Monday, January 31, 2011


Staying Put

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (August 27, 1826):
In the midst of this, I got, at one time, a little out of my road, in, or near, a place called TANGLEY, I rode up to the garden-wicket of a cottage, and asked the woman, who had two children, and who seemed to be about thirty years old, which was the way to LUDGARSHALL, which I knew could not be more than about four miles off. She did not know! A very neat, smart, and pretty woman; but, she did not know the way to this rotten-borough which was, I was sure, only about four miles off! 'Well, my dear good woman,' said I, 'but you have been at LUDGERSHALL?' 'No.' 'Nor at ANDOVER?' (six miles another way) 'No.' 'Nor at MARLBOROUGH?' (nine miles another way) 'No.' 'Pray, were you born in this house?' 'Yes.' 'And, how far have you ever been from this house?' 'Oh! I have been up in the parish, and over to Chute.' That is to say, the utmost extent of her voyages had been about two and a half miles! Let no one laugh at her, and, above all others, let not me, who am convinced, that the facilities, which now exist of moving human bodies from place to place, are amongst the curses of the country, the destroyers of industry, of morals, and, of course, of happiness.
Related posts:

Sunday, January 30, 2011


To See Clearly

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (March 5):
Not only seeing what we look at—accuracy of observation—but truth in conclusion is a first obligation of a naturalist. To see clearly where others observe inattentively; to see familiar things sharply in all their details where others see only generalities or indistinct, mentally out-of-focus objects; to note correctly what is taking place; and then to interpret accurately all that is seen—this has seemed the goal, in a way the lifework, of certain writers in the field of nature, such as Gilbert White and Henry Thoreau. Thoreau went about noting just how the trees look when the wind ruffles their leaves, exactly how the hawk mounts in the air, precisely how the spring flowers spread their petals.

This exactness of personal observation in a world of hurried, unseeing glances is a thread that runs through the work of the best of the succeeding generations of nature writers. When John Muir started his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf in the wake of the Civil War, his botany professor at the University of Wisconsin offered him a copy of Virgil's poems to take with him. Muir declined. He said he wanted to see nature freshly and exactly and through his own eyes.
Related post: Seeing Things.


Arboricide Down Under

John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942), Golden Fugitive: To a Departing Smoker Parrot, in The Collected Verse: A Variorum Edition, ed. Margaret Roberts (Canberra: Australian Scholarly Editions Centre, 2003), pp. 978-980:
Moonlight and sunrise ran about your wing,
Lightning and sundown, every joy in yellow
Came for your raiment and your comforting,
    Oh most victorious fellow.

Beauty was yours, all beauty folly fed,
Quickening for love with every old misgiving,
Deep as the faint remembrance of the Dead
    Called half-way to the living.

Joy was upon you, that of old was planned
Over the gentle hill, the flowery hollow;
Lightly you gave enchantment to the land
    Where no dull man could follow.

Down the green honey you came out in gold,
You could not see the tempest of tomorrow
Nor the approach of man, tyrant of old,
    With espionage and sorrow.

Man with his axe, his old contentious plough,
Grieves in the dust, a grey ungracious fellow:
He who has warred with Heaven, can he allow
    Faint emperors in yellow?

NOTE. The wholesale destruction of timber in the Mallee, which has brought about terrific dust-storms now almost threatening to drive the settlers off the land, has also been the cause of the departure of many birds.
Judith Wright (1915-2000), A Document, in Collected Poems 1942-1970 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1971), p. 244 (non vidi):
"Sign there." I signed, but still uneasily.
I sold the coachwood forest in my name.
Both had been given me; but all the same
remember that I signed uneasily.

Ceratopetalum, Scented Sandlewood:
a tree attaining seventy feet in height.
Those pale-red calyces like sunset light
burned in my mind. A flesh-pink pliant wood

used in coachbuilding. Difficult of access
(those slopes were steep). But it was World War Two.
Their wood went into bomber-planes. They grew
hundreds of years to meet those hurried axes.

Under our socio-legal dispensation
both name and woodland had been given me.
I was much younger then than any tree
matured for timber. But to help the nation

I signed the document. The stand was pure
(eight hundred trees perhaps). Uneasily
(the bark smells sweetly when you wound the tree)
I set upon this land my signature.
Michael Dransfield (1948-1973), Hole in the Forest, in Michael Dransfield: A Retrospective, ed. John Kinsella (University of Queensland Press, 2002), p. 43:
when the tree is felled
the bark is made into a boat
the sweetest wood into a lute
the branches roof a house

the hole
where the tree grew
soon greens with fern
the hole in the forest
remains the colour of the sky

and people have
no way of
hiding the tree’s huge death
Thanks to David Kelly for introducing me to the poem by Judith Wright.


Saturday, January 29, 2011


He Supplies All My Needs

Bernd Heinrich, Summer World: A Season of Bounty (New York: Ecco, 2009), p. 181:
But if Welwitschia could speak it would say, "God has been kind and thoughtful to me above all others. He has given me two leaves, no more, no less, just exactly the right number that I need, and he has made them to last me a lifetime, and he has put me here in this environment that is so hospitable for me that I don't need to move from the spot and can exist here. He supplies all my needs so that I can live without worries for centuries. The temperature—extreme summer to anything else—is perfect. I never overheat, and food is provided from the ground and air. Water and carbon dioxide come to me in the foggy air at night. I'm in paradise. He has foreseen every little thing to make my life complete. Therefore, when he created the world, he must have had me, specifically, in mind."



Theognis 877-878 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
Play and be young, my heart; there'll be other men soon, but I shall be dead and become dark earth.

Ἥβα μοι, φίλε θυμέ· τάχ´ αὖ τινες ἄλλοι ἔσονται
  ἄνδρες, ἐγὼ δὲ θανὼν γαῖα μέλαιν´ ἔσομαι.


An Immitigable Highbrow

Joseph Epstein, Sam Lipman at The NEA, in Life Sentences: Literary Essays (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997), pp. 334-347 (at 334):
Midway in his more than four-year battle with leukemia, while talking about quack cures for cancer, I mentioned to Sam that I had somewhere read that Steve McQueen, in the last months of his battle with cancer, had gone to Mexico in search of a cure not allowed in the United States. "Who," asked Sam, after a pause, "is Steve McQueen?" Sam was then fifty-eight and had spent all his life in America; and I thought to myself, boy, Sam really knew how to live. How Sam lived was as an immitigable highbrow. Not long after I first met Sam, one evening when we were walking in Washington, I asked him if he watched many movies or much television. "I consider the movies and television," he said, without breaking stride, "dogshit."
John Derbyshire, "Unpleasant Truths," National Review (August 2, 2002):
Pop culture is filth. It is now completely degenerate. Why do you never hear anyone humming a current pop song any more? Because none of them is hummable, or even worth bothering to remember. What is the main topic on TV sitcoms and "dramedies"? You know what. Why do you stand in the aisle in Blockbuster muttering to yourself: "There isn't a single damn movie in here I want to watch"? Because Hollywood produces nothing but crap, crap, crap.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Vive Bidentis Amans

Juvenal 3.223-231 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
If you can tear yourself away from the races, an excellent house at Sora or Fabrateria or Frusino can be bought outright for the annual rent you now pay for your tenement. Here you'll have a little garden, and a well so shallow it doesn't need a rope, for easy water to sprinkle on your tender plants. Live in love with your hoe as the overseer of your vegetable garden, which will enable you to offer a banquet to a hundred Pythagoreans. It's something, wherever you are, however remote, to make yourself the master of a single lizard.

si potes avelli circensibus, optima Sorae
aut Fabrateriae domus aut Frusinone paratur
quanti nunc tenebras unum conducis in annum.
hortulus hic puteusque brevis nec reste movendus
in tenuis plantas facili diffunditur haustu.
vive bidentis amans et culti vilicus horti
unde epulum possis centum dare Pythagoreis.
est aliquid, quocumque loco, quocumque recessu,
unius sese dominum fecisse lacertae.
The same, tr. John Dryden:
But, could you be content to bid adieu
To the dear playhouse, and the players too,
Sweet country-seats are purchased everywhere,
With lands and gardens, at less price than here
You hire a darksome dog-hole by the year.
A small convenience decently prepared,
A shallow well, that rises in your yard,
That spreads his easy crystal streams around,
And waters all the pretty spot of ground.
There, love the fork, thy garden cultivate,
And give thy frugal friends a Pythagorean treat;
'Tis somewhat to be lord of some small ground,
In which a lizard may, at least, turn round.
Vive bidentis amans (live in love with your two-pronged hoe) — a good motto for a farmer or gardener, despite Edwin Markham's depressing poem The Man with the Hoe.

