1, Sect. 3, Mem. 1, Subs. 2:
It was one of the chiefest reasons why the citizens of Abdera suspected Democritus to be melancholy and mad, because that, as Hippocrates related in his Epistle to Philopaemenes, "he forsook the city, lived in groves and hollow trees, upon a green bank by a brook side, or confluence of waters all day long, and all night." Quae quidem (saith he) plurimum atra bile vexatis et melancholicis eveniunt, deserta frequentant, hominumque congressum aversantur; which is an ordinary thing with melancholy men.
Id., Part. 1, Sec. 2, Mem. 2, Subs. 6:
[M]ost pleasant it is at first, to such as are melancholy given, to lie in bed whole days, and keep their chambers, to walk alone in some solitary grove, betwixt wood and water, by a brook side, to meditate upon some delightsome and pleasant subject, which shall affect them most; amabilis insania, et mentis gratissimus error: a most incomparable delight it is so to melancholise, and build castles in the air...
Id., Part 2., Sec. 2, Mem. 4:
If my testimony were aught worth, I could say as much of myself; I am vere Saturnus; no man ever took more delight in springs, woods, groves, gardens, walks, fishponds, rivers, &c.
John Crome (1768-1821), Woodland Path


Persicos Odi, Puer, Apparatus

Horace, Odes 1.38 (tr. Niall Rudd):
I dislike Persian frippery, my boy: I do not care for garlands tied with linden bast; don't go looking for a place where the late rose lingers. Please don't go to the trouble of adding anything to plain myrtle; myrtle is entirely suitable for you as a servant, and for me as I sit drinking beneath the thick vine leaves.

Persicos odi, puer, apparatus,
displicent nexae philyra coronae;
mitte sectari rosa quo locorum
        sera moretur.

simplici myrto nihil allabores
sedulus curo: neque te ministrum
dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta
        vite bibentem.
I recently happened on an amusing translation of this ode by John Davis Long (1838-1915), with the title To the Boys:
I hate this Persian gingerbread,
These fixins round a feller's head;
I want the roses in their bed
        All in a body.

Give me the myrtle as it grows;
And let me take my sweet repose
Beneath the vine, unless it snows,
        And sip my toddy.
Long, born in Buckfield, Maine, was governor of Massachusetts and later U.S. Secretary of the Navy. He also translated Vergil's Aeneid (Boston: Lockwood & Brooks, 1879). See Richard F. Thomas, Virgil and the Augustan Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 173 ff.

Here is a jocular adaptation of Horace's ode by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863):
Dear Lucy, you know what my wish is,—
    I hate all your Frenchified fuss:
Your silly entrées and made dishes
    Were never intended for us.
No footman in lace and in ruffles
    Need dangle behind my arm-chair;
And never mind seeking for truffles,
    Although they be ever so rare.

But a plain leg of mutton, my Lucy,
    I pr'ythee get ready at three:
Have it smoking, and tender, and juicy,
    And what better meat can there be?
And when it has feasted the master,
    'Twill amply suffice for the maid;
Meanwhile I will smoke my canaster,
    And tipple my ale in the shade.
A macaronic version by Mortimer Collins (1827-1876):
Persicos odi, puer, apparatus;
Bring me a chop and a couple of potatoes:
When we are dining care should not await us,
        Spoiling our glory.

Simplici myrto nihil adlabores;
All ostentation a confounded bore is...
After, a glass of port that sound at core is
        Will suit a Tory.
Finally, two humorous paraphrases by Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960), the first from Tobogganing on Parnassus:
Nix on the Persian pretence!
    Myrtle for Quintus H. Flaccus!
Wreaths of the linden tree, hence!
    Nix on the Persian pretence!

Waiter, here's seventy cents—
    Come, let me celebrate Bacchus!
Nix on the Persian pretence!
    Myrtle for Quintus H. Flaccus.
and the second from In Other Words:
The Persian pomp and circumstance are things I do not like;
I shall not buy a motor-car while I possess a bike;
I will not buy a Panama to place upon my head,
A simple sennitt bonnet, boy, purchase for me instead.

For such a thatch will do for you as it has done for me—
An ordinary straw hat, for a dollar thirty-three.
Then to the coolest bar in town for some Milwaukee liquor,
Where I may watch the ball-game—as it comes over the ticker.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Leave Mouldy Authors to the Reading Fools

John Oldham (1653-1683), from The Eighth Satire of Monsieur Boileau, Imitated:
Answer me only this, what man is there
In this vile thankless age, wherein we are,
Who does by sense and learning value bear?

