Monday, February 28, 2011


Sounds Frozen and Thawed

Plutarch, Moralia 79 a (= On Man's Progress in Virtue 7, tr. William W. Goodwin):
Antiphanes said playfully that in a certain city words were frozen directly they were spoken, owing to the great cold, and were thawed again in the summer, so that one could then hear what had been said in the winter.
On this story and its survival, see Eugene S. McCartney, "Antiphanes' Cold-Weather Story and its Elaboration," Classical Philology 48 (1953) 169-172. I haven't seen H. Sasaki and H. Morioka, "Migration of a Popular Tale: Frozen Words," Tsuda Review 25 (1980) 45-83.

There is a curious poem based on this story in The Gentleman's Magazine (January 1737), p. 56. The anonymous poem is in Latin, with an English translation immediately following. I will reverse the order and present the English translation first:
Are sounds in sounding bodies found? No.
Or is't the air that gives the sound? Yes.

Amongst the natives of the Scythian coast,
Whose soil is perish'd with continual frost,
A story goes reported by the fair,
That words in speaking harden in the air,
And hang like hoar on Berenice's hair.
But when the spring returns, the melting sound
Begins to spread a gabling noise around,
And drops each kind expression to the ground.
Words that were long a secret in the sky,
To their own bosoms when unloosen'd fly.
Nay, if a Scythian farted, in a trice
The fart congeal'd and crusted into ice;
But when the spring th' imprison'd fart let go,
You'd hear it cracking, and might smell it too.
So that if any of the female kind,
Should send a wintry vapour from behind,
The next warm season certainly sent back
To ev'ry dame her own distinguish'd crack.
The Latin:
An Sonus fit in corporibus sonantibus? Negatur.

Ultra Riphaios montes, Scythiamque nivalem,
  Quo glacie semper dura rigescit humus,
Hiberno dicunt concrescere in aere voces,
  Et pendere super verba coacta gelu.
At dum vere novo concretus liquitur aer,
  Tum quoque vox blando sole soluta cadit.
Verba repressa diu prodit tum garrulus aether,
  Quique dedit reduces tum capit aure sonos.
Si crepitum quis forte dedit, crepitum excipit aura,
  Brumalique premens tempore, vere refert.
Agnoscit vel anus, vel quicunque ante pepedit,
  Et fruitur crepitu, quodque pepedit, habet.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


Some Thoreauvian Etymologies

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, XVII (Spring), discussing "sand foliage," i.e. "the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad":
No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. Internally whether in the globe or animal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a word especially applicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of fat, (λείβω, labor, lapsus, to flow or slip downward, a lapsing; λοβός, globus, lobe, globe, also lap, flap, and many other words); externally a dry thin leaf, even as the f and v are a pressed and dried b. The radicals of lobe are lb, the soft mass of the b (single lobed, or B, double lobed,) with the liquid l behind it pressing it forward. In globe, glb, the guttural g adds to the meaning the capacity of the throat. The feathers and wings of birds are still drier and thinner leaves. Thus, also, you pass from the lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering butterfly. The very globe continually transcends and translates itself, and becomes winged in its orbit. Even ice begins with delicate crystal leaves, as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of water plants have impressed on the watery mirror. The whole tree itself is but one leaf and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.
Calvert Watkins, "Indo-European Roots," in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979), pp. 1505-1550, isolates five different roots of the words discussed by Thoreau:
  1. gel-1 (pp. 1515-1516, "To form into a ball, with deriviatives referring to a compact mass or coagulated lump, and to the qualities of viscosity and adhesiveness"): whence globus and globe (with the qualification "perhaps")
  2. leb-1 (p. 1525, "Base of loosely related derivatives meaning 'hanging loosely'"): whence labor, lap, lapsus, lobe, λοβός (with the qualification "perhaps" for labor)
  3. lēi-3 (p. 1526, "To flow"): whence λείβω (cf. libation)
  4. leup- (p. 1527, "To peel off, break off"): whence leaf
  5. plab- (p. 1535, "To flap"): whence flap


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Work and Leisure

Charles Lamb, Work:
Who first invented work, and bound the free
And holyday-rejoicing spirit down
To the ever-haunting importunity
Of business in the green fields, and the town—
To plough, loom, anvil, spade—and oh! most sad,
To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood?
Who but the Being unblest, alien from good,
Sabbathless Satan! he who his unglad
Task ever plies 'mid rotatory burnings,
That round and round incalculably reel—
For wrath divine hath made him like a wheel—
In that red realm from which are no returnings;
Where toiling, and turmoiling, ever and aye
He, and his thoughts, keep pensive working-day.
Charles Lamb, Leisure:
They talk of time, and of time's galling yoke,
That like a mill-stone on man's mind doth press,
Which only works and business can redress:
Of divine Leisure such foul lies are spoke,
Wounding her fair gifts with calumnious stroke.
But might I, fed with silent meditation,
Assoiled live from that fiend Occupation—
Improbus Labor, which my spirits hath broke—
I'd drink of time's rich cup, and never surfeit:
Fling in more days than went to make the gem,
That crown'd the white top of Methusalem:
Yea on my weak neck take, and never forfeit,
Like Atlas bearing up the dainty sky,
The heaven-sweet burthen of eternity.
Charles Lamb, letter to William and Dorothy Wordworth (Sept. 28, 1805):
Hang work! I wish that all the year were holiday. I am sure that indolence—indefeasible indolence—is the true state of man, and business the invention of the old Teazer, whose interference doomed Adam to an apron and set him a hoeing. Pen and ink, and clerks and desks, were the refinements of this old torturer some thousand years after, under pretence of "Commerce allying distant shores, promoting and diffusing knowledge, good," &c. &c.
Charles Lamb, letter to Matilda Bentham (undated, probably early October 1815):
Oh, darling laziness! heaven of Epicurus! Saint's Everlasting Rest! that I could drink vast potations of thee thro' unmeasured Eternity — Otium cum vel sine dignitate. Scandalous, dishonourable, any kind of repose. I stand not on the dignified sort. Accursed, damned desks, trade, commerce, business. Inventions of that old original busybody, Satan — Sabbathless, restless Satan. A curse relieves; do you ever try it?
Related posts:



Michael Quinion, World Wide Words (February 26, 2011), discusses the word phrop, coined by Sir Arnold Lunn and popularized by Philip Howard, from "phrase + opposite," i.e. a phrase that means the opposite of its ostensible meaning, thus a variety of auto-antonym.


Friday, February 25, 2011


A Vile Cold-Scrag-of-Mutton Sophism

Charles Lamb, Popular Fallacies, VI (That Enough is as Good as a Feast):
Not a man, woman, or child in ten miles round Guildhall, who really believes this saying. The inventor of it did not believe it himself. It was made in revenge by somebody, who was disappointed of a regale. It is a vile cold-scrag-of-mutton sophism; a lie palmed upon the palate, which knows better things. If nothing else could be said for a feast, this is sufficient, that from the superflux there is usually something left for the next day. Morally interpreted, it belongs to a class of proverbs, which have a tendency to make us undervalue money. Of this cast are those notable observations, that money is not health; riches cannot purchase every thing: the metaphor which makes gold to be mere muck, with the morality which traces fine clothing to the sheep’s back, and denounces pearl as the unhandsome excretion of an oyster. Hence, too, the phrase which imputes dirt to acres—a sophistry so barefaced, that even the literal sense of it is true only in a wet season. This, and abundance of similar sage saws assuming to inculcate content, we verily believe to have been the invention of some cunning borrower, who had designs upon the purse of his wealthier neighbour, which he could only hope to carry by force of these verbal jugglings. Translate any one of these sayings out of the artful metonyme which envelops it, and the trick is apparent. Goodly legs and shoulders of mutton, exhilarating cordials, books, pictures, the opportunities of seeing foreign countries, independence, heart's ease, a man's own time to himself, are not muck—however we may be pleased to scandalise with that appellation the faithful metal that provides them for us.


Alcofribas Nasier on Tree-Felling

François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, tr. W.F. Smith in Rabelais: The Five Books and Minor Writings, Vol. I (London: Alexander P. Watt, 1893), footnotes omitted.