On the bidens, see K.D. White, Agricultural Implements of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967; rpt. 2010), pp. 47-52. I have a two-pronged hoe, like those pictured in White's book. There's nothing better for loosening the soil and weeding the garden.

Georges Seurat, Paysan avec Houe
Related posts:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


The Dark Ages

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Malmsbury, September 11, 1826):
It was once a most magnificent building; and there is now a door-way, which is the most beautiful thing I ever saw, and which was, nevertheless, built in SAXON times, in 'the dark ages,' and was built by men who were not begotten by Pitt nor by Jubilee George. What fools, as well as ungrateful creatures, we have been and are! There is a broken arch, standing off from the sound part of the building, at which one cannot look up without feeling shame at the thought of ever having abused the men who made it. No one need tell any man of sense; he feels our inferiority to our fathers, upon merely beholding the remains of their efforts to ornament their country and elevate the minds of the people. We talk of our skill and learning, indeed! How do we know how skilful, how learned they were? If, in all that they have left us, we see that they surpassed us, why are we to conclude that they did not surpass us in all other things worthy of admiration?


There is a market-cross in this town, the sight of which is worth a journey of hundreds of miles. TIME, with his scythe, and 'enlightened Protestant piety,' with its pick-axes and crow-bars; these united have done much to efface the beauties of this monument of ancient skill and taste, and proof of ancient wealth; but in spite of all their destructive efforts this cross still remains a most beautiful thing, though possibly, and even probably, nearly, or quite, a thousand years old. There is a market-cross lately erected at DEVIZES, and intended to imitate the ancient ones. Compare that with this, and then you have, pretty fairly, a view of the difference between US and our FOREFATHERS of the 'dark ages.'
Related posts:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011



Thomas Mann, Felix Krull (1911, tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter):
It was a narrow room, with a rather high ceiling, and crammed from top to bottom with goodies. There were rows and rows of hams, sausages of all shapes and colours—white, yellow, red, and black; fat and lean and round and long—lines of tins and conserves, cocoas and teas, bright translucent glasses of honey, marmalade, and jam; bottles plump and bottles slender, filled with liqueurs and punch—all these things crowded the shelves from floor to ceiling. Then there were glass showcases where smoked mackerel, lampreys, flounders, and eels were displayed on platters to tempt the appetite. There were dishes of Italian salad, lobsters spreading their claws on blocks of ice, sprats pressed flat and gleaming goldenly from opened boxes; choice fruits—garden strawberries and grapes beautiful as though they came from the Promised Land; tiers of sardine tins and those fascinating little white earthenware jars of caviar and foie gras. Plump chickens dangled their necks from the top shelf, and there were trays of cooked meats, ham, tongue, beef, and veal, smoked salmon and breast of goose, with the slender slicing-knife lying ready to hand. There were all sorts of cheese under glass bells, brick-red, milk-white, and marbled, also the creamy ones that ooze in a golden wave out of their silver foil. Artichokes, bundles of asparagus, truffles, little liver sausages in silver paper—all these things lay heaped in rich abundance; while on other tables stood open tin boxes full of fine biscuits, spice cakes piled in criss-cross layers, and glass urns full of dessert bonbons and crystallized fruits.
Related post: What a Food We Have in Cheeses.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Economics Lesson

Luke 19:26:
For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι παντὶ τῷ ἔχοντι δοθήσεται, ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται.
Parallels at Matthew 13:12, 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18; Gospel of Thomas 41. How this might happen in practice we see from Juvenal 3.203-220 (tr. G.G. Ramsay). Two dwellings have burned down, that of the poor man Codrus, and that of the rich man Asturicus:
Codrus possessed a bed too small for the dwarf Procula, a sideboard adorned by six pipkins, with a small drinking cup, and a recumbent Chiron below, and an old chest containing Greek books whose divine lays were being gnawed by unlettered mice. Poor Codrus had nothing, it is true: but he lost that nothing, which was his all; and the last straw in his heap of misery is this, that though he is destitute and begging for a bite, no one will help him with a meal, no one offer him lodging or shelter.

But if the grand house of Asturicus be destroyed, the matrons go dishevelled, your great men put on mourning, the praetor adjourns his court: then indeed do we deplore the calamities of the city, and bewail its fires! Before the house has ceased to burn, up comes one with a gift of marble or of building materials, another offers nude and glistening statues, a third some notable work of Euphranor or Polyclitus, or bronzes that had been the glory of old Asian shrines. Others will offer books and bookcases, or a bust of Minerva, or a hundredweight of silver-plate.

lectus erat Cordo Procula minor, urceoli sex
ornamentum abaci, nec non et parvulus infra
cantharus et recubans sub eodem marmore Chiron,
iamque vetus Graecos servabat cista libellos
et divina opici rodebant carmina mures.
nil habuit Cordus, quis enim negat? et tamen illud
perdidit infelix totum nihil. ultimus autem
aerumnae cumulus, quod nudum et frusta rogantem
nemo cibo, nemo hospitio tectoque iuvabit.

si magna Asturici cecidit domus, horrida mater,
pullati proceres, differt vadimonia praetor.
tum gemimus casus urbis, tunc odimus ignem.
ardet adhuc, et iam accurrit qui marmora donet,
conferat inpensas; hic nuda et candida signa,
hic aliquid praeclarum Euphranoris et Polycliti,
haec Asianorum vetera ornamenta deorum,
hic libros dabit et forulos mediamque Minervam,
hic modium argenti.
See also Martial 5.81 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
You will always be poor, if you are poor, Aemilianus. Wealth is given to-day to none save the rich.

semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane.
  dantur opes nulli nunc nisi divitibus.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Study Every Word, My Child

An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, tr. Thomas Kinsella (Portlaoise: Dolmen Press, 1981; rpt. 1985), pp. 18 (Gaelic) and 19 (English):
Every morning, my young lad,
pray guidance from the Trinity.
  Wash well, and take your book
  in clean hands without a mark.

Study each line clearly, wisely,
get things often off by heart
  —a short lesson, a sharp mind.
  Study every word, my child.

Don't stare around at everyone.
Attend to your assigned work.
  Root it deeply in your head.
  Stay at it, though the fight is hard.

On ample learning's mighty ocean
be, my boy, a good sailor.
  Be a wise sage if you can
  answering out in front of all.

Take a copious draught each day
from wisdom's noble spring.
  It won't taste sour in your mouth.
  Knowledge is a hold on bliss.
The Gaelic, although it is unfortunately a mystery to me:
Ar maidin, a mhacaoimh óig,
iarr teagasc ar an dTríonóid,
  ionnail go cáidh, gabh go glan
  gan sal id láimh do leabhar.

Féach gach líne go glinn glic,
déan meabhraghadh go minic;
  ceacht bheag is meabhair ghéar ghlan;
  a leanaibh, féagh gach focal.

Bheith ag féachain cháich ná cleacht,
tabhairt t'aire dot éincheacht;
  taisigh í ó chúl do chinn,
  bí léi, gé cruaidh an choimhling.

Ar mhuir mhóir an léighinn láin
bí id loingseóir mhaith, a mhacáimh;
  bí, madh áil, it fháidh eagna
  i ndáil cháigh do choimhfhreagra.

Ibhidh gach laoi láindigh dhi,
tobar na heagna uaisle;
  ní badh searbh id bheol a blas;
  badh sealbh aoibhneasa an t-eolas.
Ozias Leduc, The Young Student

Sunday, January 23, 2011


A Child Prodigy

R.C. Lehmann (1856-1929), To the Master of Trinity: A Congratulatory Ode on the Birth of his Son (1889), from Anni Fugaces: A Book of Verse with Cambridge Interludes (London: John Lane, 1901), pp. 94-99:
Dr. Butler, may I venture without seeming too officious
To congratulate you warmly on a birthday so auspicious?
The event is surely worthy that I too should raise my voice at it,
And proclaim as best I may that like all others I rejoice at it.
I am late—I own it humbly—but from censure crave immunity;
I should have wished you joy before, but lacked the opportunity.
And you too, fair young mistress of our ancient Lodge at Trinity,*
Though to the usual natal ode my rhymes have small affinity,
Though good wishes from an unknown friend may savour of temerity,
Yet accept both them and my excuse for wishing them—sincerity.

And the son! with two such parents this small member of our college
Must be, unlike the ruck of us, a paragon of knowledge;
Armed cap-à-pie with wisdom like the goddess in the stories;
A human sort of letters which we term humaniores;
A kind of tiny scholiast who'll startle his relations
With his luminous suggestions and his subtle emendations;
A lexicon in arms, with all the syntax grafted in on him;
A Gradus ad Parnassum, full of epithet and synonym;
A Corpus Poetarum, such as classics love to edit, he
Will furnish, let me hope, a bright example of heredity.
Though no doubt he'll be a stoic or a modern Pocahontas
(This allusion is τι βάρβαρον) when cutting his ὀδόντας;
Yet if he when his teething time approaches should to cry elect,
He will cry, I am persuaded, in the purest Attic dialect.
If a keen desire for nourishment his baby face should mottle,
He will think "nunc est bibendum"—not, like others, "pass the bottle."