'Wouldst thou get honour, and a fair estate,
And have the looks and favours of the great?'
Cries an old father to his blooming son;
'Take the right course, be ruled by me, 'tis done.
Leave mouldy authors to the reading fools,
The poring crowds in colleges and schools:
How much is threescore nobles?' Twenty pound.

'Well said, my son, the answer's most profound:
Go, thou knowest all that's requisite to know;
What wealth on thee, what honours haste to flow!
In these high sciences thyself employ,
Instead of Plato, take thy Hodder, boy;
Learn there the art to audit an account,
To what the King's revenue does amount;
How much the Customs and Excise bring in,
And what the managers each year purloin.

Get a case-hardened conscience, Irish proof,
Which nought of pity, sense, or shame can move;
Turn Algerine, Barbarian, Turk, or Jew,
Unjust, inhuman, treacherous, base, untrue;
Ne'er stick at wrong; hang widows' sighs and tears,
The cant of priests to frighten usurers;
Boggle at nothing to increase thy store,
Nor orphans' spoils, nor plunder of the poor;
And scorning paltry rules of honesty,
By surer methods raise thy fortune high.

Then, shoals of poets, pedants, orators,
Doctors, divines, astrologers, and lawyers,
Authors of every sort, and every size,
To thee their works, and labours shall address,
With pompous lines their dedications fill,
And learnedly in Greek and Latin tell
Lies to thy face, that thou hast deep insight,
And art a mighty judge of what they write.

He that is rich, is everything that is,
Without one grain of wisdom he is wise,
And knowing nought, knows all the sciences;
He's witty, gallant, virtuous, generous, stout,
Well-born, well-bred, well-shaped, well-dressed, what not?
Loved by the great, and courted by the fair,
For none that e'er had riches found despair;
Gold to the loathsomest object gives a grace,
And sets it off, and makes even Bovey please;
But tattered poverty they all despise,
Love stands aloof, and from the scarecrow flies.'

Thus a staunch miser to his hopeful brat
Chalks out the way that leads to an estate;
Whose knowledge oft with utmost stretch of brain
No higher than this vast secret can attain,
Five and four's nine, take two, and seven remain.
Robert Dighton, Stock-Jobbers Extraordinary


After Seeing Too Many Political Ads on TV

John Oldham (1653-1683), The Careless Good Fellow, lines 1-6:
A plague of this fooling and plotting of late,
What a pother and stir has it kept in the State;
Let the rabble run mad with suspicions and fears,
Let them scuffle and jar, till they go by the ears;
  Their grievances never shall trouble my pate,
  So I can enjoy my dear bottle at quiet.
Édouard Manet, Le Bon Bock


Sacred Groves

John Milton, Elegy 5.131-134 (tr. Walter MacKellar):
The gods themselves are not slow to prefer the forests of earth to heaven, and every grove has its own deity. Long let each grove have its deity! Leave not, O gods, your homes amid the trees.

Dii quoque non dubitant caelo praeponere silvas,
  Et sua quisque sibi numina lucus habet.
Et sua quisque diu sibi numina lucus habeto,
  Nec vos arborea, dii, precor, ite domo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 123.6 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
How many things are superfluous we fail to realize until they begin to be wanting; we merely used them not because we needed them but because we had them. And how much do we acquire simply because our neighbours have acquired such things, or because most men possess them! Many of our troubles may be explained from the fact that we live according to a pattern, and, instead of arranging our lives according to reason, are led astray by convention.

Multa quam supervacua essent non intelleximus nisi deesse coeperunt; utebamur enim illis non quia debebamus sed quia habebamus. Quam multa autem paramus quia alii paraverunt, quia apud plerosque sunt! Inter causas malorum nostrorum est quod vivimus ad exempla, nec ratione componimur sed consuetudine abducimur.
Diogenes Laertius 2.25 (Life of Socrates, tr. R.D. Hicks):
Often when he looked at the multitude of wares exposed for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I can do without!"

πολλάκις δ᾽ ἀφορῶν εἰς τὰ πλήθη τῶν πιπρασκομένων ἔλεγε πρὸς αὑτόν, "πόσων ἐγὼ χρείαν οὐκ ἔχω."


Immunity from Vulgarity

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2001), p. 334 (tr. by Stephen at Don Colacho's Aphorisms):
The classical languages have educational value because they are safe from the vulgarity with which modern life corrupts the languages that are in use.

