Friday, September 30, 2011


Childhood Retreats

Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Hidden Roads: A Memoir of Childhood (London: Quercus, 2009), p. 103:
Irrespective of the cirumstances in which children grow up, we make for ourselves (and sometimes in the least appetising, most improbable places) secret and healing retreats, where actuality and imagination meet, and time stands outside the door. And what goes on in these places is often so potent, so resonant that we revisit them for the remainder of our lives.
Thomas Hardy, Childhood Among the Ferns:
I sat one sprinkling day upon the lea,
Where tall-stemmed ferns spread out luxuriantly,
And nothing but those tall ferns sheltered me.

The rain gained strength, and damped each lopping frond,
Ran down their stalks beside me and beyond,
And shaped slow-creeping rivulets as I conned,

With pride, my spray-roofed house. And though anon
Some drops pierced its green rafters, I sat on,
Making pretence I was not rained upon.

The sun then burst, and brought forth a sweet breath
From the limp ferns as they dried underneath:
I said: "I could live on here thus till death";

And queried in the green rays as I sate:
"Why should I have to grow to man's estate,
And this afar-noised World perambulate?"
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Loafer

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932), Pagan Papers (London: John Lane, 1898), pp. 48-51:
[T]he Loafer quits the village; and now the world is before him. Shall he sit on a gate and smoke? or lie on the grass and smoke? or smoke aimlessly and at large along the road? Such a choice of happiness is distracting; but perhaps the last course is the best—as needing the least mental effort of selection. Hardly, however, has he fairly started his first daydream when the snappish "ting" of a bellkin recalls him to realities. By comes the bicyclist: dusty, sweating, a piteous thing to look upon. But the irritation of the strepitant metal has jarred the Loafer's always exquisite nerves: he is fain to climb a gate and make his way towards solitude and the breezy downs.

Up here all vestiges of a sordid humanity disappear. The Loafer is alone with the south-west wind and the blue sky. Only a carolling of larks and a tinkling from distant flocks break the brooding noonday stillness; above, the wind-hover hangs motionless, a black dot on the blue. Prone on his back on the springy turf, gazing up into the sky, his fleshy integument seems to drop away, and the spirit ranges at will among the tranquil clouds. This way Nirvana nearest lies. Earth no longer obtrudes herself; possibly somewhere a thousand miles or so below him the thing still "spins like a fretful midge." The Loafer knows not nor cares. His is now an astral body, and through golden spaces of imagination his soul is winging her untrammelled flight. And there he really might remain for ever, but that his vagrom spirit is called back to earth by a gentle but resistless, very human summons,—a gradual, consuming, Pantagruelian, god-like, thirst: a thirst to thank Heaven on. So, with a sigh half of regret, half of anticipation, he bends his solitary steps towards the nearest inn. Tobacco for one is good; to commune with oneself and be still is truest wisdom; but beer is a thing of deity—beer is divine.

Anent "beer is divine", Eric Thomson sends this delightful illustration by Arthur Rackham for Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, with the caption "He presently reappeared, somewhat dusty, with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm":

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Domi Manere Oportet

Erasmus, Adages III i 13 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
Domi manere oportet belle fortunatum
He who is well off should stay at home

Οἴκοι μένειν δεῖ τὸν καλῶς εὐδαίμονα, He for whom all goes well should stay at home. Let the man who has adequate resources, if he wishes to live a happy life, live at home. Nowhere else will he find the same comfort and the same freedom. Let the man who is in want go abroad to find a living and venture a game of luck. So Menander: 'The man who is well off should stay at home / And keep his freedom, or be no longer free'. It can also be turned to quite another sense: The man who has a good conscience should not seek credit from other men's applause, but rest content with the sense of his own merit.

Domi manere oportet belle fortunatum
Οἴκοι μένειν δεῖ τὸν καλῶς εὐδαίμονα

i.e. Domi manendum est, cuncta cui sunt prospera.

Cui suppetit copia facultatum, is si velit felicem agere vitam, domi vivat. Nusquam enim vivitur commodius, nusquam liberius. Qui eget, peregrinando rem quaerat, ac fortunae experiatur aleam. Ita Menander:

Οἴκοι μένειν χρὴ καὶ μένειν ἐλεύθερον,
Ἢ μηκέτ᾿ εἶναι τὸν καλῶς εὐδαίμονα,


Domi manere oportet, ut liber siet,
Aut liber esse desinat, qui dives est.

Potest in hunc quoque detorqueri sensum: Qui sibi bene conscius est, ne captet ex alienis laudibus gloriam, sed sit suarum virtutum conscientia contentus.

Pascal, Pensées 136 (tr. Stanley Appelbaum):
I've often said that all of man's unhappiness comes from one thing: not knowing how to remain calmly in one room.