Before he doffs his long-clothes, and while scarcely fit to wean, he
Will be game to tackle Schliemann on the treasures of Mycenae;
And although his conversation must be chiefly esoteric,
Yet I warrant, if the truth were known, he often talks Homeric;
Then, whilst others merely babble, he will whet his infant senses
On a new and striking theory of Greek and Latin tenses.
He'll eschew his india-rubber ring, vote picture-books immoral,
And prefer an hour with Tacitus to rattle or to coral.
He will subjugate hexameters and conquer elegiacs,
As easily as Rajah Brooke made mincemeat of the Dyaks;
And in struggles with alcaics and iambics, and the rest of it,
I will lay a thousand drachmae Master Butler gets the best of it.
And whatever Dr. Jebb may think, he'll look a small potato
Should he dare to take this infant on in Aeschylus or Plato.
Then (forgive me if I mention but a few amongst his many tricks)
He will call his father "genitor," his mother "alma genetrix,"
At an age when other babies stutter "Pa" or "Ma" or "Gra'ma";
He will solve—oh, joy!—the mystery and sense of the digamma;
He'll discover by an instinct, though the point is somewhat knotty,
That in certain cases πρός is used, in other cases ποτί.
He will know the proper case for every little preposition,
Will correctly state a certainty or hint at a condition.

Latin prose will be a game to him; at two he'll take a prize in it,
With no end of Ciceronian turns and lots of quippe qui-s in it.
With the ablatives so absolute they awe you into silence,
And such indirect narrations that they wind away a mile hence;
With the sentences so polished that they shine like housemaid's faces,
All the words both big and little fixed like features in their places;
With the moods all strictly accurate, the tenses in their sequences,
And a taste so truly classical it shudders at infrequencies;
With some cunning bits of tam-s and quam-s, and all the little wily sets
Of donec-s and of quamvis-es, of dum-s and quin-s and scilicet-s.
All the imperfections rubbed away, the roughness nicely levelled off,
Like a sheet of burnished copper with the edges neatly bevelled off.
In short, go search all Europe through, you'll find that in Latinity
Not a soul can hold a candle to our Master's son in Trinity.

Then he'll write Greek plays by dozens—not such models of insipid ease
(Robert Browning, grant me pardon) as the dramas of Euripides;
But lines that roll like thunder, Aeschylean and Titanic,
With a saving touch of Sophocles, a dash Aristophanic.
Not an accent will be wanting, no false quantity will kill a line;
There'll be no superfluous particles popped in like γε to fill a line.
Then if asked to choose a story-book this prodigy will nod at us,
And demand the Polyhymnia or the Clio of Herodotus.
At three he'll take a tripos class in Aryan mythology,
And at four confute all Germany in Roman archaeology;
And if his Teuton rivals print huge quartos to suppress him, oh!
I'll back this cyclopaedic child, this English duodecimo.
And, bless me! how his cheeks will glow with infantine elation,
Should he catch his parents tripping in a classical quotation!
He'll be, in fact, before he's done with pap-boat and with ladle,
The critic's last variety—the critic in the cradle.

So a health to you, good Master; may the day that brought this boy to you
Be through the years a constant source of happiness and joy to you.
May he have his father's eloquence, be charming as his mother,
And when he grows to wield a bat play cricket like his brother.
I looks towards you, Dr. B., and Mrs. Butler too, sir;
The infant prodigy as well,—let's drink it in a "brew," sir.
Take of champagne a magnum, drop some Borage (that's the stuff) in it,
With a dash of Cognac, lots of ice and seltzer, quantum suff., in it;
And we'll drain this simple mixture ("simple mixture" sounds Hibernian),
And in honour of the classic babe we'll fancy it's Falernian.

• Mrs. Butler (then Miss Agneta Ramsay) was Senior Classic in 1887. Dr. Butler, the Master of Trinity, was Senior Classic in 1855.
Dr. Butler was Henry Montagu Butler (1833-1918). He married Agnata (not Agneta) Frances Ramsay (1867-1931), and their first son was James Ramsay Montagu Butler (1889-1975). The child's supposed choice of Herodotus' Polyhymnia (Book 7) as a story book perhaps recalls Mrs. Butler's school edition of that book (London: Macmillan, 1891).

Saturday, January 22, 2011



Excerpts from Terence, Phormio (tr. John Barsby):

How unfair life is, when the have-nots are expected to contribute all the time to the haves!

quam inique comparatum est, ii qui minus habent
ut semper aliquid addant ditioribus!
The moral is that, when people are at their most prosperous, they should be pondering most carefully how they're going to endure adversity—dangers, losses, exile.

quam ob rem omnis, quom secundae res sunt maxume, tum maxume
meditari secum oportet, quo pacto advorsam aerumnam ferant,
pericla, damna, exsilia.
Listen to that! It's all the same. They're all alike: know one, you know them all.

ecce autem similia omnia! omnes congruont:
unum cum noris omnis noris.
There are as many opinions as there are people; everyone has his own way of looking at things.

quot homines tot sententiae, suos cuique mos.
I'm tired of hearing the same thing a thousand times.

at enim taedet audire eadem miliens.
You're singing the same old song.

cantilenam eandem canis.
Old age is an illness in itself.

senectus ipsast morbus.


The Sect of Buyers and Sellers

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (July 26, 1823):
How they profit, or, rather, the degree in which they profit, at the expense of those who own and those who till the land, may be guessed at if we look at their immense worth, and if we, at the same time reflect, that they never work. Here is a sect of non-labourers. One would think, that their religion bound them under a curse, not to work. Some part of the people of all other sects work; sweat at work; do something that is useful to other people; but here is a sect of buyers and sellers. They make nothing; they cause nothing to come; they breed as well as other sects; but they make none of the raiment or houses, and cause none of the food to come. In order to justify some measure for paring the nails of this grasping sect, it is enough to say of them, which we may with perfect truth, that if all the other sects were to act like them, the community must perish. This is quite enough to say of this sect, of the monstrous privileges of whom we shall, I hope, one of these days, see an end. If I had the dealing with them, I would soon teach them to use the spade and the plough, and the musket too, when necessary.
Isaak Levitan, Evening in the Field


Optimists and Pessimists

Raymond B. Cowles (1896-1971), Desert Journal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 249:
[S]ince history began most men have divided themselves into two camps—the optimists and the pessimists. The optimists have always believed in a never-ending progress toward the day when man will have mastered "the arts of life" completely; the pessimists have always harked back to a "Golden Age" when life was better, when the streams ran clean and pure, the world was clothed in verdure, gardens yielded luxuriant crops, and herds waxed fat on the hillsides.

Today, the optimistic Prometheans hold center-stage, their faith and admiration turned to the new tribal-culture heroes—the big-business tycoon, the inventor, the scientist, the technologist, the manufacturer. The optimists accept the implicit promises of their new gods to provide not only magical new gadgets, but also limitless new substitutes for food and for diminishing resources. And they seem to imagine that all succeeding generations will enjoy still more glorious products of Promethean invention. The faith of these optimists, however, is a fantasy—a delusion perpetuated by seeing only the promise of science and refusing to recognize its warnings, among them the admonition that since men themselves are biological entities ultimately dependent on a biological environment for their own ultimate salvation, they must exist in harmony with it and live in equity with it.