I.xvi (p. 63):
So they joyously went along their Highway, and always in high Feather until just above Orleans, in which Place was a spacious Forest five-and-thirty Leagues long, and seventeen wide, or thereabouts. This Forest was horribly fertile and abounding in Gad-flies and Hornets, so that it was a very Brigand's Den for the poor Mares, Asses, and Horses.

But Gargantua's Mare did handsomely avenge all the Outrages therein perpetrated on the Beasts of her Kind, by a Trick which they did not in the least suspect. For as soon as they had entered the said Forest and the Hornets had given the Assault, she drew out her Tail, and so well did she smouch them in skirmishing that she threw down the whole Wood along and athwart, this side and that side, here and there, longways and sideways, over and under, and knocked down the Trees as a Mower does Grass; in such sort that since then there has been neither Wood nor Hornets, but the whole Land was reduced to a Plain.

Seeing this, Gargantua took mighty great Pleasure thereat, without otherwise vaunting himself. And he said to his People: "I find This fine" (Beau ce). Whence this Country has since been called Beauce.
See Charles Ploetz, Manuel de Littérature Française, 12th ed. (Berlin: F.-A. Herbig, 1903), p. xxxviii, n. 5:
Les commentateurs voient dans ce récit une allusion, les uns à la duchesse d'Etampes, les autres à Diane de Poitiers, à laquelle François Ier avait fait don d'une partie de la forêt d'Orléans et qui y fit faire de grands abatis.
These mistresses of François I were Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, Duchess of Étampes (1508–1580), and Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566).

III.ii (pp. 391-393, on Panurge's administration of Salmigondin and his defence of how he did it):
And his Worship, the new Baron, managed so well and prudently that in less than fourteen Days he wasted and dilapidated the fixed and uncertain Revenue of his Barony for three whole Years; not dilapidated, properly speaking, as you might say in founding Monasteries, erecting Temples, building Colleges and Hospitals, or throwing his Flitches of Bacon to the Dogs; but he spent it in a thousand little Banquets and jovial Feasts open to all Comers, especially to all good Companions, young Girls and pretty Wenches; in felling Timber, burning the great Logs for the Sale of the Ashes, taking Money in advance, buying dear and selling cheap, and eating his Corn in the Blade.


"It hath also been an Act proceeding from the four Cardinal Virtues: .... (3) From FORTITUDE, in felling the great Trees like a second Milo; throwing down the dark Forests, which are Dens of Wolves, Boars and Foxes, Hiding-places of Brigands and Murderers, Lurking-holes for Assassins, Workshops for Forgers, Retreats for Heretics; levelling them for open Spaces and pleasant Heaths, playing the Haut-boys on on the high and stately Timber, and preparing Benches for the Eve of the Day of Judgment."
For background see Louisa Mackenzie, "Forests," in Elizabeth Chesney Zegura, ed., The Rabelais Encyclopedia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), pp. 81-82.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


Verbs of Perception With Nominative Participle: Thucydides 2.4.1

Ever since Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges brought a certain Greek participial construction to my notice, I've been looking for more examples in the course of my reading. Guy L. Cooper, III (after K.W. Krüger), Attic Greek Prose Syntax, Vol. I (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), pp. 825-826, has a long list of examples, but his list doesn't include Thucydides 2.4.1:
...they perceived that they had been utterly deceived...

...ἔγνωσαν ἐξηπατημένοι...


I'm Sure It Must Be Good

George Farquhar (1677–1707), The Beaux' Stratagem III.ii:
AIMWELL. Can he speak English, Landlord?
BONNIFACE. Very well, Sir, you may know him, as the saying is, to be a Foreigner by his Accent, and that's all.
AIMWELL. Then he has been in England before?
BONNIFACE. Never, Sir, but he's a Master of Languages, as the saying is, he talks Latin, it do's me good to hear him talk Latin.
AIMWELL. Then you understand Latin, Mr. Bonniface?
BONNIFACE. Not I, Sir, as the saying is, but he talks it so very fast, that I'm sure it must be good.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Well Off in My Solitude

Jean-Pierre Claris, Chevalier de Florian, letter to François Antoine de Boissy d'Anglas (Feb. 17, 1792), quoted by Anatole France, On Life and Letters, 1st Series, tr. A.W. Evans (London: John Lane, 1901), p. 169:
I pass my life quietly by the side of my fire, reading Voltaire and avoiding a society which has become a frightful arena where everybody hates reason, where virtue is no longer even praised, where humanity, the first of virtues, and moderation, the first of good qualities, are despised by all parties. I am very well off in my solitude, and, if I had news of you oftener, I should like it still better.
This is a bit abridged from Florian's original French:
Je passe doucement ma vie au coin de mon feu, lisant Voltaire, regrettant Gauvain, faisant des fables, et fuyant des sociétés qui sont devenues des arènes affreuses, où tout le monde hait la raison, où les vertus ne sont même plus louées, où l'humanité, la première des vertus, et la modération, la première des qualités, sont méprisées par tous les partis. Je me trouve fort bien de ma solitude, et si j'y recevais souvent de vos nouvelles, je l'aimerais encore plus.



Vergil, Eclogues 9.2-4 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
O Lycidas, we have lived to see the day—an evil never dreamed—when a stranger, holder of our little farm, could say: "This is mine; begone, old tenants!"

o Lycida, vivi pervenimus, advena nostri
(quod numquam veriti sumus) ut possessor agelli
diceret: "haec mea sunt; veteres migrate coloni."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Tongue Cuffs

[Henry Spicer], "Calling Names," All the Year Round (October 22, 1864) 258-260 (at 260, where E.S. = Evil Spirit and D.A. = Devil's Advocate):
"Villain! Dolt! Knave! Rascal! Donkey! Scoundrel! Ruffian! Booby!" commences, with comparative mildness, the E.S.

"Dunghill! Coward! Dunce! Rapscallion! Vagabond! Beast! Goose! Thief!" retorts the D.A.

"Swindler! Liar! Jolthead! Bully! Craven! Miscreant! Sot! Quack! Rebel!" pants his opponent.

"Pighead! Carrion! Cutpurse! Drunkard! Brawler! Mountebank! Cheat! Bravo! Vermin! Snip! Bull-beggar!" returns his learned brother.

"Tosspot! Pimp! Clown! Rat! Felon! Mooncalf! Noodle!"

This is pretty well, yet are these phrases but common tongue cuffs, after all. The first speaker dives into the recesses of the language.

"Gulligut! Boor! Filthard! Bardash! Royster! Druggel! Lubbard! Lout! Calf-lolly! Fox! Raggard!" are the gems he brings up.

Antagonist makes a deeper dive, and reappears with, "Nincompoop! Lusk! Bilkslop! Jobbernol! Lobcock! Oaf! Grub! Pigface! Wittol! Botch! Slubberdegullion!"

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (anno 1767, aetat. 54):
His Majesty then talked of the controversy between Warburton and Lowth, which he seemed to have read, and asked Johnson what he thought of it. Johnson answered, 'Warburton has most general, most scholastick learning; Lowth is the more correct scholar. I do not know which of them calls names best.' The King was pleased to say he was of the same opinion; adding, 'You do not think, then, Dr. Johnson, that there was much argument in the case.' Johnson said, he did not think there was. 'Why truly, (said the King,) when once it comes to calling names, argument is pretty well at an end.'
Related post: Odium and Insults.

Monday, February 21, 2011


An Anecdote by Reverend Turner

Thanks to the kindness of a reader, here in its entirety is Turner's anecdote about Alexander Pope's tree-cutting, from Anecdotes by Baptist Noel Turner (1739-1826), ed. Patricia Köster (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), p. 59 (Anecdote 70). Snippets of the anecdote appeared in an earlier post.
Mr Pope in a private Company related the following Anecdote of himself—A couple of Trees which grew upon the Grounds of some Lady of Quality obstructed his View, for which reason he sent immediately & without ceremony had them cut down. Being asked why he took so extraordinary a step, "Because says he, I was perfectly sure if I had desired leave it would not have been granted me & as I would not for five hundred Pound have had them remain where they were I thought it the best way to cut them down which would effectualy prevent their hurting my Prospect for the future, & was very ready to pay any damages a Jury would award. However says he I came off much better than expected, for the Lady after a good deal of storming dropt the business, & being asked why she did so by a noble Lord gave for a reason that she had three Daughters to marry & was afraid if she provoked such a Man as Pope he would clap 'em into his next Satyr & spoil their Fortunes."—This circumstance tho' It did not reflect much credit upon the Relater as a Man of Civility & good nature yet it doubtless flatter'd that Vanity the Bard himself avows
Yes—I am proud—I must be proud—to see
Men not afraid of God afraid of me!
Turner's note: Mrs Cantrell [anec. 13] however who told it me some years ago has just circumstantially repeated it (Nov l780) & insists she heard Mr Pope tell it at Gyles [anec. 74] the booksellers just as here related—It is possible then that this may be the truth, & and he might chuse to vary a little in an Epigram he himself wrote upon it something about
Pope stark mad of gardens
Cut down three trees in value scarce three farthings
The anecdote contains an opening quotation mark, but no ending quotation mark, so I inserted the ending quotation mark where I thought proper.