J'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.
Related posts:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Preparation for Life

Aldous Huxley, "Doodles in the Dictionary," in Adonis and the Alphabet (1956; rpt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1975), pp. 240-250 (at 240-241):
In only one respect do I resemble Shakespeare: I know little Latin and less Greek. Once, long ago, I knew quite a lot of both. I had to; for I was brought up in what it is now fashionable to call the Western Tradition, the educational system which equated wisdom with a knowledge of the classical authors in the original, and defined culture as an ability to write grammatically correct Greek and Latin prose. And not merely prose; for at Eton, in my day, we strictly meditated the thankless Muse. The whole of every Tuesday, from seven in the morning until ten at night, was devoted to the exhausting and preposterous task of translating thirty or forty lines of English poetry into Latin or, on great occasions, Greek verses. For those who were most successful in producing pastiches of Ovid or Horace or Euripides, there were handsome prizes. I still have a Matthew Arnold in crimson morocco, a Shelley in half-calf, to testify to my one-time prowess in these odd fields of endeavour. Today I could no more write a copy of Greek iambics, or even of Latin hexameters, than I could fly. All I can remember of these once indispensable arts is the intense boredom by which the practice of them was accompanied. Even today the sight of Dr Smith's Shorter Latin Dictionary, or of Liddell's and Scott's Greek Lexicon, has power to recall that ancient ennui. What dreary hours have I spent frantically turning those pages in search of a word for 'cow' that could be scanned as a dactyl, or to make sure that my memory of the irregular verbs and the Greek accents was not at fault! I hate to think of all that wasted time. And yet, in view of the fact that most human beings are destined to pass most of their life at jobs in which it is impossible for them to take the slightest interest, this old-fashioned training with the dictionary may have been extremely salutary. At least it taught one to know and expect the worst of life. Whereas the pupil in a progressive school, where everything is made to seem entertaining and significant, lives in a fool's paradise. As a preparation for life, not as it ought to be, but as it actually is, the horrors of Greek grammar and the systematic idiocy of Latin verses were perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, it must be admitted that they tended to leave their victims with a quite irrational distaste for poor dear Dr Smith.



Abraham Lincoln, autobiographical sketch given to Jesse W. Fell, December 20, 1859:
If a straggler supposed to understand Latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard.


Rebounding Axes

I'm indebted to Eric Thomson for what follows.

Further to rebounding axes, the topos occurs in a 12th century version of the Invention of the Cross legend, Arthur S. Napier, History of the Holy Rood-Tree, Early English Texts Society 103 (London, 1894) [repr. 1973], pp. 24-7.
Hit ilamp hwilon þæt ðerto eoden hundtentige iudeiscrsæ monnæ & þæt treow nimæn wolden & hit to þæs sacerdes botle beron wolden. Ðæs nome wæs cericius he wæs on þam time miclæn abisgod embe his botlungæ & imynt hæfde þæt he þæt ylce treow ðerto don wolde. ða ne mihte heora nan hit of þam styde awecgæn. þa yrsode he wið heom & cwæð. þæt hit heoræ leasung were. & wende þa himsylf ðerto & het him mid bringæn swa fela æxæ swa mon bigeten mihte & he sylf ðerto feng & heo hit wolden ut of þam temple hæbben. þa ne mihte heoræ nan hit awecgan Ða het he heom mid heoræ æxum to gan & hit on ðreo toceorfæn. Ða wearð hit swa heard swylce hit stælen wære & þare æxene swengæs gewendon on ðare ansyne þe hit ceorfæn sceolden. Ða feringæ heom ealle on hawigende asprong þær fyr on ðreo healfe ðaes treowæs ant forbernde sixtig monnæ of þam monnum þe hit forceorfæn wolden & þone preost forð mid.

It happened on a time that a hundred Jewish men went thither [Solomon's Temple], and wished to take the tree and to bear it to the priest's house, whose name was Cericius. He was at that time much occupied with his building, and had resolved to use that same tree for it. But none of them could move it from the spot; then he grew angry with them, and said that it was their lying, and himself went thither and bade them bring with him as many axes as they could get, and he himself took hold of it [the tree], and they tried to lift it out of the temple. But none of them could move it. Then he bade them go to it with their axes, and cut it into three pieces. Then it became as hard as though it were of steel, and the strokes of the axes turned against the faces of those who were to cut it. Then suddenly, whilst they were all looking on, fire started out on three sides of the tree, and burnt sixty of the men who were trying to cut it, and the priest with them, who was their leader.
No sign of a rebounding axe in the related Latin prose version (Cambridge text, appendix I, p.51):
Multaque per illam arborem facta sunt miracula, de quibus nunc pandere libet aliqua. Erat autem quidam sacerdos nomine Ciritius, illam arborem habere desiderans; misitque .c. uiros, ut illam tollerent et ad se deferrent. Cumque illi centum non possent illam mouere, cepit ipse sacerdos illuc uenire cum innumerabili plebis multitudine. Sed dum illi omnes non possent adhuc illam mouere, conati sunt illam in tres partes succidere; sed mox magnus exortus est ignis in circumitu sancte trabis, et exiliens ipsum combussit sacerdotem et cum eo sexaginta hominum ex eis qui uoluerunt illam sanctam succidere arborem...