Friday, January 21, 2011


Wainy, Weedy, Weeky

Winston Churchill, My Early Life (London: Butterworth, 1930; rpt. New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp. 16-17:
I continued in this unpretentious situation for nearly a year. However, by being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell—a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great—was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing—namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. Mr. Somervell had a system of his own. He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue, and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses! Each had its colour and its bracket. It was a kind of drill. We did it almost daily. As I remained in the Third Fourth (β) three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence—which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favor of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English, I would whip them hard for that.
Id., pp. 20-21:
Meanwhile I found an admirable method of learning my Latin translations. I was always very slow at using a dictionary: it was just like using a telephone directory. It is easy to open it more or less at the right letter, but then you have to turn backwards and forwards and peer up and down the columns and very often find yourself three or four pages the wrong side of the word you want. In short I found it most laborious, while to other boys it seemed no trouble. But now I formed an alliance with a boy in the Sixth Form. He was very clever and could read Latin as easily as English. Caesar, Ovid, Virgil, Horace, and even Martial’s epigrams were all the same to him. My daily task was perhaps ten or fifteen lines. This would ordinarily have taken me an hour or an hour and a half to decipher, and then it would probably have been wrong. But my friend could in five minutes construe it for me word by word, and once I had seen it exposed, I remembered it firmly. My Sixth Form friend for his part was almost as much troubled by the English essays he had to write for the Headmaster as I was by these Latin crossword puzzles. We agreed together that he should tell me my Latin translations and that I should do his essays. The arrangement worked admirably.
Id., pp. 22-23:
If the reader has ever learned any Latin prose, he will know that at quite an early stage one comes across the Ablative Absolute with its apparently somewhat despised alternative 'Quum with the pluperfect subjunctive.' I always preferred 'Quum.' True he was a little longer to write, thus lacking the much admired terseness and pith of the Latin language. On the other hand he avoided a number of pitfalls. I was often uncertain whether the ablative absolute should end in 'e' or 'i' or 'o' or 'is' or 'ibus,' to the correct selection of which great importance was attached. Dr. Welldon seemed to be physically pained by a mistake being made in any of these letters. I remember that later on Mr. Asquith used to have just the same sort of look on his face when I sometimes adorned a Cabinet discussion by bringing out one of my few but faithful Latin quotations. It was more than annoyance, it was a pang. Moreover Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested. So these evening quarters of an hour with Dr. Welldon added considerably to the anxieties of my life. I was much relieved when after nearly a whole term of patient endeavor he desisted from his well-meant but unavailing efforts.

I will here make some general observations about Latin which probably have their application to Greek as well. In a sensible language like English important words are connected and related to one another by other little words. The Romans in that stern antiquity considered such a method weak and unworthy. Nothing would satisfy them but that the structure of every word should be reacted on by its neighbors in accordance with elaborate rules to meet the different conditions in which it might be used. There is no doubt that this method both sounds and looks more impressive than our own. The sentence fits together like a piece of polished machinery. Every phrase can be tensely charged with meaning. It must have been very laborious, even if you were brought up to it, but no doubt it gave the Romans, and the Greeks too, a fine and easy way of establishing their posthumous fame. They were the first comers in the fields of thought and literature. When they arrived at fairly obvious reflections upon life and love, upon war, fate or manners, they coined them into the slogans or epigrams for which their language was so well adapted, and thus preserved the patent rights for all time. Hence their reputation. Nobody ever told me this at school. I have thought it all out in later life.

But even as a schoolboy I questioned the aptness of the classics for the prime structure of our education. So they told me how Mr. Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right; and that it would be a great pleasure to me in after life. When I seemed incredulous,they added that classics would be a help in writing or speaking English. They then pointed out the number of our modern words which are derived from the Latin or Greek. Apparently one could use these words much better, if one knew the exact source from which they had sprung. I was fain to admit a practical value. But now even this has been swept away. The foreigners and the Scotch have joined together to introduce a pronunciation of Latin which divorces it finally from the English tongue. They tell us to pronounce 'audience' 'owdience'; and 'civil' 'keyweel.' They have distorted one of my most serviceable and impressive quotations into the ridiculous booby 'Wainy, Weedy, Weeky.' Punishment should be reserved for those who have spread this evil.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The Saviours

A.P. Herbert (1890-1971), The Saviours:
Sir Thingummy Jig was breakfasting on bacon and ham and eggs,
And kidney and toast and mushrooms, and a couple of partridge legs,
And all the time in the Sunday Chime, as a baronet ought to do,
He studied the state of the Universe and saw that it was blue.

“Death!” remarked Sir Thingummy Jig. “Bring me a pen and ink!
Bring me a fair white writing-pad, and something strong to drink,
And wrap a towel about my head and don't let anyone in,
For I must write to The Times tonight and save the world from sin.”

But Admiral Bunkum sits in his bed and quietly chews a roll
And sausage and mash, and marmalade, the simple, manly soul!
He lights his pipe and he reads the tripe Sir Thingummy wrote, and then
With a nautical cry of "Hell!" or "Hi!" he snatches a fountain-pen.

And far away in a leather chair the Duke of Doodledoo
Nibbles a rusk with a single tusk and scans the papers through,
And things look worse with the Universe, and the Admiral gives him pain,
So he rings for a young stenographer and saves the world again.

Civilisation seems to me to be just a trifle queer;
Rack and ruin are all around, and look at the price of beer!
Black with fate are the clouds to date, but if ever the skies are blue,
Oh, don't forget 'twas Thingummy Jig that pulled the nation through;
Not to speak of the Admiral and the Duke of Doodledoo!
This poem was first published in Punch (1922). I pieced it together from "snippet view" on Google Books, but I think it's accurate.


Res Pro Rei Defectu

Susanna Morton Braund, ed., Juvenal, Satires, Book I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 130 (on Juvenal 2.38-39):
Laronia says 'morals' when she means 'lack of morals' or 'corrupt morality'; cf. Cic. Cael. 6 quod obiectum est de pudicitia, 'as to the reproaches cast on his [un]chastity'; Planc. 62 artes in iis reprehenduntur, 'the [absence of] skill is criticised in them'; Luc. 1.429 pollutus foedere, 'polluted by the [broken] treaty'; Friedländer has many more examples.
To be pedantic, it's not Friedländer (1824-1909) himself, but a long note provided to Friedländer by Müller, i.e. Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Müller (1830-1903). See Ludwig Friedlaender, ed., D. Junii Juvenalis Saturarum Libri V. Mit Erklärenden Anmerkungen (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1895), vol. I, p. 168:
moribus 'dem jetzigen Sittenverfall' 'gehört zu dem grossen Capitel von 'res pro rei defectu'. So habe ich Cic. Planc. 25, 62 artes in iis reprehenduntur (adn. p. 227, 11) vertheidigt gegen die Aenderung requiruntur. Sil. XI 541 alimenta fatigant. Corte Lucan. I 429 pollutus foedere. CIL. IX 1524 de cuius castitate nunquam questus est. Val. Fl. I 244 non mihi pietas culpanda, und so ganz besonders häufig bei 'beschuldigen, anklagen, sich beklagen'. Plaut. Cist. II 1, 19 ne iusiurandum nostrum quisquam culpitet. Cic. Cael. 7, 15 maledicta pudicitiae. 3, 6 quod objectum est de pudicitia ib. 5, 11 extr. Att. I 5, 3 De litterarum missione accusor (nicht intermissione). Lucan. VIII 529 vires fateri seine Schwäche bekennen, nachgeahmt von Dracont. 2, 29 (Duhn) Pallas fugiet viresque fatetur (von Bücheler mit Unrecht in fatiscet geändert, wie man bei Silius alimenta fatiscunt schreiben wollte). Auch Caes. В. G. V 28, 5 re frumentaria premi lässt sich hierher rechnen. Hist. Aug. Opil. Macr. 12, 11 delatores si non probarent capite affecit, was an crimen maiestatis, reus maiestatis etc. erinnert. Plaut. Cas. 313 Quid tu me cara libertate territas? Cic. Att. IV 3, 3 de cuius constantia — litterae. Plaut. Curc. 215 vapulando et somno pereo (ὕπνῳ καὶ καμάτῳ). Apulei. Met. I 26 extr. somno non cibo gravatus. Liv. XXVII 47, 9 somno fessus u. a., was angeblich Schlafsucht heisst. Vgl. Stallbaum Plat. Leg. 805 a. Hertlein Xenoph. Cyrop. VIII 1,43.' Müller.
This phenomenon (res pro rei defectu = a thing for the lack of a thing) is a variety of auto-antonym (a word that can mean the opposite of itself), other examples of which can be found in the following posts:


Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Hedonist, Hedonistic, Hedonism

The Greek word for pleasure is ἡδονή (hēdonḗ), whence English hedonist (one who holds that pleasure is the chief good), hedonistic (pleasure-seeking), and hedonism (pursuit of or devotion to pleasure). The Latin equivalent of ἡδονή is voluptas, whence English voluptuary (a synonym of hedonist).

The earliest examples of hedonist and hedonism in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) are both dated 1856, and the earliest example of hedonistic is dated 1866.

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1856), attributed the coinage of English hedonist to "Professor Wilson," i.e. John Wilson (1785-1854), Professor at the University of Edinburgh, who wrote under the pseudonym Christopher North. De Quincey said that Professor Wilson applied the word "in playful reproach to myself and others." But the word doesn't seem to occur in any of Wilson's writings.

It is possible to find examples of these three words which antedate the OED's earliest examples.