This is Old Age

John Milton, Paradise Lost 11.538-546:
This is old age; but then thou must outlive
Thy youth, thy strength, thy beauty, which will change
To witherd weak and gray; thy Senses then
Obtuse, all taste of pleasure must forgoe,
To what thou hast, and for the Aire of youth
Hopeful and cheerful, in thy blood will reigne
A melancholly damp of cold and dry
To weigh thy spirits down, and last consume
The Balme of Life.
Leonardo da Vinci, Profile of an Old Man


Sunday, February 20, 2011


Some Lines from Vergil's Eclogues

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (anno 1763, aetat. 54):
He dwelt upon Buchanan's elegant verses to Mary Queen of Scots, Nympha Caledoniae, &c., and spoke with enthusiasm of the beauty of Latin verse. 'All the modern languages (said he) cannot furnish so melodious a line as
'Formosam resonare doces Amarillida silvas'.'
The line is Vergil's, from the first Eclogue, line 5, which Johnson in a schoolboy exercise translated as "And the wood rings with Amarillis' name" (more literally "you teach the woods to echo 'beautiful Amaryllis'").

Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Thomas Flower Ellis (Ootacamund, July 1, 1834):
The last six books which Virgil had not fully corrected pleased me better than the first six. I like him best on Italian ground. I like his localities; his national enthusiasm; his frequent allusions to his country, its history, its antiquities, and its greatness. In this respect he often reminded me of Sir Walter Scott, with whom, in the general character of his mind, he had very little affinity. The "Georgics" pleased me better; the "Eclogues" best—the second and tenth above all. But I think that the finest lines in the Latin language are those five which begin:
Sepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala—
I can not tell you how they struck me. I was amused to find that Voltaire pronounces that passage to be the finest in Virgil.
The five lines are 37-41 of Vergil's eighth Eclogue (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Within our garden close I saw thee—I was guide for both—a little child, along with my mother, plucking dewy apples. My eleventh year finished, the next had just greeted me; from the ground I could now reach the frail boughs. As I saw, how I was lost! How a fatal frenzy swept me away!

saepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala
(dux ego vester eram) vidi cum matre legentem.
alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus,
iam fragilis poteram a terra contingere ramos.
ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!
Cf. Voltaire, article on Epic (Epopée) in his Dictionnaire Philosophique (tr. John Gorton, my comment in square brackets):
I think at least that we shall there [in the story of Dido in the Aeneid] recognise the author of those admirable verses which we meet with in his eclogues:—
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!
I saw, I perish'd, yet indulged my pain. Dryden.
Je crois du moins y retrouver l'auteur de ces vers admirables qu'on rencontre dans ses églogues.
Vt vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error.
After a quick search I can't find any other passage in Voltaire that better matches Macaulay's reference. Voltaire mentions the same line in his essay on Style in the Dictionnaire Philosophique.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Life is a Bumper Fill'd by Fate

Thomas Blacklock, On Punch: An Epigram, in Poems on Several Occasions (Edinburgh: Hamilton, Balfour and Neill, 1754), p. 179:
Hence! restless care, and low design;
Hence! foreign compliments and wine:
Let gen'rous BRITONS, brave and free,
Still boast their Punch and honesty.
Life is a bumper fill'd by fate,
And we the guests who share the treat;
Where strong, insipid, sharp and sweet,
Each other duly temp'ring, meet.
A while with joy the scene is crown'd;
A while the catch and toast go round:
And, when the full carouse is o'er,
Death puffs the lights, and shuts the door.
Say then, Physicians of each kind,
Who cure the body, or the mind;
What harm in drinking can there be,
Since Punch and life so well agree?


Thursday, February 17, 2011


Studious Let Me Sit

James Thomson (1700-1748), The Seasons (Winter 424-435):
Now, all amid the rigours of the year,
In the wild depth of winter, while without
The ceaseless winds blow ice, be my retreat,
Between the groaning forest and the shore,
Beat by the boundless multitude of waves,
A rural, shelter'd, solitary scene;
Where ruddy fire and beaming tapers join
To cheer the gloom. There studious let me sit,
And hold high converse with the mighty dead:
Sages of ancient time, as gods rever'd,
As gods beneficent, who bless'd mankind
With arts and arms, and humaniz'd a world.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):
Bolt and bar the shutter,
For the foul winds blow:
Our minds are at their best this night,
And I seem to know
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist and snow.

Horace there by Homer stands,
Plato stands below,
And here is Tully's open page.
How many years ago
Were you and I unlettered lads
Mad as the mist and snow?

You ask what makes me sigh, old friend,
What makes me shudder so?
I shudder and I sigh to think
That even Cicero
And many-minded Homer were
Mad as the mist and snow.


All in His Head

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (anno 1749, aetat. 40):
I remember when I once regretted to him that he had not given us more of Juvenal's Satires, he said, he probably should give more, for he had them all in his head; by which I understood, that he had the originals and correspondent allusions floating in his mind, which he could, when he pleased, embody and render permanent without much labour. Some of them, however, he observed, were too gross for imitation.
To save you the trouble of searching for the naughty bits, dear reader, 2, 6, and 9 are those usually considered too gross for imitation. Johnson imitated 3 (London) and 10 (The Vanity of Human Wishes).

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Green's Spleen

Excerpts from Matthew Green (1696-1737), The Spleen. An Epistle to Mr Cuthbert Jackson.

To cure the mind's wrong bias, Spleen,
Some recommend the bowling green;
Some, hilly walks; all, exercise;
Fling but a stone, the giant dies.
Laugh and be well. Monkeys have been
Extreme good doctors for the Spleen;
And kitten, if the humour hit,
Has harlequin'd away the fit.
In rainy days keep double guard,
Or Spleen will surely be too hard;
Which, like those fish by sailors met,
Fly highest, while their wings are wet.
In such dull weather, so unfit
To enterprise a work of wit,
When clouds one yard of azure sky,
That's fit for simile, deny,
I dress my face with studious looks,
And shorten tedious hours with books.
But if dull fogs invade the head,
That memory minds not what is read,
I sit in window dry as ark,
And on the drowning world remark:
Or to some coffee-house I stray
For news, the manna of a day,
And from the hipp'd discourses gather,
That politics go by the weather:
Then seek good-humour'd tavern chums,
And play at cards, but for small sums;
Or with the merry fellows quaff,
And laugh aloud with them that laugh;
Or drink a joco-serious cup
With souls who've took their freedom up,
And let my mind, beguiled by talk,
In Epicurus' garden walk,
Who thought it heaven to be serene;
Pain, hell; and purgatory, spleen.
Passion, as frequently is seen,
Subsiding settles into Spleen.
Hence, as the plague of happy life,
I turn away from party-strife.
A prince's cause, a church's claim,
I've known to raise a mighty flame,
And priest, as stoker, very free
To throw in peace and charity.

That tribe, whose practicals decree
Small beer the deadliest heresy;
Who, fond of pedigree, derive
From the most noted whore alive;
Who own wine's old prophetic aid,
And love the mitre Bacchus made,
Forbid the faithful to depend
On half-pint drinkers for a friend,
And in whose gay red-lettered face
We read good living more than grace:
Nor they so pure, and so precise,
Immac'late as their white of eyes,
Who for the spirit hug the Spleen,
Phylacter'd throughout all their mien;
Who their ill-tasted home-brewed prayer
To the State's mellow forms prefer;
Who doctrines, as infectious, fear,
Which are not steeped in vinegar,
And samples of heart-chested grace
Expose in show-glass of the face,
Did never me as yet provoke
Either to honour band and cloak,
Or deck my hat with leaves of oak.
Reforming schemes are none of mine;
To mend the world's a vast design:
Like theirs, who tug in little boat,
To pull to them the ship afloat,
While to defeat their laboured end,
At once both wind and stream contend:
Success herein is seldom seen,
And zeal, when baffled, turns to Spleen.