Monday, September 26, 2011


Living on the Edge

Sir John Hawkins, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (London: Printed for J. Buckland et al., 1787), p. 560:
When retired to rest, he indulged himself in the dangerous practice of reading in bed.
Presumably the danger lay in the possibility of fire from a candle after the reader nodded off, but cf. Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."
Related post: Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon.



Aldous Huxley, "Canned Fish," in Adonis and the Alphabet (1956; rpt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1975), pp. 128-135 (at 130):
Buried in every language are nodules of petrified poetry, rich and unsuspected veins of fossil wisdom. Consider, for example, the French word travail. It is derived from Late Latin trepalium, the name of a kind of rack used for punishing criminals or persuading reluctant witnesses. Etymologically, work is the equivalent of torture. In English we preserve the word's original sense in relation to obstetrics (a woman 'in travail') and have endowed it with the secondary meaning, not of work, but of wayfaring. Journeys in the Middle Ages were exhausting and dangerous. 'Travel' is trepalium—torment for tourists.

The word 'work' is emotionally neutral; but 'toil' and the now obsolete 'swink' carry unpleasant overtones. It was the same in the languages of classical antiquity. Ponos in Greek and labor in Latin signify both 'work' and 'suffering.' "And Rachel travailed," we read in the Book of Genesis, "and she had hard labour." Two words for work, two words for pain. Moreover, when Modern English 'labor' carries its primary meaning, it generally stands for work of the most disagreeable kind—compulsory work, as in the case of penal 'hard labor,' or the heavy unskilled work which is performed by 'labourers.'
This is the generally accepted etymology of travail and travel. Besides English dictionaries see, e.g., Henry and Renée Kahane, "Byzantium's Impact on the West: The Linguistic Evidence," Illinois Classical Studies 6 (1981) 389-415 (at 409):
The name of a fourth-century tool of torture, τριπάσσαλον tripássalon, consisting of Grk. τρι- tri- 'three' and πάσσαλος pássalos 'stake', was borrowed, within the Christian terminology, through translation: Lat. trepalium, a compound of tri- 'three' and palus 'stake', appeared in 582 and became the base of Fr. travail and its numerous cogeners, such as Eng. travail.
But apparently the etymology is disputed by Charles H. Livingston, Skein-Winding Reels: Studies in Word History and Etymology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957) = University of Michigan Publications in Language and Literature, 29, which I haven't seen.

According to Du Cange, trepalium is a hapax legomenon, occurring only in Canon 33 of the Council of Auxerre (non licet presbytero nec diacono ad trepalium, ubi rei torquentur, stare). I don't find τριπάσσαλον in Liddell-Scott-Jones or Bauer-Gingrinch-Danker, and the digital Thesaurus Linguae Graecae is unavailable to me. The Greek word occurs in Passio Andreae 10—see Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, Part II, Vol. I, ed. Max Bonnet (Leipzig: Hermann Mendelssohn, 1898), p. 23.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Book Catalogues

E.V. Lucas, Fireside and Sunshine (London: Methuen & Co., 1907), pp. 115-116:
Of the delectation which accompanies the leisurely examination, pencil in hand, of a second-hand bookseller's list, something has just been said. In the recesses of an arm-chair one can become, in fancy, the owner of first folios without even the exertion of nodding. "Gerard's Herbal, £2?" "Yes, I may as well have that; " and the proprietary cross springs into being on the margin. "Dame Juliana Berners' Boke of St Albans?" "And I will have that too"—another cross. "John Florio's Montaigne, quarto?" "Ah! at last! " And so one goes on. What it is like actually to buy from Mr. Quaritch's list I have no notion. Such purchases as I have made of that great man (now, alas! no more) were carried through one-sidedly, in a not strictly commercial manner, for the library of a castle on the other side of the Pyrenees; hence I can speak only as a poor man. A poor man with a book catalogue is a feasting Barmecide, yet without his haste to despatch the meal. Or, rather, he is as one who through the panes of a sealed window watches without envy a procession of those dishes of which he may not partake. Without envy; for, if covetousness at all worthy the name takes part in his feelings, he can never know the enjoyment of catalogues to the full. A mild, well-ordered inclination (to add sauce to the perusal) may be his, but nothing more; he must be utterly without rancour that others are richer than he.
Yves Trevedy, Elderly Man at a Window

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Seeing and Studying the Unknown

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, with Essays on Conservation from Round River (1970; rpt. New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), p. 220:
Wildlife research started as a professional priestcraft. The more difficult and laborious research problems must doubtless remain in professional hands, but there are plenty of problems suitable for all grades of amateurs....Thus Margaret Morse Nice, an amateur ornithologist, studied song sparrows in her back yard. She has become a world-authority on bird behavior, and has out-thought and outworked many a professional student of social organization in birds. Charles L. Broley, a banker, banded eagles for fun. He discovered a hitherto unknown fact: that some eagles nest in the South in winter, and then go vacationing to the north woods. Norman and Stuart Criddle, wheat ranchers on the Manitoba prairies, studied the fauna and flora of their farm, and became recognized authorities on everything from local botany to wildlife cycles. Elliott S. Barker, a cowman in the New Mexico mountains, has written one of the two best books on that elusive cat: the mountain lion. Do not let anyone tell you that these people made work out of play. They simply realized that the most fun lies in seeing and studying the unknown.