Hedonist occurs in George Ensor, The Independent Man: or, An Essay on the Formation and Development of those Priciples and Faculties of the Human Mind which Constitute Moral and Intellectual Excellence, Vol. I (London: R. Taylor and Co., 1806), p. 302:
He [Epicurus] said, Pleasure was the supreme good: thence they attributed to him the lies of Timocritus, a deserter from his school; thence they confounded his philosophy with that of Aristippus, the Hedonist.
Hedonistic occurs in Jeremy Bentham, Chestomathia: Being a Collection of Papers Explanatory of the Design of an Institution, Proposed to be Set on Foot, under the Name of the Chrestomathic Day School (London: Payne and Foss, 1816), p. 198:
Proceeding from the consideration of the nature of the end, the first division might be into Odynothetic and Hedonosceuastic, or say Hedonistic—pain-repelling and pleasure-producing.
Hedonism occurs in Thomas Campbell, Letters to the Students of Glasgow on the Epochs of Literature, Letter I (London: Henry Colburn, 1827), p. 48:
Plato interwove his theism with dreams; and Aristippus, adhering, indeed, to the cheerfulness of Socrates, and to his preference of practical to speculative philosophy, nevertheless got up his pleasant system of Hedonism without consulting his Athenian master.
Hedonic, as adjective and noun, was in use in the seventeenth century (adjective 1656, noun 1678, according to the OED).



Lots of Little Regulations

A.P. Herbert (1890-1971), Let's Stop Somebody from Doing Something:
People seem to think they've a right to eat and drink,
Talk and walk and respirate and rink,
Bicycle and bathe and such.
So let's have lots of little regulations,
Let's make laws and jobs for our relations,
There's too much kissing at the railway stations—
Let's find out what everyone is doing,
And then stop everyone from doing it.
To rink is "To prowl, range; to move restlessly about or around" (Oxford English Dictionary).

If you think Herbert was exaggerating, see Paul Stokes, "Kissing banned at railway station," Telegraph (February 16, 2009):
Couples have been banned from kissing at Warrington Bank Quay Station because it holds up commuters.

The [ban] means an end to passionate platform scenes like the one between Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the 1945 film Brief Encounter.

No-kissing signs have appeared in the taxi rank at Warrington Bank Quay Station forcing lovers to use designated areas only.

The signs were erected after concerns that passionate embraces were causing delays for commuters with more passengers being attracted there.

Warrington Bank Quay is believed to be the first in the country to put up such signs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Adverbs in Lieu of Argument

A.E. Housman, "Juvenal and Two of His Editors," Journal of Philology 34 (1918) 40-46 (at 41, first quoting S.G. Owen):
'[T]his is clearly one of the cases in which the vocabulary of later Latin appears first or nearly first in Juvenal. The word is doubtless colloquial.'

'Clearly,' for revelation makes all clear. 'Doubtless,' for revelation dispels all doubt. But if one is a simple ζῷον λογιστικόν, not entitled to use adverbs in lieu of argument, one cannot talk in that style.
A ζῷον λογιστικόν is a rational animal, which Owen was not, at least in Housman's opinion. Id. (at 40):
The causes which render me unintelligible to Mr Owen and Mr Owen unintelligible to me are probably many and various, but perhaps it is not difficult to distinguish and isolate one. I am accustomed to reach conclusions by reasoning and to commend them by argument. How Mr Owen reaches conclusions I have no means of knowing except by observing how he commends them; and I observe that argument is not his favourite method. His favourite method is simple affirmation, which he applies to the settlement of disputed questions with the utmost freedom and confidence. For this confidence I see so little ground that I infer it has some ground which I cannot see; and the less evidence of reason I find in Mr Owen's writing the more am I forced to the hypothesis that he has access to a higher and purer source of illumination.
I can't find out much about the unfortunate Sidney George Owen (1858-1940), who was contemporary with Housman (1859-1936). He was an undergraduate at Balliol, a lecturer at Manchester, and finally a tutor at Christ Church. His nephew Guy Boas wrote some appreciations of him, e.g. in A Teacher's Story (London: Macmillan, 1963), but these are unavailable to me. Both Owen and Housman were connoisseurs of food and wine.

Monday, January 17, 2011


A Halcyon Age

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter III:
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.
Herman Melville, The Age of the Antonines:
While faith forecasts millennial years
  Spite Europe's embattled lines,
Back to the Past one glance be cast—
  The Age of the Antonines!
O summit of fate, O zenith of time
When a pagan gentleman reigned,
And the olive was nailed to the inn of the world
Nor the peace of the just was feigned.
  A halcyon Age, afar it shines,
  Solstice of Man and the Antonines.

Hymns to the nations' friendly gods
Went up from the fellowly shrines,
No demagogue beat the pulpit-drum
  In the Age of the Antonines!
The sting was not dreamed to be taken from death,
No Paradise pledged or sought,
But they reasoned of fate at the flowing feast,
Nor stifled the fluent thought,
  We sham, we shuffle while faith declines—
  They were frank in the Age of the Antonines.

Orders and ranks they kept degree,
Few felt how the parvenu pines,
No law-maker took the lawless one's fee
  In the Age of the Antonines!
Under law made will the world reposed
And the ruler's right confessed,
For the heavens elected the Emperor then,
The foremost of men the best.
  Ah, might we read in America's signs
  The Age restored of the Antonines.


Reading Aloud

W. Somerset Maugham, Mr. Harrington's Washing:
Mr. Harrington was very fond of reading aloud. Ashenden had had frequent occasion to observe the distressing propensity of Americans for this pastime. In hotel drawing-rooms at night after dinner he had often seen the father of a family seated in a retired corner and surrounded by his wife, his two sons, and his daughter, reading to them. On ships crossing the Atlantic he had sometimes watched with awe the tall, spare gentleman of commanding aspect who sat in the centre of fifteen ladies no longer in their first youth and in a resonant voice read to them the history of Art. Walking up and down the promenade deck he had passed honeymooning couples lying on deck-chairs and caught the unhurried tones of the bride as she read to her young husband the pages of a popular novel. It had always seemed to him a curious way of showing affection. He had had friends who had offered to read to him and he had known women who had said they loved being read to, but he had always politely refused the invitation and firmly ignored the hint. He liked neither reading aloud nor being read to. In his heart he thought the national predilection for this form of entertainment the only flaw in the perfection of the American character. But the immortal gods love a good laugh at the expense of human beings and now delivered him, bound and helpless, to the knife of the high priest. Mr. Harrington flattered himself that he was a very good reader and he explained to Ashenden the theory and practice of the art. Ashenden learned that there were two schools, the dramatic and the natural: in the first you imitated the voices of those who spoke (if you were reading a novel), and when the heroine wailed you wailed and when emotion choked her you choked too; but in the other you read as impassively as though you were reading the price-list of a mail-order house in Chicago. This was the school Mr. Harrington belonged to.
I am an American, and I share this national flaw. Chez Laudator we are reading Jane Austen's Emma aloud during the long winter evenings.

Louis-Léopold Boilly, La Lecture

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The Small House at Allington

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington:

Chapter I:
But, nevertheless, the place looked like a church, and I can hardly say so much for all the modern edifices which have been built in my days towards the glory of God.
Chapter II: his slippered years...
'I don't like those slang words, Lily.'

'What slang words?'

'You know what you called Bernard's friend.'

'Oh; a swell. I fancy I do like slang. I think it's awfully jolly to talk about things being jolly. Only that I was afraid of your nerves I should have called him stunning. It's so slow, you know, to use nothing but words out of a dictionary.'
There is a kind of enjoyment to be had in society, in which very few words are necessary.
Chapter IV:
I doubt whether any girl would be satisfied with her lover's mind if she knew the whole of it.
Chapter VII:
'I am always making horrid little speeches, for which I should like to cut out my tongue afterwards.'
Chapter XII:
It is very hard, that necessity of listening to a man who says nothing.
He had begun by declaring that he would tell her all; but sometimes it is not easy, that task of telling a person everything. There are things which will not get themselves told.
He knew every acre of his own estate, and every tree upon it, as thoroughly as a lady knows the ornaments in her drawing-room.
Chapter XVII:
The Lady Rosina was very religious; and I do not know that she was conspicuous in any other way, unless it might be that she somewhat resembled her father in her temper. It was of the Lady Rosina that the servants were afraid, especially with reference to that so-called day of rest which, under her dominion, had become to many of them a day of restless torment. It had not always been so with the Lady Rosina; but her eyes had been opened by the wife of a great church dignitary in the neighbourhood, and she had undergone regeneration. How great may be the misery inflicted by an energetic, unmarried, healthy woman in that condition,—a woman with no husband, or children, or duties, to distract her from her work,—I pray that my readers may never know.
Chapter XXIII:
'I am unworthy of her, and will tell her so,' he said to himself. How many a false hound of a man has endeavoured to salve his own conscience by such mock humility?
Chapter XXVII:
'It is so new to me. It makes me feel that the world is changed, and that it is no longer worth a man's while to live in it.'
Chapter XXVIII:
If he could only wipe out the last fortnight from the facts of his existence! But fortnights such as those are not to be wiped out,—not even with many sorrowful years of tedious scrubbing.
A self-imposed trouble will not allow itself to be banished. If a man lose a thousand pounds by a friend's fault, or by a turn in the wheel of fortune, he can, if he be a man, put his grief down and trample it under foot; he can exorcise the spirit of his grievance, and bid the evil one depart from out of his house. But such exorcism is not to be used when the sorrow has come from a man's own folly and sin;—especially not if it has come from his own selfishness. Such are the cases which make men drink; which drive them on to the avoidance of all thought; which create gamblers and reckless prodigals; which are the promoters of suicide.
Indeed, there were not wanting those who said that Major Fiasco was already in receipt of a liberal income, for which he gave no work in return; that he merely filled a chair for four hours a day four or five days a week, signing his name to certain forms and documents, reading, or pretending to read, certain papers, but, in truth, doing no good.
'I never saw a man so little elated by good fortune in my life,' said Mr Optimist.