Happy the man, who, innocent,
Grieves not at ills he can't prevent;
His skiff does with the current glide,
Not puff1ng pulled against the tide.
He, paddling by the scuffling crowd,
Sees unconcerned life's wager rowed,
And when he can't prevent foul play,
Enjoys the folly of the fray.
Since disappointment galls within,
And subjugates the soul to Spleen,
Most schemes, as money-snares, I hate,
And bite not at projector's bait.
Sufficient wrecks appear each day,
And yet fresh fools are cast away.
Ere well the bubbled can turn round,
Their painted vessel runs aground;
Or in deep seas it oversets
By a fierce hurricane of debts;
Or helm-directors in one trip,
Freight first embezzled, sink the ship.
Such was of late a corporation,
The brazen serpent of the nation,
Which when hard accidents distress'd,
The poor must look at to be bless'd,
And thence expect, with paper sealed
By fraud and usury, to be healed.
458-465, 472-475:
When I lean politicians mark
Grazing on ether in the Park;
Whoe'er on wing with open throats
Fly at debates, expresses, votes,
Just in the manner swallows use,
Catching their airy food of news;
Whose latrant stomachs oft molest
The deep-laid plans their dreams suggest...
I bless my stars, I never knew
Whimsies which, close pursued, undo,
And have from old experience been
Both parent and the child of Spleen.
Contentment, parent of delight,
So much a stranger to our sight,
Say, goddess, in what happy place
Mortals behold thy blooming face;
Thy gracious auspices impart,
And for thy temple choose my heart.
They, whom thou deignest to inspire,
Thy science learn, to bound desire;
By happy alchymy of mind
They turn to pleasure all they find;
They both disdain in outward mien
The grave and solemn garb of Spleen,
And meretricious arts of dress,
To feign a joy, and hide distress;
Unmoved when the rude tempest blows,
Without an opiate they repose;
And covered by your shield, defy
The whizzing shafts that round them fly:
Nor, meddling with the gods' affairs,
Concern themselves with distant cares;
But place their bliss in mental rest,
And feast upon the good possess'd.

Forced by soft violence of prayer,
The blithesome goddess soothes my care,
I feel the deity inspire,
And thus she models my desire.
Two hundred pounds half-yearly paid,
Annuity securely made,
A farm some twenty miles from town,
Small, tight, salubrious, and my own;
Two maids, that never saw the town,
A serving-man not quite a clown,
A boy to help to tread the mow,
And drive, while t' other holds the plough;
A chief, of temper formed to please,
Fit to converse, and keep the keys;
And better to preserve the peace,
Commission'd by the name of niece;
With understandings of a size
To think their master very wise.
May heaven (it's all I wish for) send
One genial room to treat a friend,
Where decent cupboard, little plate,
Display benevolence, not state.
And may my humble dwelling stand
Upon some chosen spot of land:
A pond before full to the brim,
Where cows may cool, and geese may swim;
Behind, a green like velvet neat,
Soft to the eye, and to the feet;
Where odorous plants in evening fair
Breathe all around ambrosial air;
From Eurus, foe to kitchen ground,
Fenced by a slope with bushes crowned,
Fit dwelling for the feathered throng,
Who pay their quit-rents with a song;
With opening views of hill and dale,
Which sense and fancy too regale,
Where the half-cirque, which vision bounds,
Like amphitheatre surrounds:
And woods impervious to the breeze,
Thick phalanx of embodied trees,
From hills through plains in dusk array
Extended far, repel the day.
Here stillness, height, and solemn shade
Invite, and contemplation aid:
Here nymphs from hollow oaks relate
The dark decrees and will of fate,
And dreams beneath the spreading beech
Inspire, and docile fancy teach;
While soft as breezy breath of wind,
Impulses rustle through the mind:
Here Dryads, scorning Phoebus' ray,
While Pan melodious pipes away,
In measured motions frisk about,
'Till old Silenus puts them out.
There see the clover, pea, and bean,
Vie in variety of green;
Fresh pastures speckled o'er with sheep,
Brown fields their fallow sabbaths keep,
Plump Ceres golden tresses wear,
And poppy top-knots deck her hair,
And silver streams through meadows stray,
And Naiads on the margin play,
And lesser nymphs on side of hills
From plaything urns pour down the rills.
May I, with look ungloom'd by guile,
And wearing Virtue's livery-smile,
Prone the distressed to relieve,
And little trespasses forgive,
With income not in Fortune's power,
And skill to make a busy hour,
With trips to town life to amuse,
To purchase books, and hear the news,
To see old friends, brush off the clown,
And quicken taste at coming down,
Unhurt by sickness' blasting rage,
And slowly mellowing in age,
When Fate extends its gathering gripe,
Fall off like fruit grown fully ripe,
Quit a worn being without pain,
Perhaps to blossom soon again.
Alexander Chalmers, The Life of Matthew Green, in The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, Vol. XV (London: Printed for J. Johnson et al., 1810), pp. 157-162 (at 158, among "anecdotes...given from indisputable authority"):
In a reform which took place in the Custom-house, amongst other articles, a few pence, paid weekly for providing the cats with milk, were ordered to be struck off. On this occasion, Mr. Green wrote a humorous petition as from the cats, which prevented the regulation in that particular from taking place.
Cheese-paring politicians, take note.


Fearful Auto-Antonyms

Liddell and Scott define φοβερός (phoberós) as both "causing fear, terrible" and "afraid, timid."

Lewis and Short define formidulosus as both "producing fear, dreadful, terrible, terrific" and "experiencing fear, afraid, timid, timorous."

The Oxford English Dictionary defines fearful as both "causing fear; inspiring terror, reverence, or awe; dreadful, terrible, awful" and "frightened, timorous, timid, apprehensive."

All are auto-antonyms, words that can mean the opposite of themselves.

Related posts:


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


An Epigram by Alexander Pope

From William Warburton's footnote to Dunciad IV.132, in The Works of Alexander Pope, Vol. V (London: J. and P. Knapton, 1751), p. 178 (the 1743 edition is unavailable to me):
My Lord complains, that Pope, stark mad with gardens,
Has lopt three trees the value of three farthings:
"But he's my neighbour," cries the peer polite,
"And if he'll visit me, I'll wave my right."
What! on compulsion? and against my will,
A Lord's acquaintance? Let him file his bill.
According to The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 2: 1660-1800, ed. George Watson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), col. 508, "Epigram by Mr Pope, who had cut down three walnut trees" first appeared in Publick Register No. 1 (January 3, 1741), which I haven't seen.

Who is the Lord? Three candidates have been proposed, all Pope's neighbors at Twickenham.

Lord Radnor

Joseph Warton, in his edition of Pope's Works, Vol. V (London: Printed for B. Law et al., 1797), p. 245, wrote, "The Lord is said to be his next neighbour, the then Lord Radnor." This is John Robartes, fourth Earl Radnor (1686-1757).

Lady Ferrers

In Correspondence between Frances, Countess of Hartford, (afterwards Duchess of Somerset,) and Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret, between the Years 1738 and 1741, 2nd ed., Vol. II (London: Richard Phillips, 1806), p. 186, the poem appears under the heading "Epigram, by Mr. Pope, Who had cut down three walnut trees in a ground belonging to Lady Ferrers (whom he makes a lord). The trees hindered his prospect of her garden." Lady Ferrers was the first Earl Ferrers' second wife and then widow, born Selina Finch (1681-1762).

From Anecdotes by Baptist Noel Turner (1739-1826), ed. Patricia Köster (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), pp. 59-60 (Anecdote 70), it also appears that the Lord may have been really a Lady. I don't have access to this book, and I can't piece together the entire anecdote from the snippet view in Google Books. All I can reconstruct is this (my ellipses in square brackets indicate gaps):
Mr Pope in a private Company related the following Anecdote of himself—A couple of Trees which grew upon the Grounds of some Lady of Quality obstructed his View, for which reason he sent immediately & without ceremony had them cut down. Being asked why he took so extraordinary a step, "Because says he, I was perfectly sure if I had desired leave it would not have been granted me & as I would not for five hundred Pound have had them remain where they were I thought it the best way to cut them down which would effectualy prevent their hurting my Prospect for the future, & was very ready to pay any damages a Jury would award. However says he I came off [....] Civility & good nature yet it doubtless flatter'd that Vanity the Bard himself avows

  Yes—I am proud—I must be proud—to see
  Men not afraid of God afraid of me!