Commerce with the Ancients

Matthew Arnold, Preface to his Poems:
I know not how it is, but their commerce with the ancients appears to me to produce, in those who constantly practise it, a steadying and composing effect upon their judgement, not of literary works only, but of men and events in general. They are like persons who have had a very weighty and impressive experience: they are more truly than others under the empire of facts, and more independent of the language current among those with whom they live.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Grey Foe of the Forest

Storm and Other Old English Riddles, tr. Kevin Crossley-Holland (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970), p. 24 (no. 5 Crossley-Holland = no. 53):
I saw a tree towering in the wood
in vestments of bright green; the timber grew,
a joyous growth. Both water and earth
provided for it generously, but when it grew old
in times long ago, it was treated most terribly;
sorely wounded, and silent in its chains,
its front was fettered with sombre trappings.
And now with brute force its butting-head
devastates, it opens the direct way
for a malicious enemy. In the mighty storm of battle
they often plunder the treasure hoard together.
Its butt is swift and restless whenever its head
runs the gauntlet for a comrade in distress.
Riddle 53:
Ic seah on bearwe        beam hlifian,
tanum torhtne.        þæt treow wæs on wynne,
wudu weaxende.        Wæter hine ond eorþe
feddan fægre,        oþþæt he frod dagum
on oþrum wearð        aglachade
deope gedolgod,        dumb in bendum,
wriþen ofer wunda,        wonnum hyrstum
foran gefrætwed.        Nu he fæcnum weg
þurh his heafdes mægen        hildegieste
oþrum rymeð.        Oft hy an yste strudon
hord ætgædre;        hræd wæs ond unlæt
se æftera,        gif se ærra fær
genamnan in nearowe        neþan moste.

p. 51 (no. 24 Crossley-Holland = no. 21):
I keep my snout to the ground; I burrow
deep into the earth, and churn it as I go,
guided by the grey foe of the forest
and by my lord, my stooping owner
who steps behind me; he drives me
over the field, supports and pushes me,
broadcasts in my wake. Brought from the wood,
borne on a wagon, then skillfully bound,
I travel onward; I have many scars.
There's green on one flank wherever I go,
on the other my tracks—black, unmistakable.
A sharp weapon, rammed through my spine,
hangs beneath me; another, on my head,
firm and pointing forward, falls on one side
so I can tear the earth with my teeth
if my lord, behind me, serves me rightly.
Riddle 21:
Neb is min niþerweard;        neol ic fere
ond be grunde græfe,        geonge swa me wisað
har holtes feond,        ond hlaford min
woh færeð        weard æt steorte,
wrigaþ on wonge,        wegeð mec ond þyð,
saweþ on swæð min.        Ic snyþige forð,
brungen of bearwe,        bunden cræfte,
wegen on wægne,        hæbbe wundra fela;
me biþ gongendre        grene on healfe
ond min swæð sweotol        sweart on oþre.
Me þurh hrycg wrecen        hongaþ under
an orþoncpil,        oþer on heafde,
fæst ond forðweard.        Fealleþ on sidan
þæt ic toþum tere,        gif me teala þenaþ
hindeweardre,        þæe meaningt biþ hlaford min.

The answer to the first riddle is a battering ram, to the second a plow. Both riddles, from the Exeter Book collection, exhibit some sympathy for felled trees.

A riddle within the second riddle is the meaning of the kenning "har holtes feond" (translated by Crossley-Holland as "grey foe of the forest"). Although the Old English phrase looks foreign, closer inspection lessens the unfamiliarity. From "har" we get modern English "hoar" and "hoary" (grey-haired, greyish-white); "holt" (Old English genitive "holtes") survives unchanged in modern English, with the meaning wood or copse (cf. also German "Holz" = wood); and from "feond" comes modern English "fiend". But opinions differ about the meaning of the phrase as a whole. Some think it describes the grey ox that draws the plow, others the iron from which the plowshare is made, and yet others the grizzled plowman himself. Whatever the meaning, the phrase is a sympathetic recognition of the harm done to woodland by clearing for agriculture.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Friday, September 23, 2011


Monro's Law

Classical scholars sometimes refer to "Monro's Law." See, e.g., R.B. Rutherford, "From the Iliad to the Odyssey," Journal of Hellenic Studies 102 (1982) 145-160, rpt. in Douglas L. Cairns, ed., Oxford Readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 117-146 (at p. 120):
More precise examination of the relation between the two epics can usefully start from the fact that the Odyssey never refers to the main narrative events of the Iliad, the wrath of Achilles over Briseis, the fresh anger against Hector, the death of Troy's noblest defender.3

3 This is sometimes called 'Monro's Law': see D.B. Monro, in one of the Appendices to his commentary on Od. 13-20 [sic] (Oxford, 1901), 325.
D.B. Monro, ed., Homer's Odyssey: Books XIII-XXIV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), p. 325:
Among the modern scholars who have pursued a similar vein of inquiry, with the object of framing a theory of the relation of the Odyssey to the Iliad, one of the most suggestive is the German writer already quoted.4 He has been especially successful in pointing out the peculiar tacit recognition of the Iliad which may be traced in the later poem. The Odyssey, he shows, is full of references to the story of the Trojan war—indeed it virtually ignores all the other cycles of legend—yet it never repeats or refers to any incident related in the Iliad.