Las lenguas clásicas tienen valor educativo porque están a salvo de la vulgaridad con que la vida moderna corrompe las lenguas en uso.
Marc Antoine Muret (1526-1585), Orationes, vol. 2, no. 22, included in A. Springhetti, Selecta Latinitatis Scripta (saec. xv-xx) (Rome, 1951):
Therefore those languages that depend on the whim of the ignorant multitude die each day, and are born each day. But those languages that the usage of learned men has rescued from the slavery of the crowd not only are alive, but have in a certain way achieved immortality and immutability.

Illae igitur linguae quotidie moriuntur, quotidie nascuntur, quae pendent ex libidine imperitae multitudinis: quas autem ex populi servitute eruditorum usus vindicavit, illae non vivunt tantum, sed immortalitatem quodammodo et immutabilitatem adeptae sunt.



Arthur Schopenhauer, tr. T. Bailey Saunders in Complete Essays of Schopenhauer (New York: Willey Book Company, 1942), IV.35:
There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened; just as if you had quenched your thirst at some pure spring.
German from Schopenhauer's Sämmtliche Werke, 2. Aufl., 6. Bd. = Parerga und Paralipomena, 2. Bd. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1908), p. 597:
Es giebt doch keine größere Erquickung für den Geist, als die Lektüre der alten Klassiker: sobald man irgend einen von ihnen, und wäre es auch nur auf eine halbe Stunde, in die Hand genommen hat, fühlt man alsbald sich erfrischt, erleichtert, gereinigt, gehoben und gestärkt; nicht anders, als hätte man an der frischen Felsenquelle sich gelabt.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Barefoot Boys

In the past few years I've read several news articles about the trend, among some runners, of eschewing expensive athletic shoes and instead running barefoot. Like many modern trends, this practice has ancient antecedents. See, e.g.:Socrates generally went barefoot, ἀνυπόδητος (Plato, Symposium 174a, 220b; Plato, Phaedrus 229 a; Aristophanes, Clouds 103, 363).

I borrowed the title of this post from James Greenleaf Whittier's poem Barefoot Boy, which ends with these lines:
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to treat the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!


The Last of Its Clan

Stephen Pentz, at First Known When Lost, quotes the following from Maurice Hewlett, "The Crystal Vase," The London Mercury 1.2 (December, 1919) 176-183 (at 181), rpt. in A Green Shade: A Country Commentary (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 132-146 (at 141):
Coleridge was with them most days, or they with him. Here is a curious point to note. Dorothy records:
"March 7th.—William and I drank tea at Coleridge's. Observed nothing particularly interesting....One only leaf upon the top of a tree—the sole remaining leaf—danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind."
And Coleridge has in Christabel:
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
These are excellent literary descriptions of the botanical phenomenon known as marcescence (a tree's retention of some of its dead leaves throughout the winter), and I'm glad to be able to add them to the following meagre collection of examples:

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Is It True?

Seneca, Trojan Women 371-408 (tr. John G. Fitch):
Is it true, or a tale to deceive the faint-hearted,
that spirits live on after bodies are buried,
when the spouse has placed a hand over the eyes,
and the final day has blocked out future suns,
and the grim urn has confined the ashes?

Verum est an timidos fabula decipit
umbras corporibus vivere conditis,
cum coniunx oculis imposuit manum
supremusque dies solibus obstitit
et tristis cineres urna coercuit?

Is nothing gained in yielding the soul to death?
Are the wretched faced with further life?
Or do we die wholly, and does no part of us survive,
once the spirit carried on the fugitive breath
has mingled with the mist and and receded into the air,
and the kindling torch has touched the naked flesh?

non prodest animam tradere funeri,
sed restat miseris vivere longius?
an toti morimur nullaque pars manet
nostri, cum profugo spiritus halitu
immixtus nebulis cessit in aera
et nudum tetigit subdita fax latus?

All that is known to the rising or setting sun,
all that is laved by Ocean with its blue waters
twice approaching and twice fleeing,
time will seize at the pace of Pegasus.

Quicquid sol oriens, quicquid et occidens
novit, caeruleis Oceanus fretis
quicquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat,
aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu.

As the twelve constellations fly at whirlwind speed,
as the lord of the stars hastens apace
to roll on the centuries, in the way that Hecate
hurries to run on her slanting arcs:
so we all head for death. No longer does one
who has reached the pools that bind the gods' oaths
exist at all. As smoke from burning fires
fades away, soiling the air for a brief space;
as the leaden clouds that we saw just now
are scattered by the onset of northern Boreas:
so this spirit that rules us will flow away.

quo bis sena volant sidera turbine,
quo cursu properat volvere saecula
astrorum dominus, quo properat modo
obliquis Hecate currere flexibus:
hoc omnes petimus fata, nec amplius,
iuratos superis qui tetigit lacus,
usquam est. ut calidis fumus ab ignibus
vanescit, spatium per breve sordidus;
ut nubes, gravidas quas modo vidimus,
arctoi Boreae dissicit impetus:
sic hic, quo regimur, spiritus effluet.