Turner's note: Mrs Cantrell [anec. 13] however who told it me some years ago has just circumstantially repeated it (Nov l780) & insists she heard Mr Pope tell it at Gyles [anec. 74] the booksellers just as here related—It is possible then that this may be the truth, & and he might chuse to vary a little in an Epigram he himself wrote upon it something about

  Pope stark mad of gardens
  Cut down three trees in value scarce three farthings [....]
Lord Dysart

William M. Sale, Jr., "Pope and Lord Dysart," Modern Language Notes 46 (1931) 109-111 (at 109):
The incident which evoked this epigram is described, curiously enough, by Samuel Richardson. A copy of the lines, made by Richardson, is included in a section of one of the manuscript volumes of his correspondence, preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington.5 Above the epigram Richardson wrote: "Mr. Pope's servant having lopt6 two or three of My Ld Dysert's Trees; occasioned his master's writing the following lines."

5 Forster MSS., 48 E 10.
6 Richardson originally wrote "cut down" in place of "lopt."
This is Lionel Tollemache, fourth Earl Dysart (1708-1770).

Any reader who could send me images of Anecdotes by Baptist Noel Turner (1739-1826), ed. Patricia Köster (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), pp. 59-60, would do me a great service. The closest public library with a copy of this book is over a hundred miles from where I live.

I asked a friend, owner of an extensive personal library, if he had a copy, and he replied:
Ah, yes, the Reverend Turner's 'Anecdotes' — so runs my mundane bookman's fantasy — turret two in the West Wing, requiring a leisurely stroll down oak-panelled corridors, past the Portland vase, marble busts of ancestors and sundry Old Masters, up a spiral staircase and then ladder to reach the upper shelves of bay D. Do I trust the footman or should I go myself?

No, sorry. 'Anecdotes' is out of my reach.

Update: A kind reader has volunteered to send me a copy of the pages from Turner's Anecdotes.


Monday, February 14, 2011


The Fag End of a Life

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (September 22, 1758):
I should not take all this trouble merely to prolong the fag end of a life, from which I can expect no pleasure, and others no utility; but the cure, or at least the mitigation, of those physical ills which make that life a load while it does last, is worth any trouble and attention.
Id. (July 20, 1764):
As for me, I am just what I was when you left me, that is, nobody. Old age steals upon me insensibly. I grow weak and decrepit, but do not suffer, and so I am content.
Id. (April 22, 1765):
I see and hear these storms from shore, suave mari magno, etc. I enjoy my own security and tranquillity, together with better health than I had reason to expect at my age, and with my constitution: however, I feel a gradual decay, though a gentle one; and I think that I shall not tumble, but slide gently to the bottom of the hill of life. When that will be, I neither know nor care, for I am very weary.
His son died before he did.



Books, Inside and Outside

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (January 10, O.S. 1749):
Due attention to the inside of books, and due contempt for the outside, is the proper relation between a man of sense and his books.
Id. (March 19, O.S. 1750):
Buy good books, and read them; the best books are the commonest, and the last editions are always the best, if the editors are not blockheads, for they may profit of the former. But take care not to understand editions and title-pages too well. It always smells of pedantry, and not always of learning....Beware of the Bibliomanie.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The Fat of the Land

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men:
LENNIE: How long is it goin' be till we git that little place to live on the fat of the land?
GEORGE: I don't know. We gotta get a big stake together. I know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain't givin' it away. [CANDY turns slowly over and watches GEORGE.]
LENNIE: Tell about that place, George.
GEORGE: I jus' tole you. Jus' last night.
LENNIE: Go on, tell again.
GEORGE: Well, it's ten acres. Got a little windmill. Got a little shack on it and a chicken run. Got a kitchen orchard. Cherries, apples, peaches, 'cots and nuts. Got a few berries. There's a place for alfalfa and plenty of water to flood it. There's a pig pen....
LENNIE [breaking in]: And rabbits, George?
GEORGE: I could easy build a few hutches. And you could feed alfalfa to them rabbits.
LENNIE: Damn right I could. [Excitedly.] You goddamn right I could.
GEORGE [his voice growing warmer]: And we could have a few pigs. I'd build a smokehouse. And when we kill a pig we could smoke the hams. When the salmon run up the river we can catch a hundred of 'em. Every Sunday we'd kill a chicken or rabbit. Mebbe we'll have a cow or a goat. And the cream is so goddamn thick you got to cut it off the pan with a knife.
LENNIE [watching him with wide eyes, softly]: We can live off the fat of the land.
GEORGE: Sure. All kinds of vegetables in the garden and if we want a little whiskey we can sell some eggs or somethin'. And we wouldn't sleep in no bunkhouse. Nobody could can us in the middle of a job.
LENNIE [begging]: Tell about the house, George.
GEORGE: Sure. We'd have a little house. And a room to ourselves. And it ain't enough land so we'd have to work too hard. Mebbe six, seven hours a day only. We wouldn't have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. And when we put in a crop, why we'd be there to take that crop up. We'd know what come of our planting.
Isaak Levitan, Sunny Day


Knock, Knock

Alexander Pope, Epigram (An Empty House):
You beat your Pate, and fancy Wit will come:
Knock as you please, there's nobody at home.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


The Fall of Princes

Seneca, Thyestes 391-403 (tr. Abraham Cowley):
Upon the slippery tops of humane State,
  The guilded Pinnacles of Fate,
Let others proudly stand, and for a while
  The giddy danger to beguile,
With Joy, and with disdain look down on all,
  Till their Heads turn, and down they fall.
Me, O ye Gods, on Earth, or else so near
  That I no Fall to Earth may fear,
And, O ye gods, at a good distance seat
  From the long Ruines of the Great.
Here wrapt in th' Arms of Quiet let me ly;
Quiet, Companion of Obscurity.
Here let my Life, with as much silence slide,
  As Time that measures it does glide.
Nor let the Breath of Infamy or Fame,
From town to town Eccho about my Name.
Nor let my homely Death embroidered be
  With Scutcheon or with Elegie.
  An old Plebean let me Dy,
Alas, all then are such as well as I.
  To him, alas, to him, I fear,
The face of Death will terrible appear:
Who in his life flattering his senceless pride
By being known to all the world beside,
Does not himself, when he is Dying know
Nor what he is, nor Whither hee's to go.

Stet quicumque volet potens
aulae culmine lubrico:
me dulcis saturet quies.
obscuro positus loco
leni perfruar otio,
nullis nota Quiritibus
aetas per tacitum fluat.
sic cum transierint mei
nullo cum strepitu dies,
plebeius moriar senex.
illi mors gravis incubat
qui, notus nimis omnibus,
ignotus moritur sibi.
The same, tr. Richard Polwhele (1760-1838):
The dizzy dome be his, who will;
Be mine the shade, obscure and still.
Here, while the great in public pine,
Be dulcet rest and leisure mine.
Unknown to all the sons of pride,
Smooth may my hours in silence glide.
So, when the close of life draws near,
Without a trouble or a fear,
Unnotic'd by the world, may I
An aged but a poor man, die!
Heavy the stroke of death must fall
On him who, conversant with all
Where'er he turns his anxious eyes,
Yet to himself a stranger dies!
Related posts:

Friday, February 11, 2011



Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Beauty VII, from Leda (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920), p. 52:
Trees, the half-fossilised exuberances of a passionate life, petrified fountains of intemperance—with their abolition begins the realm of reason.

Geometry, lines and planes, smooth edges, the ordered horror of perspectives. In this country there are pavements bright and sleek as water. The walls are precipices to which giants have nailed a perpetual cataract of marble. The fringes of the sky are scalloped with a pattern of domes and minarets. At night, too, the downstruck lamps are pyramids of phantom green and the perfect circle they make upon the pavement is magical.

Look over the parapet of the Acropolis. The bridges go dizzily down on their swaying catenaries, the gull's flight chained fast. The walls drop clear into the valley, all the millions of basalt blocks calcined into a single red monolith, fluted with thirstily shining organ pipes, which seem for ever wet. There are no crevices for moss and toadflax, and even the claws of the yellow lichen slip on its polished flanks.