4 B. Niese, Die Entwicklung der homerischen Poesie, pp. 43-45.
Benedictus Niese, Die Entwicklung der homerischen Poesie (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1882), pp. 43-44:
Man erkennt ihn [den Trieb, etwas neues zu berichten] in der Odyssee an einer eigenthümlichen Erscheinung: so oft nämlich durch Odysseus selbst oder durch andere an frühere Thaten des Helden erinnert wird, wird dabei alles was in der Ilias erzählt wird, vermieden und nicht einmal darauf angespielt.
I understand this to mean:
One recognizes it [the urge to report something new] in the Odyssey by a peculiar phenomenon, viz., whenever mention is made (by Odysseus himself or by others) of the hero's earlier deeds, at the same time everything that is narrated in the Iliad is avoided and not alluded to even once.
In view of the fact that Monro attributed the observation to Niese, perhaps it should be called Niese's Law.

Buce of Palookaville, author of Underbelly, points out that the name "Monro's Law" is a good example of Stigler's law of eponymy (""No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer").


Who's Free?

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), There is None Free But Jove, in his Messis Vitae: Gleanings of Song from a Happy Life (London: Macmillan and Co., 1886), pp. 64-66:
Οὐδεὶς ἐλεύθερος, πλὴν Διός.—AESCHYLUS.

'There is none free but Jove;' thus speaks
  A weighty old tragedian,
Who sang whilom to tuneful Greeks
  In Doric airs and Lydian;
And wisely sang—for truth and right,
  Once true, are true for ever,
Even as the sun pours forth his light
  With strength that faileth never.

Who's free?—a king?—Who first must please
  Before he rule a people,
And turn him lightly to the breeze,
  Like cock upon the steeple!
A priest—a churchman?—who to fan
  The people's hot devotion,
Must fear to stretch his faith a span,
  Beyond their narrow notion.

Who's free?—a democrat?—no more
  Than any salt sea bubble,
When far-drawn billows rage and roar,
  Is free from yeasty trouble;
No more than Autumn leaves are free
  To choose their place of falling,
When sea-birds shriek from sea to sea,
  And blast to blast is calling.

Who's free?—the lawyer?—not he, bound
  With knots of old traditions,
His reason prisoned round and round
  With clauses and conditions;
Whose thought to mouldy record clings,
  Who loves to walk in fetters,
And chokes the sacred soul of things
  With rolls of old black letters.

Who's free?—the scholar?—no; not he
  The slave of printed paper,
Who where the sun is free to see,
  Lights his own twinkling taper,
And from much nonsense picks some sense
  And makes a mighty clamour,
And strangles living eloquence
  In mummy bands of grammar.

Who's free?—the statesman?—ask the man
  Who fain would do a little,
But shrinks back from the factious clan
  That snaps at every tittle,
And fears his party most of all,
  Who, at his boldness frowning,
May cast him with a weighty fall
  From out the street called Downing!

There is none free but Him above,
  The mighty Lord of all things,
With bond of everlasting love
  Who binds both great and small things.
And who treads Earth with pure intent
  To search into His wonders,
Will live least slaved to sinful bent,
  Most free from evil blunders.


Grammar and Trees

Richard Mabey, Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees (2007; rpt. London: Vintage Books, 2008), p. 97 (on John Evelyn's Sylva and its influence):
The fundamental grammar of our relationships with trees changed. Before, 'growing' had been an intransitive verb in the language of woods. Trees grew, and we, in a kind of subordinate clause, took things from them. In the forest-speak of the Enlightenment, 'growing' was a transitive verb. We were the subject and trees the object. We were the cause of their existence in particular places on the earth.
Anton Lock, The Sapling

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Take a Seat

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Sudelbücher (J 520, tr. R. J. Hollingdale):
We cannot truly know whether we are not at this moment sitting in a madhouse.

Man kann wirklich nicht wissen ob man nicht jetzt im Tollhaus sitzt.



Aristophanes, Wasps 471-472 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Might we enter into discussion and compromise without this fighting and shrill screaming?

ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως ἄνευ μάχης καὶ τῆς κατοξείας βοῆς
ἐς λόγους ἔλθοιμεν ἀλλήλοισι καὶ διαλλαγάς;

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Euripides, Andromache 319-210 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
O fame, fame! full many a man ere now of no account hast thou to high estate exalted.

ὦ δόξα δόξα, μυρίοισι δὴ βροτῶν
οὐδὲν γεγῶσι βίοτον ὤγκωσας μέγαν.