After death is nothing, and death itself is nothing,
the finishing line of a swiftly run circuit.
Let the greedy lay down their hopes, the anxious their fears:
greedy time and Chaos devour us.

Post mortem nihil est ipsaque mors nihil,
velocis spatii meta novissima.
spem ponant avidi, solliciti metum:
tempus nos avidum devorat et chaos.

Death is indivisible, destructive to the body
and not sparing the soul. Taenarus, and the kingdom
under its harsh lord, and Cerberus guarding
the entrance with its unyielding gate
—hollow rumours, empty words,
a tale akin to a troubled dream.

mors individua est, noxia corpori
nec parcens animae. Taenara et aspero
regnum sub domino limen et obsidens
custos non facili Cerberus ostio
rumores vacui verbaque inania
et par sollicito fabula somnio.

You ask where you lie after death?
Where unborn things lie.

quaeris quo iaceas post obitum loco?
quo non nata iacent.
The same, tr. Edward Sherburne (1616-1702):
Is it a Truth? or Fiction blinds
        Our fearful Minds?
That when to Earth we Bodies give,
        Souls yet do live?
That when the Wife hath clos'd with Cries
        The Husband's Eyes,
When the last fatal Day of Light
        Hath spoil'd our Sight,
And when to Dust and Ashes turn'd
        Our Bones are urn'd;
Souls stand yet in no need at all
        Of Funeral.
But that a longer Life with Pain
        They still retain?
Or dye we quite? Nor aught we have
        Survives the Grave?
When like to Smoak immix'd with Skies,
        The Spirit flies.
And Funeral Tapers are apply'd
        To th'naked Side.
Whate'er Sol rising does disclose,
        Or setting shows;
Whate'er the Sea with flowing Waves
        Or ebbing laves;
Old Time, that moves with winged pace,
        Doth soon deface.
With the same Swiftness the Signs rowl
        Round, round the Pole,
With the same Course Day's Ruler steers
        The fleeting Years;
With the same Speed th'oblique-pac'd Moon
        Does wheeling run:
We all are hurried to our Fates,
        Our Lives last Dates;
And when we reach the Stygian Shore,
        Are then no more.
As Smoak, which springs from Fire, is soon
        Dispers'd and gone;
Or Clouds which we but now beheld,
        By Winds dispel'd;
The Spirit, which informs this Clay,
        So fleets away.
Nothing is after Death; and this
        Too, Nothing is:
The Gaol, or the extreamest space
        Of a swift Race.
The Covetous their Hopes forbear,
        The Sad their Fear.
Ask'st thou, whene'er thou com'st to dye,
        Where thou shalt lye?
Where lye th'unborn. Away Time rakes us,
        Then Chaos takes us.
Death's Individual; like kind
        To Body or Mind.
Whate'er of Taenarus they sing,
        And Hell's fierce King,
How Cerberus still guards the Port
        O'th' Stygian Court,
All are but idle Rumours found,
        And empty Sound;
Like the vain Fears of Melancholy
        Dreams, and fabulous Folly.
Paraphrase of lines 397-408 by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680):
After death nothing is, and nothing, death,
The utmost limit of a gasp of breath.
Let the ambitious zealot lay aside
His hopes of heaven, whose faith is but his pride;
Let slavish souls lay by their fear
Nor be concerned which way nor where
After this life they shall be hurled.
Dead, we become the lumber of the world,
And to that mass of matter shall be swept
Where things destroyed with things unborn are kept.
Devouring time swallows us whole;
Impartial death confounds body and soul.
For Hell and the foul fiend that rules
God's everlasting fiery jails
(Devised by rogues, dreaded by fools),
With his grim, grisly dog that keeps the door,
Are senseless stories, idle tales,
Dreams, whimseys, and no more.
Franciscus Gysbrechts (17th century), Vanitas


An Ordinary Thing

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. 2, Sec. 3, Mem. 7:
It is an ordinary thing in these days to see a base impudent ass, illiterate, unworthy, insufficient, to be preferred before his betters, because he can put himself forward, because he looks big, can bustle in the world, hath a fair outside, can temporize, collogue, insinuate, or hath good store of friends or money; whereas a more discreet, modest, and better deserving man shall lie hid or have a repulse. 'Twas so of old, and ever will be...