The valley is all paved and inlaid with rivers of steel. No trees, for they have been abolished.

"Glorious unnature," cries the watcher at the parapet. His voice launches into the abyss, following the curve of the bridges. "Glorious unnature. We have triumphed."

But his laughter as it descends is like a flight of broken steps.




In a good example of the rhetorical device known as praeteritio, Sarah Palin said of Rick Santorum: "I will not call him the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I'll let his wife call him that instead.“

The earliest occurrence I can find of the expression "knuckle-dragging" is Robert L. Humphrey, "Human Nature in American Thought: Reconciliation of the Ages of Reason and Science," Political Science Quarterly 69.2 (June 1954) 266-270 (at 268):
The more primitive the society we visualize, the more easily we can grasp the validity of this phenomenon. Contemplate, for instance, the virtue of hate-fear resultant values and actions for our knuckle-dragging ancestors in their grim, sabre-tooth tiger surroundings.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


An Invitation to Dinner

Horace, Epistles 1.5 (tr. John Duncombe):
If you can loll on antique Beds, and eat
Herbs for your Supper, on an earthen Plate,
To-night, Torquatus, I'll expect you here.
My Wine was cask'd in Taurus' second Year:
Minturna's marshy Valley yields the Vine;
Bring yours, if better; if not, drink of mine.

Already shines my Sideboard, smokes my Fire:
From Hopes, and Fears, and Thirst of Gain retire,
And Moschus' Cause. To-morrow's glorious
Morn Indulges Rest; for then was Caesar born;
So may we safely, 'till the rising Light,
In social Converse wear the shorten'd Night.

Say, why are Riches giv'n, but to enjoy?
Who starves himself to glut some favourite Boy
Is little less than mad. Flowers will I spread,
And deeply drink, and no Reproaches dread.

What Wonders Wine effects? By that, reveal'd
Are Secrets; Cowards hurry'd to the Field;
To the dejected, Courage it imparts,
Fires with fresh Hopes the bold, and teaches Arts.
Bumpers inspire with Eloquence divine,
And ev'n the needy drown their Wants in Wine.

I, for my Part, will strict Attention lend,
Lest a stain'd Bed, or dirty Cloth, offend.
Each Plate and Dish shall, like a polish'd Glass,
Reflect your Face. The Door let nothing pass.
That well-match'd Tempers may be aptly join'd,
You here will Brutus and Septimius find;
Sabinus too, if by no better Feast
And a kind Girl detain'd, shall be my Guest:
And Room will still be left for other Friends;
But in the Dog-days Heat a Crowd offends.
Your Number fix; and, letting Business wait,
Slip from your Client through the Garden-Gate.
The same, imitated by Francis Fawkes (to Dr. Hawkesworth):
If you, Dear Sir, will deign to pass a Day
In the fair Vale of Orpington and Cray,
And live for once as humble Vicars do;
On Thursday I'll expect you here by two.
Expect no Niceties my Plates to foul,
But Bansted Mutton, and a Barn-door Fowl.
My Friends with generous Liquors I regale,
Good Port, Old Hock, or, if they like it, Ale;
But if of richer Wine you chuse a Quart,
Why bring, and drink it here—with all my Heart.

Plain is my Furniture, as is my Treat,
For 'tis my best Ambition, to be neat.
Leave then all sordid Views, and Hopes of Gain,
To Mortals miserable, mad, or vain;
Put the last Polish to th' historic Page,
And cease awhile to moralise the Age.
By your sweet Converse chear'd, the livelong Day
Will pass unnotic'd, like the Stream, away.

Why should kind Providence Abundance give,
If we, like Niggards, can't afford to live?
The wretched Miser, poor 'midst Heaps of Pelf,
To cram his Heir, most madly starves himself—
So will not I—Give me good Wine and Ease,
And let all Misers call me Fool that please.

What cannot Wine? It opens all the Soul;
Faint Hope grows brilliant o'er the sparkling Bowl:
Wine's generous Spirit makes the Coward brave,
Gives Ease to Kings, and Freedom to the Slave:
Bemus'd in Wine, the Bard his Duns forgets,
And drinks serene Oblivion to his Debts:
Wine drives all Cares and Anguish from the Heart,
And dubs us Connoisseurs of every Art.
Whom does not Wine with Eloquence inspire?
The bowzy Beggar struts into a Squire.

This you well know—to Me belongs to mind
That Neatness with Frugality be join'd;
That no intruding Blab, with itching Ears,
Darken my Doors, who tells whate'er he hears.
Two Duncombes, each a Poet, with me dine,
Your Friends, and decent Colman, a Divine:
There's Room for more; so, to complete the Band,
Your Wife will bring fair Innocence in Hand.
Should Cave want Copy, let the Teaser wait,
While you steal secret through the Garden-Gate.
The Latin original:
Si potes Archiacis conviva recumbere lectis
nec modica cenare times holus omne patella,
supremo te sole domi, Torquate, manebo.
vina bibes iterum Tauro diffusa palustris
inter Minturnas Sinuessanumque Petrinum.
si melius quid habes, arcesse, vel imperium fer.

iamdudum splendet focus et tibi munda supellex.
mitte levis spes et certamina divitiarum
et Moschi causam: cras nato Caesare festus
dat veniam somnumque dies; impune licebit
aestivam sermone benigno tendere noctem.

quo mihi fortunam, si non conceditur uti?
parcus ob heredis curam nimiumque severus
adsidet insano. potare et spargere flores
incipiam, patiarque vel inconsultus haberi.

quid non ebrietas dissignat? operta recludit,
spes iubet esse ratas, ad proelia trudit inertem,
sollicitis animis onus eximit, addocet artes.
fecundi calices quem non fecere disertum?
contracta quem non in paupertate solutum?

haec ego procurare et idoneus imperor et non
invitus, ne turpe toral, ne sordida mappa
corruget naris, ne non et cantharus et lanx
ostendat tibi te, ne fidos inter amicos
sit qui dicta foras eliminet, ut coeat par
iungaturque pari. Butram tibi Septiciumque,
et nisi cena prior potiorque puella Sabinum
detinet, adsumam. locus est et pluribus umbris:
sed nimis arta premunt olidae convivia caprae.
tu quotus esse velis rescribe et rebus omissis
atria servantem postico falle clientem.


The Way to Succeed

Anthony C. Deane (1870-1946), A Certain Cure:
When I look at my diligent neighbours,
  Each wholly convinced in his mind
That the fruit of his personal labours
  Will be the reform of mankind,
When I notice the bland satisfaction
  That brightens the features of each—
Commendably prudent in action,
    Though mighty in speech—

Observing by dint of persistence
  What wide reputation they gain,
The clew to a happy existence
  Is rendered increasingly plain,
Because the self-satisfied feeling
  I covet may quickly be had
By any one owning (or stealing)
    A suitable fad.

Shall I hotly oppose Vivisection?
   Grow warm on the Drainage of Flats?
Or strive for the Better Protection
  Of Commons, Cathedrals, or Cats?
Perhaps in orations that thrill, I
  For freedom (and fever) will fight—
A portion of small-pox bacilli
    Is simply our right!

However, the choice is a detail;
  Whatever the fad be about,
To trade in it, wholesale and retail,
  To preach it, in season and out,
And so to be reckoned a leader
  (Although there be little to lead),
Yes, that's, O incredulous reader,
    The way to succeed!

You find that existence is hollow,
  The fight for position is hard.
A remedy? Yes, if you'll follow
  This way, to the fad-monger's yard:
Come, here is a hobby—astride it
  You settle; I tighten the girth—
So-off, and good-luck to you! Ride it
    For all it is worth!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Exemplaria Graeca Nocturna Versate Manu, Versate Diurna

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to his Son (undated), number CCII in 4th edition (London: J. Dodsley, 1774):
Let Greek, without fail, share some part of every day; I do not mean the Greek poets, the catches of Anacreon, or the tender complaints of Theocritus, or even the porter-like language of Homer's heroes; of whom all smatterers in Greek know a little, quote often, and talk of always; but I mean Plato, Aristoteles, Demosthenes, and Thucydides, whom none but adepts know. It is Greek that must distinguish you in the learned world, Latin alone will not: and Greek must be sought to be retained, for it never occurs like Latin.
On the other hand, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notas, 210 (tr. Michael Hendry), does recommend Homer:
The reading of Homer every morning, with the serenity, the tranquillity, the deep sensation of moral and physical well-being which it instills in us, is the best provision to endure the vulgarities of the day.