'Ah, he's got something on his mind,' said Butterwell. 'He's going to be married, I believe.'

'If that's the case, it's no wonder he shouldn't be elated,' said Major Fiasco, who was himself a bachelor.
Chapter XXXI:
'I suppose the world is different nowadays.' The world is different; but the squire by no means acknowledged in his heart that there had been any improvement.
Chapter XLIII:
We are not content in looking to our newspapers for all the information that earth and human intellect can afford; but we demand from them what we might demand if a daily sheet could come to us from the world of spirits. The result, of course, is this,—that the papers do pretend that they have come daily from the world of spirits; but the oracles are very doubtful, as were those of old.
Chapter XLVI:
'You don't dislike late hours, I suppose.'

'Coming late to the office you mean? Oh, no, not in the least.'

'Staying late,—staying late.'
Chapter L:
It is the view which the mind takes of a thing which creates the sorrow that arises from it. If the heart were always malleable and the feelings could be controlled, who would permit himself to be tormented by any of the reverses which affection meets? Death would create no sorrow, ingratitude would lose its sting; and the betrayal of love would do no injury beyond that which it might entail upon worldly circumstances. But the heart is not malleable; nor will the feelings admit of such control.
Chapter LV:
He had come, therefore, and now stood alone, sullen in a corner, telling himself that all was vanity. Yes; to the vain all will be vanity; and to the poor of heart all will be poor.
chapter LVIII:
'And remember what it is that I say; with your grief I do sympathise, but not with any outward expression of it;—not with melancholy looks, and a sad voice, and an unhappy gait. A man should always be able to drink his wine and seem to enjoy it. If he can't, he is so much less of a man than he would be otherwise,—not so much more, as some people seem to think.'

Saturday, January 15, 2011



Epictetus, Discourses 3.5.5-6 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
Do you not know that disease and death needs must overtake us, no matter what we are doing? They overtake the farmer at his work in the fields, the sailor on the sea. What do you wish to be doing when it overtakes you? For no matter what you do you will have to be overtaken by death. If you have anything better to be doing when you are so overtaken, get to work on that.

οὐκ οἶδας, ὅτι καὶ νόσος καὶ θάνατος καταλαβεῖν ἡμᾶς ὀφείλουσίν τί ποτε ποιοῦντας; τὸν γεωργὸν γεωργοῦντα καταλαμβάνουσι, τὸν ναυτικὸν πλέοντα. σὺ τί θέλεις ποιῶν καταληφθῆναι; τί ποτε μὲν γὰρ ποιοῦντά σε δεῖ καταληφθῆναι. εἴ τι ἔχεις τούτου κρεῖσσον ποιῶν καταληφθῆναι, ποίει ἐκεῖνο.


In Wide Open Spaces

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater:
For I have always found it easier to think over a matter of perplexity whilst walking in wide open spaces, under the broad eye of the natural heavens, than whilst shut up in a room.
Related posts:

Friday, January 14, 2011



Jenny McMorris, The Warden of English: The Life of H.W. Fowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 187:
This project had taken much longer than originally planned, nearly the whole of 1927 in fact, but by Christmas Henry was able to report that it was nearly ready, reassuring Sisam, 'If I were motorcuted today, my decease would be of no importance, the slips being ready to send.'
This doesn't show up on Google Books, as this work is "No Preview." However, Google Books does give an example, from B. Fletcher Robinson, "Motor-Cars and Bicycles," Pearson's Magazine 13 (Jan.-June 1902) 340-344 (at 341):
"Great Scott, man, you're not going to be hanged."

"Of course not," said I, rousing myself from my stupor, "only motorcuted. Ha! ha! Do your worst."
Another example from the newspaper New Zealand Truth: The People's Paper, No. 942 (December 15, 1923), p. 1:
"Think twice," says the elderly adviser."Look twice—before you cross the road," advises "Critic."

The Man at the Corner runs less risk of being motorcuted than the Man in the Street does. For this mercy 'Truth' readers should be truly thankful.
It's surprising that the word hasn't caught on, as motorcution is such a common means of death. I believe that this blog post will result in the first example of motorcution on Google (put it in quotation marks to exclude hits for motor auction, etc.).

Related post: Donnish Humor.


Thursday, January 13, 2011


A Most Mournful Hypothesis

Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Lecture I (May 5, 1840):
Some speculators have a short way of accounting for the Pagan religion: mere quackery, priestcraft, and dupery, say they; no sane man ever did believe it,—merely contrived to persuade other men, not worthy of the name of sane, to believe it! It will be often our duty to protest against this sort of hypothesis about men`s doings and history; and I here, on the very threshold, protest against it in reference to Paganism, and to all other isms by which man has ever for a length of time striven to walk in this world. They have all had a truth in them, or men would not have taken them up. Quackery and dupery do abound; in religions, above all in the more advanced decaying stages of religions, they have fearfully abounded: but quackery was never the originating influence in such things; it was not the health and life of such things, but their disease, the sure precursor of their being about to die! Let us never forget this. It seems to me a most mournful hypothesis, that of quackery giving birth to any faith even in savage men. Quackery gives birth to nothing; gives death to all things. We shall not see into the true heart of anything, if we look merely at the quackeries of it; if we do not reject the quackeries altogether; as mere diseases, corruptions, with which our and all men`s sole duty is to have done with them, to sweep them out of our thoughts as out of our practice.


Tree-Trimming at New College, Oxford

Anonymous, On Lopping New-College Lime Trees, from The Oxford Sausage: or, Select Poetical Pieces, Written by the most Celebrated Wits of the University of Oxford, new ed. (Oxford: G. Robinson, 1772), pp. 106-108:
Whilom a row of saucy limes,
Planted, I ween, in luckless Times,
  By some ill-favour'd Bursar,
Like Upstarts vain, grew proud and tall,
And boldly perk'd it o'er the Wall,
  No trees look'd ever fiercer.

But late for sundry Crimes arraign'd,
(Whether some stripling Shrubs complain'd
  These Rogues presum'd to slight 'em,
Or whether they were heard to prate
Of some sad Yews untimely Fate,
  That once grew over-right 'em:

Or if by Chance their Heads they shook,
When tow'rds the Church they turn'd a Look,
  And mourn'd the sad Conditions
Of poor St. Peter's* num'rous Dead,
That to their Graves were daily led,
  Since some Folks turn'd physicians)

Whate'er the Cause, some angry Pow'r
Resolv'd their daring Tops to low'r:
  His murd'rous Mates assembled:
Oh! as the mangling Crew appears,
Arm'd with Ax, Hatchet, Saw, and shears.
  How ev'ry Dryad trembled.

Sore Cause, for ne'er in Grove of Oak
Did spendthrift Heirs' unpitying Stroke,
  Such Butchery exhibit;
Each Arm they maim'd, each Head they topt,
Nor ever left a Limb unlopt,
  To make the Dogs a Gibbet.

So looks the poor dismember'd Tar.
Who late was Thunderbolt of War,
  But fall'n in barb'rous Clutches;
From mangling Hospital turn'd out,
Maim'd, halt, and naked, limps about
  To beg with Stumps and Crutches.

Oh! how the sad succeeding Year,
Will each kind Stranger's pitying Tear
  Our wond'rous Change bemoan;
To see each Tree once green and tall
A shapeless Block become; and all
  Our Hedge-rows turn'd to Stone.

But we, blest Minions, all our Days
Shall bask in Phoebus' warmest Rays,
No Shade can now controul us:
And should he chance to over-heat us,
He by the same good Hand can treat us
With gentle purge to cool us.