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Inequality and Equality

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 91.16 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
We are unequal at birth, but are equal in death.

Inpares nascimur, pares morimur.


Liberal Studies

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 88.1 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
You have been wishing to know my views with regard to liberal studies. My answer is this: I respect no study, and deem no study good, which results in money-making.

De liberalibus studiis quid sentiam scire desideras: nullum suspicio, nullum in bonis numero, quod ad aes exit.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Putting Away Childish Things

Paul, 1 Corinthians 13.11:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, ἐλάλουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐφρόνουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐλογιζόμην ὡς νήπιος· ὅτε γέγονα ἀνήρ, κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου.
Teles, On Self-Sufficiency, p. 10 of Teletis Reliquiae, ed. Otto Hense, 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1909):
You have become an old man; don't desire youthful things.

γέρων γέγονας˙ μὴ ζήτει τὰ τοῦ νέου.
Epictetus 3.24.53 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
When a person acts like a child, the older he is the more ridiculous he is.

ὁ τὰ παιδίου ποιῶν ὅσῳ πρεσβύτερος τοσούτῳ γελοιότερος.
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 27.2 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
I keep crying out to myself: "Count your years, and you will be ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in your boyhood days."

Clamo mihi ipse: "Numera annos tuos, et pudebit eadem velle, quae volueras puer, eadem parare."
Seneca, On Firmness 12.1.1-2 (tr. John W. Basore):
The same attitude that we have toward young slaves, the wise man has toward all men whose childhood endures even beyond middle age and the period of grey hairs. Or has age brought any profit at all to men of this sort, who have the faults of a childish mind with its defects augmented, who differ from children only in the size and shape of their bodies, but are not less wayward and unsteady, who are undiscriminating in their passion for pleasure, timorous, and peaceable, not from inclination, but from fear? [2] Therefore no one may say that they differ in any way from children. For while children are greedy for knuckle-bones, nuts, and coppers, these are greedy for gold and silver, and cities; while children play among themselves at being magistrates, and in make-believe have their bordered toga, lictors' rods and tribunal, these play in earnest at the same things in the Campus Martius and the forum and the senate; while children rear their toy houses on the sea-shore with heaps of sand, these, as though engaged in a mighty enterprise, are busied in piling up stones and walls and roofs, and convert what was intended as a protection to the body into a menace. Therefore children and those who are farther advanced in life are alike deceived, but the latter in different and more serious things.

Quem animum nos adversus pueros habemus, hunc sapiens adversus omnes, quibus etiam post iuventam canosque puerilitas est. An quicquam isti profecerunt, quibus <puerilis> animi mala sunt auctique in maius errores, qui a pueris magnitudine tantum formaque corporum differunt, ceterum non minus vagi incertique, voluptatium sine dilectu adpetentes, trepidi et non ingenio sed formidine quieti? [2] Non ideo quicquam inter illos puerosque interesse quis dixerit, quod illis talorum nucumve et aeris minuti avaritia est, his auri argentique et urbium, quod illi inter ipsos magistratus gerunt et praetextam fascesque ac tribunal imitantur, hi eadem in campo foroque et in curia serio ludunt, illi in litoribus harenae congestu simulacra domuum excitant, hi ut magnum aliquid agentes in lapidibus ac parietibus et tectis moliendis occupati tutelae corporum inventa in periculum verterunt. Ergo par pueris longiusque progressis, sed in alia maioraque error est.

puerilis add. Gertz
I'm indebted for knowledge of these parallels to Walter C. Summers, ed., Select Letters of Seneca (1910; rpt. London: Macmillan and Co., 1952), pp. 190-191, who cites Teles from p. 6 of Hense (perhaps another edition).


A Great Mischievous Baboon

Excerpts from John Aubrey, William Harvey, in Brief Lives:
He was wont to say that man was but a great mischievous baboon.


[H]e bid me goe to the fountain head, and read Aristotle, Cicero, Avicenna, and did call the neoteriques shitt-breeches.


From the meanest person, in some way, or other, the learnedst man may learn something. Pride has been one of the greatest stoppers of the advancement of learning.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


An A.D. Man or a B.C. Man?

John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977; rpt. New York: Pocket Books, 2000), p. 206:
"Your father was an Arabist, I recall?"

"Yes," said Guillam, his mind yet again on Molly, wondering whether dinner was still possible.

"And frightfully Almanach de Gotha. Now was he an A.D. man or a B.C. man?"

About to give a thoroughly obscene reply, Guillam realised just in time that Martindale was enquiring after nothing more harmful than his father's scholarly preferences.