Time's Favourites

Charles Morris, Time's Favourites, in Lyra Urbanica; or, The Social Effusions of the Celebrated Captain Charles Morris of the Late Life-Guards, vol. II (London: Richard Bentley, 1840), pp. 127-128:
Since Time with his scythe can cut down at his pleasure,
And our lives by the sands of his glass he can measure,
To merit his grace, with good cheer let's expect him,
And show Time, while coming, we scorn to neglect him.
Then he'll say, "Here it's fit I should lengthen Life's cable,
For Time's duly prized and well used at this table."

Then he'll turn round his scythe to the sullen and sour,
Those dull dogged mortals who growl through their hour:
To these is old Time still a guest so unpleasant,
That to kill him's the object, whenever he's present;
And Time, a revenge for such murder still keeping,
Holds his scythe ever ready to give them a sweeping.

These foul human plants, whose sharp juice ever sours,
Who are scatter'd like poisonous weeds among flowers;
Who rise against man's social joys, as life-haters,
And mix in Mirth's cup the black gall of their natures;
These weeds let us hope Time will ever be mowing,
And thin them, at least, where our goblets are flowing.

Time sometimes has wings, and he sometimes has crutches,
He moves in all forms, and all regions he touches;
But he's kindest to those who in mirth still receive him,
And keeps off his scythe, still the longer to leave 'em.
Thus we, round our bowls, are so fond to detain him,
He's pleased to stay with us, and help us to drain 'em.

Then on Time let's rely; we deserve all his favour—
To charm him with mirth is our constant endeavour;
To welcome with smiles every step of his way too,
To cheer him with cordials by night and by day too;
And so sweet pass his days and his nights in all weather,
That Time still delights to long leave us together.

Monday, September 19, 2011



Apollodorus 3.14.1 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
Cecrops, a son of the soil, with a body compounded of man and serpent, was the first king of Attica, and the country which was formerly called Acte he named Cecropia after himself. In his time, they say, the gods resolved to take possession of cities in which each of them should receive his own peculiar worship. So Poseidon was the first that came to Attica, and with a blow of his trident on the middle of the acropolis, he produced a sea which they now call Erechtheis. After him came Athena, and, having called on Cecrops to witness her act of taking possession, she planted an olive tree, which is still shown in the Pandrosium. But when the two strove for possession of the country, Zeus parted them and appointed arbiters, not, as some have affirmed, Cecrops and Cranaus, nor yet Erysichthon, but the twelve gods. And in accordance with their verdict the country was adjudged to Athena, because Cecrops bore witness that she had been the first to plant the olive. Athena, therefore, called the city Athens after herself, and Poseidon in hot anger flooded the Thriasian plain and laid Attica under the sea.
The story of the contest between Poseidon and Athena is well known, from Herodotus (8.55) to Ovid (Metamorphoses 6.70-82) and beyond. Less well known is the reaction of Poseidon's son Halirrhothius to his father's defeat, as preserved in a late scholium on Aristophanes, Clouds 1005. I don't have access to W.J.W. Koster, ed., Scholia Recentiora in Nubes (Groningen: Bouma's Boekhuis, 1974) = Scholia in Aristophanem, Pars I, Fasc. III 2, so here is the text of the scholium from Friedrich Dübner, ed., Scholia Graeca in Aristophantem (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1883), p. 123, col. 1, lines 30-35:
Αἱ ἱεραὶ ἐλαῖαι τῆς Ὰθηνᾶς ὲν τῇ ἀκροπόλει μορίαι ἐκαλοῦντο. λέγουσι γὰρ ὅτι Ἁλιρρόθιος, ὁ παῖς Ποσειδῶνος, ἠθέλησεν ἐκκόψαι αὐτὰς, διὰ τὸ τῆς ἐλαίας εὑρεθείσης κριθῆναι τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς τὴν πόλιν. ὁ δὲ ἀνατείνας τὸν πέλεκυν καὶ ταύτης ἀποτυχὼν ἔπληξεν ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀπέθανε. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μορίαι αἱ ἐλαῖαι ἐκλήθησαν.
I understand this to mean:
The sacred olive trees on the Acropolis used to be called moríai. For they say that Halirrhothius, the son of Poseidon, wanted to cut them down, because the city was judged to belong to Athena after the discovery of the olive tree. When he raised his axe and was hewing a tree, he struck himself and died. And for this reason olive trees were called moríai.
Presumably the scholiast saw a connection between the Greek words μορία (moría = sacred olive tree) and either μοῖρα (moîra = fate, doom, death) or μωρία (mōría = folly).

See also Servius Danielis on Vergil, Georgics 1.18, in Georg Thilo, ed., Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarii (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1887), p. 135:
cui fabulae hoc additur, quod, postquam Minerva inventa olea Neptunum vicerit, indigne ferens Halirrhothius, Neptuni filius, oleas coepit excidere: cui, dum hoc facit, ferrum de manubrio decidit et ei caput amputavit.
In English:
To this story the following is added, that, after Minerva bested Neptune by the discovery of the olive tree, Neptune's son Halirrhothius was aggrieved and began to cut down olive trees. While he was doing this, the iron axe blade flew from the handle and cut off his head.
On the danger to an impious woodcutter from his own axe, see Lucan 3.429-431 (tr. J.D. Duff):
But strong arms faltered; and the men, awed by the solemnity and terror of the place, believed that, if they aimed a blow at the sacred trunks, their axes would rebound against their own limbs.

sed fortes tremuere manus, motique verenda
maiestate loci, si robora sacra ferirent,
in sua credebant redituras membra securis.