La lectura matutina de Homero, con la serenidad, el sosiego, la honda sensación de bienestar moral y físico, de salud perfecta, que nos infunde, es el mejor viático para soportar las vulgaridades del díia.


The Scholar and His Dog

John Marston (1576-1634), The Scholar and His Dog (from the play What You Will, Act 2, Scene 2):
I was a scholar: seven useful springs
Did I deflower in quotations
Of cross'd opinions 'bout the soul of man;
The more I learnt, the more I learnt to doubt.
Delight, my spaniel slept, whilst I baus'd leaves,
Toss'd o'er the dunces, pored on the old print
Of titled words: and still my spaniel slept.
Whilst I wasted lamp-oil, baited my flesh,
Shrunk up my veins: and still my spaniel slept.
And still I held converse with Zabarell,
Aquinas, Scotus, and the musty saw
Of antick Donate: still my spaniel slept.
Still on went I; first, an sit anima;
Then, an it were mortal. Oh, hold, hold! at that
They're at brain buffets, fell by the ears amain
Pell-mell together; still my spaniel slept.
Then, whether 't were corporeal, local, fixt,
Ex traduce, but whether 't had free will
Or no, hot philosphers
Stood banding factions, all so strongly propt,
I stagger'd, knew not which was firmer part,
But thought, quoted, read, observ'd, and pryed,
Stufft noting-books: and still my spaniel slept.
At length he wak'd, and yawn'd; and by yon sky,
For aught I know he knew as much as I.
springs = sources
deflower = excerpt, cull
baus'd = kissed
dunces = scholastic philosophers
an sit anima = whether the soul exists
Zabarrel = the philosopher Giacomo Zabarella
Aquinas, Scotus = scholastic philosophers
Donate = the grammarian Donatus
ex traduce = by descent
noting-books = notebooks

Related post: Pangur Ban.

Monday, February 07, 2011


Whipped Cream

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (February 5, O.S. 1750):
Many people lose a great deal of time by reading: for they read frivolous and idle books, such as the absurd romances of the two last centuries; where characters, that never existed, are insipidly displayed, and sentiments that were never felt, pompously described: the Oriental ravings and extravagances of the "Arabian Nights," and Mogul tales; or, the new flimsy brochures that now swarm in France, of fairy tales, Réflections sur le coeur et l'esprit, metaphysique de l'amour, analyse des beaux sentimens, and such sort of idle frivolous stuff, that nourishes and improves the mind just as much as whipped cream would the body. Stick to the best established books in every language; the celebrated poets, historians, orators, or philosophers. By these means (to use a city metaphor) you will make fifty PER CENT. of that time, of which others do not make above three or four, or probably nothing at all.
A. Canella, The Reader


Iniquity on High

A.E. Housman, Last Poems IX, lines 13-16:
It is in truth iniquity on high
    To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
    Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


'Tis Fine Frisk and Fun to be Grieving

Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), Sound Argument:
We bipeds, made up of frail clay,
  Alas! are the children of sorrow;
And though brisk and merry to-day,
  We may all be wretched to-morrow—
For sunshine's succeeded by rain;
  Then, fearful of life's stormy weather,
Lest pleasure should only bring pain,
  Let us all be unhappy together.

I grant the best blessing we know
  Is a friend—for true friendship's a treasure;
And yet, lest your friend prove a foe,
  Oh taste not the dangerous pleasure.
Thus friendship's a flimsy affair;
  Thus riches and health are a bubble;
Thus there's nothing delightful but care,
  Nor anything pleasing but trouble.

If a mortal could point out that life
  Which on earth could be nearest to heaven,
Let him, thanking his stars, choose a wife
  To whom truth and honour are given.
But honour and truth are so rare,
  And horns, when they're cutting, so tingle,
That, with all my respect to the fair,
  I'd advise him to sigh, and live single.

It appears, from these premises, plain
  That wisdom is nothing but folly,
That pleasure's a term that means pain,
  And that joy is your true melancholy;
That all those who laugh ought to cry,
  That 'tis fine frisk and fun to be grieving,
And that, since we must all of us die,
  We should taste no enjoyment while living.


Nine Hours

R.A. Knox, A Spiritual Aeneid (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918), p. 62:
I was, however, classic enough to go for inspiration to the original Greek texts (a fortunate choice, I believe, for the year in which I was examined). Plato, with Dr. Caird to expound him, was alone worth all the vapourings of the moderns. One of the best days I have spent was that on which, in a space of nine hours, I succeeded in reading the Republic from cover to cover.
Related posts:

Saturday, February 05, 2011


A Tragedy

De Morte (attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh):
Man's Life's a Tragedy:—his Mother's Womb
(From which he enters) is the tiring Room;
This spacious Earth the Theater; and the Stage
That Countrey which he lives in:—Passions, Rage,
Folly, and Vice are Actors:—The first cry
The Prologue to th' ensuing Tragedy:
The former Act consisteth of dumb shows;
The second, he to more Perfection grows;
I' th' third he is a Man, and doth begin
To nurture vice, and act the deeds of sin;
I' th' fourth, declines; I' th' fifth, Diseases clog
And trouble him:—then Death's his Epilogue.
Pieter Claesz, Vanitas



Ambrose Bierce, Incurable:
From pride, guile, hate, greed, melancholy—
From any kind of vice, or folly,
Bias, propensity or passion
That is in prevalence and fashion,
Save one, the sufferer or lover
May, by the grace of God, recover.
Alone that spiritual tetter,
The zeal to make creation better,
Glows still immedicably warmer.
Who knows of a reformed reformer?
Tetter = itch, skin disease.

Friday, February 04, 2011



William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Hambledon, October 22, 1826):
Wens have devoured market-towns and villages; and shops have devoured markets and fairs; and this, too, to the infinite injury of the most numerous classes of the people. Shop-keeping, merely as shop-keeping, is injurious to any community. What are the shop and the shop-keeper for? To receive and distribute the produce of the land. There are other articles, certainly; but the main part is the produce of the land. The shop must be paid for; the shop-keeper must be kept; and the one must be paid for and the other must be kept by the consumer of the produce; or, perhaps, partly by the consumer and partly by the producer.

When fairs were very frequent, shops were not needed. A manufacturer of shoes, of stockings, of hats; of almost any thing that man wants, could manufacture at home in an obscure hamlet, with cheap house-rent, good air, and plenty of room. He need pay no heavy rent for shop; and no disadvantages from confined situation; and, then, by attending three or four or five or six fairs in a year, he sold the work of his hands, unloaded with a heavy expense attending the keeping of a shop. He would get more for ten shillings in a booth at a fair or market, than he would get in a shop for ten or twenty pounds. Of course he could afford to sell the work of his hands for less; and thus a greater portion of their earnings, remained with those who raised the food, and the clothing from the land.


Does not every one see, in a minute, how this exchanging of fairs, and markets for shops creates idlers and traffickers; creates those locusts, called middle-men, who create nothing, who add to the value of nothing, who improve nothing, but who live in idleness, and who live well, too, out of the labour of the producer and the consumer.


Those Dear Old Mispronunciations

H.G. Wells, Tono-Bungay I.I.VI:
We found a wood where "Trespassing" was forbidden, and did the "Retreat of the Ten Thousand" through it from end to end, cutting our way bravely through a host of nettle beds that barred our path, and not forgetting to weep and kneel when at last we emerged within sight of the High Road Sea. So we have burst at times, weeping and rejoicing, upon startled wayfarers. Usually I took the part of that distinguished general Xenōphen—and please note the quantity of the ō. I have all my classical names like that,—Socrates rhymes with Bates for me, and except when the bleak eye of some scholar warns me of his standards of judgment, I use those dear old mispronunciations still. The little splash into Latin made during my days as a chemist washed off nothing of the habit. Well,—if I met those great gentlemen of the past with their accents carelessly adjusted I did at least meet them alive, as an equal, and in a living tongue.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Seeking the Sunny South

Henry David Thoreau, untitled poem, in Collected Essays and Poems (New York: Library of America, 2001), pp. 608-609:
I seek the Present Time,
No other clime,
Life in to-day,
Not to sail another way,
To Paris or to Rome,
Or farther still from home.
That man, whoe'er he is,
Lives but a moral death,
Whose life is not coeval
With his breath.
What are deeds done
Away from home?
What the best essay
On the Ruins of Rome?
The dusty highways,
What Scripture says,
This pleasant weather
And all signs together—
The river's meander,
All things, in short,
Forbid me to wander
In deed or in thought.
In cold or in drouth,
Seek Not the sunny South,
But make the whole tour
Of the sunny Present Hour.
For here if thou fail,
Where canst thou prevail?
If you love not
Your own land most,
You'll find nothing lovely
Upon a distant coast.
If you love not
The latest sunset,
What is there in pictures
Or old gems set?