"Oh B.C. B.C. all the way," he said. "He'd have gone back to Eden if he could have done."


In Need of a Laugh

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (May 8, 1785):
You do well to make your letters merry ones, though not very merry yourself. And that both for my sake and your own.—For your own sake, because it sometimes happens that by assuming an air of cheerfullness we become cheerfull in reality, and for mine, because I have always more need of a Laugh than a Cry, being somewhat disposed to melancholy by natural temperament as well as by other causes.


Full Speed Ahead?

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2001), p. 331 (tr. by Stephen at Don Colacho's Aphorisms):
Swimming against the current is not idiotic if the waters are racing toward a waterfall.

Nadar contra la corriente no es necedad si las aguas corren hacia cataratas.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), Mere Christianity, chapter 5:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


A Disinterested Spirit

William Cowper, letter to Joseph Hill (November 11, 1782):
You may not perhaps live to see your trees attain to the dignity of timber—I nevertheless approve of your planting, and the disinterested spirit that prompts you to it. Few people plant when they are young; a thousand other less profitable amusements divert their attention; and most people when the date of youth is once expired, think it too late to begin. I can tell you however for your comfort and encouragement that when a grove, which Major Cowper had planted, was of 18 years' growth, it was no small ornament to his grounds, and afforded as complete a shade as could be desired. Were I as old as your Mother, in whose longaevity I rejoice and the more because I consider it as in some sort a pledge and assurance of yours, & should come to the possession of land worth planting I would begin tomorrow, and even without previously insisting upon a bond from Providence that I should live 5 years longer.
Grant Wood, Tree Planting Group

Related posts:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Proposals for New Cabinet Offices

In F.E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964 (Baltimore: Penguin, 1964), there is an entry for the Revels Office. A Revels Office, with a Secretary of the Revelry, would be a worthwhile addition to the President's Cabinet. The United States of America could use a bit of revelry at this point in its history.

Another extinct position, which perhaps deserves to be resurrected, is Secretary of Lunatics, an office once held by William Cowper's correspondent Joseph Hill (1733-1811). Balancing our dearth of revelry is a corresponding rise in lunacy.


The Endangered Species List

Stanley Fish, "The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives," New York Times (October 11, 2010):
[O]n Oct. 1...George M. Philip, president of SUNY Albany, announced that the French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater programs were getting the axe.


Classics has been on the endangered species list for decades.


And it won't do, in the age of entrepreneurial academics, zero-based budgeting and "every tub on its own bottom," to ask computer science or biology or the medical school to fork over some of their funds so that the revenue-poor classics department can be sustained. That was the idea a while back, but today it won't fly.

Letter from Ed Turner to his son Ted Turner:
My dear son:

I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today.


I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek?


I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron from Podunk, Iowa—and saying, "Well, what do you think of Leonidas?" He will turn to you and say, "Leonidas who?" You will turn to him and say, "Why, Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the twelfth century." He will, in turn, say to you, "Well, who the hell was he?" You will say, "Oh, you don’t know anything about Leonidas?" and dismiss him. And not discuss anything else with him for the rest of the evening. He will feel that you are a stupid snob and a fop, and you will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa.

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon William Faulkner.


I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.


Devotedly, DAD


Democritus and Heraclitus

Matthew Prior, Democritus and Heraclitus:
Democritus, dear Droll, revisit Earth,
And with our Follies glut Thy heighten'd Mirth.
Sad Heraclitus, serious Wretch, return,
In louder Grief our greater Crimes to mourn.
Between You both I unconcern'd stand by:
Hurt, can I laugh? and Honest, need I cry?

Sotion, On Anger, Book 2 (fragment preserved by Stobaeus 3.20.53; vol. 3, p. 550 Hense):
Instead of anger, tears came upon Heraclitus, laughter upon Democritus, both wise men.

τοῖς δὲ σοφοῖς ἀντὶ ὀργῆς ῾Ηρακλείτῳ μὲν δάκρυα, Δημοκρίτῳ δὲ γέλως ἐπῄει.
Seneca, On Anger 2.10.5 (tr. John W. Basore):
Whenever Heraclitus went forth from his house and saw all around him so many men who were living a wretched life—no, rather, were dying a wretched death—he would weep, and all the joyous and happy people he met stirred his pity; he was gentle-hearted, but too weak, and was himself one of those who had need of pity. Democritus, on the other hand, never appeared in public without laughing; so little did the serious pursuits of men seem serious to him. Where in all this is there room for anger? Everything gives cause for either laughter or tears.