* St. Peter's Church, in the East, at Oxford.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Tree-Felling at St. John's College, Oxford

Anonymous, On the Burser [sic] of St. John's-College, Oxon, cutting down a fine Row of Trees, in A Collection of Epigrams (London: J. Walthoe, 1727), unpaginated, Epigram LXIV:
Indulgent Nature to each kind bestows
A secret instinct to discern its foes:
The goose, a silly bird, yet shuns the fox;
Lambs fly from wolves; and sailors steer from rocks.
This rogue the gallows, as his fate, foresees,
And bears the like antipathy to Trees.
The bursar was Dr. Abel Evans (1679-1737). The epigram has been attributed to Dr. Charles Tadlow (1660-1716) and to Dr. George Conyers (1669-1726): see Richard W.H. Nash, Notes and Queries (6th Series, III, May 28, 1881) 436. If by Tadlow, it was tit for tat. Here is Evans' epigram on the corpulent Tadlow:
When Tadlow treads the streets, the paviors cry,
"God bless you, Sir!" and lay their rammers by.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Sentimentalising over Vegetables

Charles Baudelaire, letter to Fernand Desnoyers (1855, tr. Enid Starkie):
You ask me for verses for your little collection, verses about nature, don't you? On the woods, the great oak-trees, on greenery, insects and the sun, no doubt? But you well know that I'm incapable of sentimentalising over vegetables, and that I'm opposed to this extraordinary new religion which, by its nature, is bound to shock a spiritual being. I'll never be able to believe that the soul of the gods resides in plants, and even were it so, it wouldn't interest me in the slightest, I'd still hold my own soul of higher price than that of these sanctified vegetables. Indeed, I've always thought that there was something distressing and almost vulgar in the eternal reflowering and renewal of nature.

Vous me demandez des vers pour votre petit volume, des vers sur la Nature, n'est-ce pas? sur les bois, les grands chênes, la verdure, les insectes,—le soleil, sans doute? Mais vous savez bien que je suis incapable de m'attendrir sur les végétaux, et que mon âme est rebelle à cette singulière Religion nouvelle, qui aura toujours, ce me semble, pour tout être spirituel, je ne sais quoi de shocking. Je ne croirai jamais que l'âme des Dieux habite dans les plantes, et, quand même elle y habiterait, je m'en soucierais médiocrement, et considérerais la mienne comme d'un bien plus haut prix que celle des légumes sanctifiés. J'ai même toujours pensé qu'il y avait dans la Nature, florissante et rajeunie, quelque chose d'affligeant, de dur, de cruel,—un je ne sais quoi qui frise l'impudence.


Not So Much in Vogue Now

Anthony Trollope, The Spotted Dog (1870), Part I:
As soon as he was gone we sat looking at the learned Doctor's manuscript, and thinking of what we had done. There lay the work of years, by which our dear and venerable old friend expected that he would take rank among the great commentators of modern times. We, in truth, did not anticipate for him all the glory to which he looked forward. We feared that there might be disappointment. Hot discussion on verbal accuracies or on rules of metre are perhaps not so much in vogue now as they were a hundred years ago.
Id., Part II:
The criticisms Mackenzie answered by letter, with true scholarly spirit, and the Doctor was delighted. Nothing could be more pleasant to him than a correspondence, prolonged almost indefinitely, as to the respective merits of a τὸ or a τοῦ, or on the demand for a spondee or an iamb.
The Doctor's work was a treatise on The Metres of the Greek Dramatists. If such discussion is not so much in vogue these days, then so much the worse for these days.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Hail, Juice Benignant!

Thomas Warton (1728-1790), A Panegyric on Oxford Ale:
      Mea nec Falernae
Temperant vites, neque Formiani
      Pocula colles.

BALM of my cares, sweet solace of my toils,
Hail, JUICE benignant! O'er the costly cups
Of riot-stirring wine, unwholesome draught,
Let Pride's loose sons prolong the wasteful night;
My sober evening let the tankard bless,    5
With toast embrown'd, and fragrant nutmeg fraught,
While the rich draught with oft-repeated whiffs
Tobacco mild improves. Divine repast!
Where no crude surfeit, or intemperate joys
Of lawless Bacchus reign; but o'er my soul    10
A calm Lethean creeps; in drowsy trance
Each thought subsides, and sweet oblivion wraps
My peaceful brain, as if the leaden rod
Of magic Morpheus o'er mine eyes had shed
Its opiate influence. What tho' sore ills    15
Oppress, dire want of chill-dispelling coals
Or cheerful candle (save the make-weight's gleam
Haply remaining) heart-rejoicing ALE
Cheers the sad scene, and every want supplies.
Meantime, not mindless of the daily task    20
Of Tutor sage, upon the learned leaves
Of deep SMIGLECIUS much I meditate;
While ALE inspires, and lends its kindred aid,
The thought-perplexing labour to pursue,
Sweet Helicon of Logic! But if friends    25
Congenial call me from the toilsome page,
To Pot-house I repair, the sacred haunt,
Where, ALE, thy votaries in full resort
Hold rites nocturnal. In capacious chair
Of monumental oak and antique mould,    30
That long has stood the rage of conquering years
Inviolate, (nor in more ample chair
Smokes rosy Justice, when th' important cause,
Whether of hen-roost, or of mirthful rape,
In all the majesty of paunch he tries)    35
Studious of ease, and provident, I place
My gladsome limbs; while in repeated round
Returns replenish'd the successive cup,
And the brisk fire conspires to genial joy:
While haply, to relieve the ling'ring hours    40
In innocent delight, amusive Putt
On smooth joint-stool in emblematic play
The vain vicissitudes of fortune shews.
Nor reckoning, name tremendous, me disturbs,
Nor, call'd for, chills my breast with sudden fear;    45
While on the wonted door, expressive mark,
The frequent penny stands describ'd to view,
In snowy characters and graceful row.—

Hail, TICKING! surest guardian of distress!
Beneath thy shelter, pennyless I quaff    50
The cheerful cup, nor hear with hopeless heart
New oysters cry'd;—tho' much the Poet's friend,
Ne'er yet attempted in poetic strain,
Accept this tribute of poetic praise!

Nor Proctor thrice with vocal heel alarms    55
Our joys secure, nor deigns the lowly roof
Of Pot-house snug to visit: wiser he
The splendid tavern haunts, or coffee-house
Of JAMES or JUGGINS, where the grateful breath
Of loath'd tobacco ne'er diffus'd its balm;    60
But the lewd spendthrift, falsely deem'd polite,
While steams around the fragrant Indian bowl,
Oft damns the vulgar sons of humbler Ale:
In vain—the Proctor's voice arrests their joys;
Just fate of wanton pride and loose excess!    65

Nor less by day delightful is thy draught,
All-pow'rful ALE! whose sorrow-soothing sweets
Oft I repeat in vacant afternoon,
When tatter'd stockings ask my mending hand
Not unexperienc'd; while the tedious toil    70
Slides unregarded. Let the tender swain
Each morn regale on nerve-relaxing tea,
Companion meet of languor-loving nymph:
Be mine each morn with eager appetite
And hunger undissembled, to repair    75
To friendly buttery; there on smoaking crust
And foaming ALE to banquet unrestrain'd,
Material breakfast! Thus in ancient days
Our ancestors robust with liberal cups
Usher'd the morn, unlike the squeamish sons    80
Of modern times: nor ever had the might
Of Britons brave decay'd, had thus they fed,
With British ALE improving British worth.

With ALE irriguous, undismay'd I hear
The frequent dun ascend my lofty dome    85
Importunate: whether the plaintive voice
Of Laundress shrill awake my startled ear;
Or Barber spruce with supple look intrude;
Or Taylor with obsequious bow advance;
Or Groom invade me with defying front    90
And stern demeanour, whose emaciate steeds
(Whene'er or Phoebus shone with kindlier beams,
Or luckier chance the borrow'd boots supply'd)
Had panted oft beneath my goring steel.
In vain they plead or threat: all-pow'rful ALE    95
Excuses new supplies, and each descends
With joyless pace, and debt-despairing looks:
E'en SPACEY with indignant brow retires,
Fiercest of duns! and conquer'd quits the field.

Why did the Gods such various blessings pour    100
On hapless mortals, from their grateful hands
So soon the short-liv'd bounty to recall?—
Thus while, improvident of future ill,
I quaff the luscious tankard uncontroll'd,
And thoughtless riot in unlicens'd bliss;    105
Sudden (dire fate of all things excellent!)
Th' unpitying Bursar's cross-affixing hand
Blasts all my joys, and stops my glad career.
Nor now the friendly Pot-house longer yields
A sure retreat, when night o'ershades the skies;    110
Nor SHEPPARD, barbarous matron, longer gives
The wonted trust, and WINTER ticks no more.