If no man should travel
Till he had the means,
There'd be little travelling
For kings or for Queens.
The means, what are they!
They are the wherewithal
Great expenses to pay;—
Life got, and some to spare,
Great works on hand,
And freedom from care.
Plenty of time well spent,
To use,—
Clothes paid for, and no rent
In your shoes;—
Something to eat,
And something to burn,
And, above all, no need to return;—
For they who come back,
Have they not failed,
Wherever they've ridden
Or steamed it, or sailed?
All your grass hayed,—
All your debts paid,—
All your wills made?
Then you might as well have stayed,
For are you not dead,
Only not buried?

The way unto "Today,"
The rail road to "Here,"
They never'll grade that way,
Nor shorten it, I fear.
There are plenty of depots
All the world o'er,
But not a single station
At a man's door;
If we would get near
To the secret of things,
We shall not have to hear
When the engine bell rings.
In most doubtful matters I ask the question "What would Thoreau do?" and try to follow his advice, but when he says, "Seek Not the sunny South," I'm going to disobey. The cold and snow have beaten me down this winter, and as soon as it's safe to drive, I'm going to "das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn," or at any rate where the peach trees blossom, to Georgia.

R. Dillon Boylan translated Goethe's lines thus:
Know'st thou the land where the lemon tree blows—
Where deep in the bower the gold orange grows?
Where zephyrs from Heaven die softly away,
And the laurel and myrtle tree never decay?
Know'st thou it?
Thither, oh! thither with thee,
My dearest, my fondest! with thee would I flee.
The German:
Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.
Goethe's stanza recalls James Thomson, The Seasons (Summer, lines 663-668):
Bear me, Pomona! to thy citron Groves;
To where the Lemon and the piercing Lime,
With the deep Orange, glowing through the green,
Their lighter glories blend. Lay me reclined
Beneath the spreading Tamarind that shakes,
Fann'd by the breeze, its fever-cooling Fruit.


True Wealth

Henry David Thoreau, Huckleberries, in Collected Essays and Poems (New York: Library of America, 2001), pp. 468-501 (at 498):
We cut down the few old oaks which witnessed the transfer of the township from the Indian to the white man, and perchance commence our museum with a cartridge box taken from a British soldier in 1775. How little we insist on truly grand and beautiful natural features. There may be the most beautiful landscapes in the world within a dozen miles of us, for aught we know—for their inhabitants do not value nor perceive them—and so have not made them known to others—but if a grain of gold were picked up there, or a pearl found in a fresh-water clam, the whole state would resound with the news.

Thousands annually seek the White Mountains to be refreshed by their wild and primitive beauty—but when the country was discovered a similar kind of beauty prevailed all over it—and much of this might have been preserved for our prersent refreshment if a little foresight and taste had been used.

I do not believe that there is a town in this country which realizes in what its true wealth consists.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Phlegm versus Bile

Molière, The Misanthrope I.1 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
The unbending virtue of the olden days
Clashes with modern times and modern ways;
Its stiff demands on mortals go too far;
We have to live with people as they are;
And the greatest folly of the human mind
Is undertaking to correct mankind.
Like you I note a thousand things a day
That might go better, done another way,
But notwithstanding all that comes in view,
Men do not find me full of wrath like you;
I take men as they are, with self-control;
To suffer what they do I train my soul,
And I think, whether court or town's the scene,
My calm's as philosophic as your spleen.

Cette grande raideur des vertus des vieux âges,
Heurte trop notre siècle, et les communs usages,
Elle veut aux mortels, trop de perfection,
Il faut fléchir au temps, sans obstination;
Et c'est une folie, à nulle autre, seconde,
De vouloir se mêler de corriger le monde.
J'observe, comme vous, cent choses, tous les jours,
Qui pourroient mieux aller, prenant un autre cours:
Mais quoi qu'à chaque pas, je puisse voir paraître,
En courroux, comme vous, on ne me voit point être;
Je prends, tout doucement, les hommes comme ils sont,
J'accoutume mon âme à souffrir ce qu'ils font;
Et je crois qu'à la cour, de même qu'à la ville,
Mon flegme est philosophe, autant que votre bile.
Related posts:


Without Exception

Molière, The Misanthrope I.1 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
PHILINTE. Toward human nature you are very spiteful.
ALCESTE. I am; the hate I feel for it is frightful.
PHILINTE. Shall all poor mortals, then, without exception,
Be lumped together in this mass aversion?
Even today you still find now and then...
ALCESTE. No, it is general; I hate all men.

PHILINTE. Vous voulez un grand mal à la nature humaine!
ALCESTE. Oui, j'ai conçu pour elle, une effroyable haine.
PHILINTE. Tous les pauvres mortels, sans nulle exception,
Seront enveloppés dans cette aversion?
Encor, en est-il bien, dans le siècle où nous sommes...
ALCESTE. Non, elle est générale, et je hais tous les hommes.
Related post: Description of a Recluse.


Republican Health Care Plan?

Molière, The Imaginary Invalid III.3 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
ARGAN. Then what should you do when you're sick?
BÉRALDE. Nothing, brother.
ARGAN. Nothing?
BÉRALDE. Nothing.

ARGAN. Que faire donc quand on est malade?
BÉRALDE. Rien, mon frère.
ARGAN. Rien?
You have to admit that this plan does keep down the cost of health care.

Related posts:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Those Who Labor in the Earth

Euripides, Orestes 917-922 (tr. David Kovacs):
Another man got up and made precisely the opposite proposal. He was not handsome to look at but a brave man, one who rarely had anything to do with the city or the market circle, a man who farmed with his own hands, the sort who alone keep the land from destruction, yet clever enough to grapple in argument when he wanted: he has lived a life of integrity, above reproach.

ἄλλος δ' ἀναστὰς ἔλεγε τῷδ' ἐναντία,
μορφῇ μὲν οὐκ εὐωπός, ἀνδρεῖος δ' ἀνήρ,
ὀλιγάκις ἄστυ κἀγορᾶς χραίνων κύκλον,
αὐτουργός, οἵπερ καὶ μόνοι σῴζουσι γῆν.
ξυνετὸς δέ χωρεῖν ὁμόσε τοῖς λόγοις θέλων,
ἀκέραιος ἀνεπίπληκτον ἠσκηκὼς βίον.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Jay (August 23, 1785):
Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its interests, by the most lasting bonds.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIX:
Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistance, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers. Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. This, the natural progress and consequence of the arts, has sometimes perhaps been retarded by accidental circumstances: but, generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any state to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good-enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption. While we have land to labour then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff.
Or tapping on a computer keyboard.


Classical Criticism

George L. Richardson, Classical Criticism:
                21 B.C.

Old Horace, on a summer afternoon,
Well primed with sweet Falernian, let us say,
Lulled by the far-off brooklet's drowsy croon
To a half-doze, in a haphazard way
Scratched off a half a dozen careless rhymes,
As was his habit. When next day he came
Awake to work, he read them several times
In vain attempt to catch their sense and aim.
"What was I thinking about? Blest if I know!
Jupiter! What's the difference? Let them go!"

                1886 A.D.

"Lines twelve to twenty are in great dispute,"
(Most learnedly the lecturer doth speak.)
"I think I shall be able to refute
Orelli's claim they're taken from the Greek.
I think, with Bentley, Horace's purpose here
Is irony, and yet I do not know
But Dillenberger's reading is more clear
For which he gives eight arguments, although
Wilkins gives twelve objections to the same"—
(So on ad infinitum.) Such is fame.

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