Heraclitus quotiens prodierat et tantum circa se male viventium, immo male pereuntium viderat, flebat, miserebatur omnium, qui sibi laeti felicesque occurrebant, miti animo, sed nimis inbecillo, et ipse inter deplorandos erat. Democritum contra aiunt numquam sine risu in publico fuisse; adeo nihil illi videbatur serium eorum quae serio gerebantur. Ubi istic irae locus est? Aut ridenda omnia aut flenda sunt.
Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 15.2-3 (tr. John W. Basore):
We ought, therefore, to bring ourselves to believe that all the vices of the crowd are, not hateful, but ridiculous, and to imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. For the latter, whenever he went forth into public, used to weep, the former to laugh; to the one all human doings seemed to be miseries, to the other follies. And so we ought to adopt a lighter view of things, and put up with them in an indulgent spirit; it is more humanne to laugh at life than to lament over it. [3] Add, too, that he deserves better of the human race also who laughs at it than he who bemoans it; for the one allows it some measure of good hope, while the other foolishly weeps over things that he despairs of seeing corrected. And, considering everything, he shows a greater mind who does not restrain his laughter than he who does not restrain his tears, since the laugher gives expression to the mildest of the emotions, and deems that there is nothing important, nothing serious, nor wretched either, in the whole outfit of life.

In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare. [3] Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat. Et universa contemplanti maioris animi est qui risum non tenet quam qui lacrimas, quando lenissimum adfectum animi movet et nihil magnum, nihil severum, ne miserum quidem ex tanto paratu putat.
Juvenal 10.28-30 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
So now do you approve the two philosophers? One of them would laugh whenever he stretched and stirred one foot from his threshold, while his opposite number would cry.

iamne igitur laudas quod de sapientibus alter
ridebat, quotiens a limine moverat unum
protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius auctor?
Lucian, Philosophies for Sale 13 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Remove him; bring on another—stay! those two, the one from Abdera who laughs and the one from Ephesus who cries, for I want to sell them together.

Come down among us, you two. I sell the two best philosophies; we offer the two that are sagest of all.

Zeus! What a contrast! One of them never stops laughing, and the other is apparently mourning a death, as he weeps incessantly. What is the matter, man? Why are you laughing?

Dost thou need to ask? Because to me it seemeth that all your affairs are laughable, and yourselves as well.

What, are you laughing at us all, and do you think nothing of our affairs?

Even so; for there is nothing serious in them, but everything is a hollow mockery, drift of atoms, infinitude.

No indeed, but you yourself are a hollow mockery in very truth and an infinite ass. Oh, what effrontery! Will you never stop laughing? (To the other.) But you, why do you cry? For I think it is much more becoming to talk with you.

Because I consider, O stranger, that the affairs of man are woeful and tearful, and there is naught in them that is not foredoomed; therefore I pity and grieve for men. And their present woes I do not consider great, but those to come in future will be wholly bitter; I speak of the great conflagrations and the collapse of the universe. It is for this that I grieve, and because nothing is fixed, but all things are in a manner stirred up into porridge, and joy and joylessness, wisdom and unwisdom, great and small are all but the same, circling about, up and down, and interchanging in the game of Eternity.
Anonymus, in Greek Anthology 9.148 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Weep for life, Heraclitus, much more than when thou didst live, for life is now more pitiable. Laugh now, Democritus, at life far more than before; the life of all is now more laughable. And I, too, looking at you, am puzzled as to how I am to weep with the one and laugh with the other.
Donato Bramante, Heraclitus and Democritus

Monday, October 11, 2010


How My Time Is Passed

Matthew Prior, from Epistle to Fleetwood Shephard, Esq.:
Let me just tell You how my Time is
Past in a Country-Life.——Imprimis,
As soon as Phoebus' Rays inspect us,
First, Sir, I read; and then I Breakfast;
So on, 'till foresaid God does set,
I sometimes Study, sometimes Eat.
Thus, of your Heroes and brave Boys,
With whom old Homer makes such Noise,
The greatest Actions I can find,
Are, that They did their Work, and din'd.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Advice on Reading

Diogenes Laertius 2.71 (Life of Aristippus, tr. R.D. Hicks):
When some one gave himself airs for his wide learning, this is what he said: "As those who eat most and take the most exercise are not better in health than those who restrict themselves to what they require, so too it is not wide reading but useful reading that tends to excellence."