Sunday, September 18, 2011


The Perspective of Distance

John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), p. 242:
The world and the war had become remote to us; all the immediacies of our usual lives had slowed up. Far from welcoming a return, we rather resented going back to business and newspapers and telegrams. We had been drifting in some kind of dual world—a parallel realistic world; and the preoccupations of the world we came from, which are considered realistic, were to us filled with mental mirage. Modern economics; war drives; party affiliations and lines; hatreds, political and social and racial, cannot survive in dignity the perspective of distance. We could understand, because we could feel, how the Indians of the Gulf, hearing about the great ant-doings of the north, might shake their heads sadly and say, "But this is crazy. It would be nice to have new Ford cars and running water, but not at the cost of insanity."


In the Stillness of the Night

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), Remembrance, translated by Maurice Baring in Have You Anything to Declare? (1936; rpt. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1951), p. 244:
When the loud day for men who sow and reap
Grows still, and on the silence of the town
The insubstantial veils of night and sleep,
The meed of the day's labour, settle down,
Then for me in the stillness of the night
The wasting, watchful hours drag on their course,
And in the idle darkness comes the bite
Of all the burning serpents of remorse;
Dreams seethe; and fretful infelicities
Are swarming in my over-burdened soul,
And Memory before my wakeful eyes
With noiseless hand unwinds her lengthy scroll.
Then, as with loathing I peruse the years,
I tremble, and I curse my natal day,
Wail bitterly, and bitterly shed tears,
But cannot wash the woeful script away.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The Ages of Man

Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645), Sonnet 535 (tr. Willis Barnstone):
He Enumerates, with Proper Terms, the Mishaps and Miseries of Life

A life begins with tears and turds. Then come
the gurgles, mamas, and the bogeyman,
followed by smallpox, drivel, snot and scum,
then rattles, spinning tops, a noisy can.

Grown up he finds a girlfriend to seduce
with whom he gluts his crazy appetite.
As a young man he feels his words are trite
and every declaration a mere ruse.

As a real man he is a hopeless pest,
a bachelor chasing every hooker in
the street. Married he's cuckold in his nest.

As an old man he wrinkles, dries up, grays.
And when death comes, upturning all, he pays
for gurgles, girlfriends, and each groaning sin.

Pronuncia con sus nombres los trastos y miserias de la vida

La vida empieza en lágrimas y caca,
luego viene la mu, con mama y coco,
síguense las viruelas, baba y moco,
y luego llega el trompo y la matraca.

En creciendo, la amiga y la sonsaca,
con ella embiste el apetito loco,
en subiendo a mancebo, todo es poco,
y después la intención peca en bellaca.

Llega a ser hombre y todo lo trabuca;
soltero sigue toda perendeca;
casada, se convierte en mala cuca.

Viejo, encanece, arrúgase y se seca,
llega la muerte y todo lo bazuca,
y lo que deja paga, y lo que peca.
José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913), Dancing Skeletons

More on this theme.



Lawrence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768), section "In the Street. Calais":
—What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in every thing, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.—

—If this won't turn out something,—another will;—no matter,—'tis an assay upon human nature—I get my labour for my pains,—'tis enough;—the pleasure of the experiment has kept my senses and the best part of my blood awake, and laid the gross to sleep.

I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry, 'Tis all barren;—And so it is; and so is all the world to him who will not cultivate the fruits it offers. I declare, said I, clapping my hands chearily together, that were I in a desert, I would find out wherewith in it to call forth my affections—if I could not do better, I would fasten them upon some sweet myrtle, or seek some melancholy cypress to connect myself to;—I would court their shade, and greet them kindly for their protection—I would cut my name upon them, and swear they were the loveliest trees throughout the desert: if their leaves wither'd, I would teach myself to mourn; and, when they rejoiced, I would rejoice along with them.

The learned SMELFUNGUS travelled from Boulogne to Paris—from Paris to Rome—and so on—but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass'd by was discoloured or distorted—He wrote an account of them, but 'twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings.
George Cruikshank, Anglo-Parisian Salutations

Friday, September 16, 2011


Retirement and Liberty

Cicero, De Officiis 1.20.69-70 (tr. Walter Miller):
But there have been many and still are many who, while pursuing that calm of soul of which I speak, have withdrawn from civic duty and taken refuge in retirement. Among such have been found the most famous and by far the foremost philosophers and certain other earnest, thoughtful men who could not endure the conduct of either the people or their leaders; some of them, too, lived in the country and found their pleasure in the management of their private estates. Such men have had the same aims as kings—to suffer no want, to be subject to no authority, to enjoy their liberty, that is, in its essence, to live just as they please.