Thus ADAM, exil'd from the beauteous scenes
Of Eden, griev'd, no more in fragrant bow'r
On fruits divine to feast, fresh shade and vale    115
No more to visit, or vine-mantled grot;
But, all forlorn, the dreary wilderness
And unrejoicing solitudes to trace:
Thus too the matchless bard, whose lay resounds
The SPLENDID SHILLING'S praise, in nightly gloom    120
Of lonesome garret, pin'd for cheerful ALE;
Whose steps in verse Miltonic I pursue,
Mean follower: like him with honest love
Of ALE divine inspir'd, and love of song.
But long may bounteous Heav'n with watchful care    125
Avert his hapless lot! Enough for me
That burning with congenial flame I dar'd
His guiding steps at distance to pursue,
And sing his favorite theme in kindred strains.
A few notes:
22 Martinus Smiglecius' Logica (1618) was a textbook at Oxford.

49, 112 Tick (from ticket) as a noun means "credit," as a verb means "buy on credit." Could TICKING in line 49 be not a proper name but the practice of giving or getting credit?

50 A reference to Penniless Bench: see John Richard Green, Oxford Studies (London: Macmillan, 1901), pp. 275-276.

120 Splendid Shilling was a poem by John Philips (1676-1708).
Charles Spencelayh, Good Health


Monday, January 10, 2011


A Pale-Skinned Barbarian

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2001), p. 413 (tr. by Stephen at Don Colacho's Aphorisms):
When he is stripped of the Christian tunic and the classical toga, there is nothing left of the European but a pale-skinned barbarian.

Al despojarse de la túnica cristiana y de la toga clásica, no queda del europeo sino un bárbaro pálido.



Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1919), p. 5:
Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing.
Some deliberately starve themselves. A former classmate, now a multi-millionaire, once bragged to me that he had never in his life read a book for the pleasure of it.


Barbarous Hostility to the Latin Tongue

Cincius Romanus, letter to Franciscus de Fiana (summer 1416), tr. by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan in Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 187-190 (at 188-189):
But when we [Poggius and Bartholomeus Montepolitianus and I] carefully inspected the nearby tower of the church of St. Gall in which countless books were kept like captives and the library neglected and infested with dust, worms, soot, and all the things associated with the destruction of books, we all burst into tears, thinking that this was the way in which the Latin language had lost its greatest glory and distinction. Truly, if this library could speak for itself, it would cry loudly: "You men who love the Latin tongue, let me not be utterly destroyed by this woeful neglect. Snatch me from this prison in whose gloom even the bright light of the books within cannot be seen." There were in that monastery an abbot and monks totally devoid of any knowledge of literature. What barbarous hostility to the Latin tongue! What damned dregs of humanity!
Latin text in Ludwig Bertalot, "Cincius Romanus und seine Briefe," Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 21 (1929-1930) 209-255, rpt. in Ludwig Bertalot, Studien zum italienischen und deutschen Humanismus, Bd. II (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1975), pp. 131-180 (at 146):
Sed ubi turrim sacre edis S. Galli contiguam, in qua innumerabiles pene libri utpote captiui detinentur, diligentius uidimus bibliothecamque illam puluere tineis fuligine ceterisque rebus ad obliterationem librorum pertinentibus obsoletamque pollutamque, uehementer collacrimauimus, per hunc modum putantes linguam latinam maximum ornatum maximamque dignitatemque perdidisse. Hec profecto bibliotheca si per se ipsa loqueretur, magna uoce clamaret: ne sinite, uiri lingue latine amantissimi, me per huiusmodi negligentiam funditus deleri; eripite me ab hoc carcere, in cuius tenebris tantum librorum lumen apparere non potest. Erant in monasterio illo abbas monachique ab omni litterarum cognitione alieni. O barbariam latine lingue inimicam, o perditissimam hominum colluuionem.
Thanks to Eric Thomson.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


In a Brazen Prison

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), A Summer Night, lines 37-50:
For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun's hot eye,
With heads bent o'er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labour fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Tantum Religio Potuit Suadere Malorum

Euripides, Iphigenia Among the Taurians 389-391 (tr. David Kovacs):
I believe that people here, themselves murderous, ascribe their own fault to the goddess. None of the gods, I think, is wicked.

τοὺς δ᾽ ἐνθάδ᾽, αὐτοὺς ὄντας ἀνθρωποκτόνους,
ἐς τὴν θεὸν τὸ φαῦλον ἀναφέρειν δοκῶ·
οὐδένα γὰρ οἶμαι δαιμόνων εἶναι κακόν.
It still happens today that some ascribe their own murderous impulses to a god.


Horrid Creatures

Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), Rural Hours, ed. Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), p. 38 (Spring: May 8):
Many birds like a village life; they seem to think man is a very good-natured animal, building chimneys and roofs, planting groves, and digging gardens for their especial benefit; only, they wonder not a little, that showing as he does a respectable portion of instinct, he should yet allow those horrid creatures—boys and cats—to run at large in his domain.
Related post: Garden Pests.


Workshop of the Gods

George S. Evans (1876-1904), "The Wilderness," The Overland Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine of the West 43.1 (January 1904) 31-33 (excerpts):
The wilderness still exists. Man has ravaged and plundered the earth in large measure, but there are still great tracts of wilderness where bear and deer and cougar wander as in the days of old.


Away off, far from the haunts of man, you pitch your camp by some cool spring. Your horse has brought you over the trail safely. The supplies have arrived without accident. The air is bracing. Mountain piled on mountain, vast wastes of forest verdure, bowlders heaped on bowlders, tracts of brush and leafy glades mark this primeval waste—a workshop of the gods.

Dull business routine, the fierce passions of the market place, the perils of envious cities become but a memory. At first you are appalled by the immensity of the wilderness. You do not seem to be a part of the waste. You do not seem to fit into the landscape. The rocks have equanimity, the mountains ruggedness, the trees sturdiness, the wind savagery.


Almost imperceptibly a sensation of serenity begins to take possession of you. You explore deep canyons, climb vast mountains, penetrate shaggy forests, follow the meanderings of wild, turbid streams.

You begin to take on some of the characteristics of the denizens of the woods. Your step becomes lighter, your eyesight keener, your hearing more acute. You think of the civilization you have left behind. Seen through the eyes of the wilderness, how stupid and inane it all seems. The mad eagerness of money-seeking men, the sham pleasures of conventional society, the insistence upon the importance of being in earnest over trifles, pall on you when you think of them.

Your blood clarifies; your brain becomes active. You get a new view of life. You acquire the ability to single out the things worth while. Your judgment becomes keener.


Whenever the light of civilization falls upon you with a blighting power, and work and pleasure become stale and flat, go to the wilderness. The wilderness will take hold on you. It will give you good red blood; it will turn you from a weakling into a man. It will give you a broad view of human nature and enlist your sympathies in its behalf. When your pack train leaves the dusty road and "hits the trail," you will acquire new courage to live your life. You will get new strength. You will soon behold all with a peaceful soul.
Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), Western Landscape

Friday, January 07, 2011


Let the World Laugh

Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), Ándeme yo caliente (tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow):
Let me go warm and merry still;
And let the world laugh, an' it will.

Let others muse on earthly things,—
The fall of thrones, the fate of kings,
  And those whose fame the world doth fill;
Whilst muffins sit enthroned in trays,
And orange-punch in winter sways
The merry sceptre of my days;—
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.

He that the royal purple wears
From golden plate a thousand cares
  Doth swallow as a gilded pill:
On feasts like these I turn my back,
Whilst puddings in my roasting-jack
Beside the chimney hiss and crack;—
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.

And when the wintry tempest blows,
And January's sleets and snows
  Are spread o'er every vale and hill,
With one to tell a merry tale
O'er roasted nuts and humming ale,
I sit, and care not for the gale;—
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.

Let merchants traverse seas and lands,
For silver mines and golden sands;
  Whilst I beside some shadowy rill,
Just where its bubbling fountain swells,
Do sit and gather stones and shells,
And hear the tale the blackbird tells;—
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.

For Hero's sake the Grecian lover
The stormy Hellespont swam over:
  I cross, without the fear of ill,
The wooden bridge that slow bestrides
The Madrigal's enchanting sides,
Or barefoot wade through Yepes' tides;-
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.

But since the Fates so cruel prove,
That Pyramus should die of love,
  And love should gentle Thisbe kill;
My Thisbe be an apple-tart,
The sword I plunge into her heart
The tooth that bites the crust apart,—
  And let the world laugh, an' it will.
Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Bread, Ham, Cheese, and Vegetables

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