σεμνυνομένου τινὸς ἐπὶ πολυμαθείᾳ ἔφη, "ὥσπερ οὐχ οἱ τὰ πλεῖστα ἐσθίοντες καὶ γυμναζόμενοι ὑγιαίνουσι μᾶλλον τῶν τὰ δέοντα προσφερομένων, οὕτως οὐδὲ οἱ πολλὰ ἀλλ' οἱ χρήσιμα ἀναγινώσκοντές εἰσι σπουδαῖοι."
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 2.2 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.

Illud autem vide, ne ista lectio auctorum multorum et omnis generis voluminum habeat aliquid vagum et instabile. Certis ingeniis immorari et innutriri oportet, si velis aliquid trahere quod in animo fideliter sedeat.
Id. 2.3-4:
And in reading of many books is distraction. Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read. "But," you reply, "I wish to dip first into one book and then into another." I tell you that it is the sign of an over-nice appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are manifold and varied, they cloy but do not nourish. So you should always read standard authors; and when you crave a change, fall back upon those whom you read before.

Distringit librorum multitudo; itaque cum legere non possis quantum habueris, satis est habere quantum legas. 'Sed modo' inquis 'hunc librum evolvere volo, modo illum.' Fastidientis stomachi est multa degustare; quae ubi varia sunt et diversa, inquinant non alunt. Probatos itaque semper lege, et si quando ad alios deverti libuerit, ad priores redi.
Pliny, Letters 7.9.15 (to Fuscus Salinator, tr. Betty Radice):
Remember to make a careful selection from representative authors in each subject, for the saying is that a man should be deeply, not widely, read.

Tu memineris sui cuiusque generis auctores diligenter eligere. Aiunt enim multum legendum esse, non multa.
John Aubrey, Thomas Hobbes, in Brief Lives:
He had very few bookes. I never sawe (nor Sir William Petty) above halfe a dozen about him in his chamber. Homer and Virgil were commonly on his table; sometimes Xenophon, or some probable historie, and Greek Testament, or so.

He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more then his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have knowne no more then other men.
Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet (February 17, 1853):
How learned one would be, if one knew well only five or six books!

Comme l'on serait savant si l'on connaissait bien seulment cinq à six livres!
John Frederick Peto, Old Companions

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Back to School

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (July 3, 1784):
But I have a thought that when my present labours of the pen are ended, I may go to school again, and refresh my spirits by a little intercourse with the Mantuan and the Sabine bard; and perhaps by a reperusal of some others, whose works we generally lay by at that period of life when we are best qualified to read them, when, the judgment and the taste being formed, their beauties are least likely to be overlooked.
You, learned readers, probably don't need reminding that the Mantuan bard is Vergil, the Sabine bard Horace.

William Fettes Douglas, David Laing


Old Crabbed Men

James Reeves, Old Crabbed Men:
This old crabbed man, with his wrinkled, fusty clothes
And his offensive smell—who would suppose
That in his day he invented a new rose
Exciting still the fastidious eye and nose ?

That old crabbed man, sloven of speech and dress,
Was once known among women—who would now guess?—
As a lover of the most perfect address,
Reducing the stubbornest beauty to nakedness.

This old crabbed man, pattering and absurd,
With a falsetto voice—which of you has heard
How in his youth he mastered the lyric word?
His unflawed verse spoke like a March bird.
Charles Spencelayh, Departed Spirits

Friday, October 08, 2010


Enchanting Nature

William Cowper, The Task, III, 721-740:
Nature, enchanting Nature, in whose form
And lineaments divine I trace a hand
That errs not, and find raptures still renewed,
Is free to all men—universal prize.

Strange that so fair a creature should yet want
Admirers, and be destined to divide
With meaner objects even the few she finds.
Stripped of her ornaments, her leaves, and flowers,
She loses all her influence. Cities then
Attract us, and neglected Nature pines,
Abandoned, as unworthy of our love.

But are not wholesome airs, though unperfumed
By roses, and clear suns, though scarcely felt,
And groves, if unharmonious, yet secure
From clamour, and whose very silence charms,
To be preferred to smoke, to the eclipse
That metropolitan volcanoes make,
Whose Stygian throats breathe darkness all day long,
And to the stir of Commerce, driving slow,
And thundering loud, with his ten thousand wheels?
Samuel Palmer, Scene from Lee, North Devon


I Must Begin Sanskrit Tomorrow

K.M. Elisabeth Murray, Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (1977; rpt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 136 (on Herbert Coleridge):
Coleridge died in 1861 at the early age of 31, from consumption brought on my a chill caused by sitting in damp clothes during a Philological Society lecture. When he was told that he would not recover he is reported to have exclaimed, 'I must begin Sanskrit tomorrow', and he died working on the Dictionary to the last, with quotation slips and word-lists spread on the quilt of his bed.

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