Multi autem et sunt et fuerunt, qui eam, quam dico, tranquillitatem expetentes a negotiis publicis se removerint ad otiumque perfugerint; in his et nobilissimi philosophi longeque principes et quidam homines severi et graves nec populi nec principum mores ferre potuerunt, vixeruntque nonnulli in agris, delectati re sua familiari. His idem propositum fuit, quod regibus, ut ne qua re egerent, ne cui parerent, libertate uterentur, cuius proprium est sic vivere, ut velis.
Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum 34 (tr. H. Rackham):
For what is freedom? the power to live as you will.

Quid est enim libertas? potestas vivendi ut velis.
Epictetus, Discourses 4.1.1 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
He is free who lives as he wills, who is subject neither to compulsion, nor hindrance, nor force, whose choices are unhampered, whose desires attain their end, whose aversions do not fall into what they would avoid.

Ἐλεύθερός ἐστιν ὁ ζῶν ὡς βούλεται, ὃν οὔτ᾽ ἀναγκάσαι ἔστιν οὔτε κωλῦσαι οὔτε βιάσασθαι, οὗ αἱ ὁρμαὶ ἀνεμπόδιστοι, αἱ ὀρέξεις ἐπιτευκτικαί, αἱ ἐκκλίσεις ἀπερίπτωτοι.


A Feeling as of Adam in the Garden

Anthony Trollope, "A Walk in a Wood," Good Words 20 (1879) 595-600 (at 597):
But a word about the nature of the wood! It is not always easy to find a wood, and sometimes when you have got it, it is but a muddy, plashy, rough-hewn congregation of ill-grown trees,—a thicket rather than a wood,—in which even contemplation is difficult and thinking is out of the question. He who has devoted himself to wandering in woods will know at the first glance whether the place will suit his purpose. A crowded undergrowth of hazel, thorn, birch, and alder, with merely a track through it, will by no means serve the occasion. The trees around you should be big and noble. There should be grass at your feet. There should be space for the felled or fallen princes of the forest. A roadway, with the sign of wheels that have passed long since, will be an advantage, so long as the branches above head shall meet or seem to meet each other. I will not say that the ground should not be level, lest by creating difficulties I shall seem to show that the fitting spot may be too difficult to be found; but, no doubt, it will be an assistance in the work to be done if occasionally you can look down on the tops of the trees as you descend, and again look up to them as with increasing height they rise high above your head. And it should be a wood,—perhaps a forest,—rather than a skirting of timber. You should feel that, if not lost, you are lose-able. To have trees around you is not enough unless you have many. You must have a feeling as of Adam in the garden. There must be a confirmed assurance in your mind that you have got out of the conventional into the natural,—which will not establish itself unless there be a consciousness of distance between you and the next ploughed field. If possible you should not know the East from the West, or, if so, only by the setting of the sun. You should recognise the direction in which you must return simply by the fall of water.

But where shall the wood be found? Such woodlands there are still in England, though, alas, they are becoming rarer every year. Profit from the timber-merchant or dealer in firewood is looked to, or else, as is more probable, drives are cut broad and straight, like spokes of a wheel radiating to a nave or centre, good only for the purposes of the slayer of multitudinous pheasants. I will not say that a wood prepared, not as the home but the slaughter-ground of game, is altogether inefficient for our purpose. I have used such even when the sound of the guns has been near enough to warn me to turn my steps to the right or to the left. The scents are pleasant even in winter, the trees are there, and sometimes even yet the delightful feeling may be encountered that the track on which you are walking leads to some far off vague destination, in reaching which there may be much of delight because it will be new,—something also of peril because it will be distant. But the wood if possible should seem to be purposeless. It should have no evident consciousness of being there either for game or fagots. The felled trunk on which you sit should seem to have been selected for some accidental purpose of house-building, as though a neighbour had searched for what was wanting and had found it. No idea should be engendered that it was let out at so much an acre to a contractor who would cut the trees in order and sell them in the next market. The mind should conceive that this wood never had been planted by hands, but had come there from the direct beneficence of the Creator,—as the first woods did come,—before man had been taught to recreate them systematically, and as some still remain to us, so much more lovely in their wildness than when reduced to rows and quincunces, and made to accommodate themselves to laws of economy and order.
Albert Bierstadt, Mountain Resort


Thursday, September 15, 2011


Hector's Wish

Homer, Iliad 22.304-305 (tr. A.T. Murray):
Nay, but not without a struggle let me die, neither ingloriously, but in the working of some great deed for the hearing of men that are yet to be.

μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,
ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.


Roughing It

Anthony Trollope, John Caldigate (1879), Chapter VI:
'You are making a delightful experiment in roughing it,—as people eat picnic dinners out in the woods occasionally, so that there may be a break in the monotony of chairs and tables.'

Édouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l'herbe


The Happiest Time of Life?

Anthony Trollope, John Caldigate (1879), Chapter LVII: old man, certainly, but who looked as though old age must naturally be the happiest time of life. When a man's digestion is thoroughly good and his pockets adequately filled, it probably is so.
Charles Spencelayh, Morning Chapter

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Place Names and Body Parts

John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 53-54:
Names attach themselves to places and stick or fall away. When men finally go to live in Antarctica it is unlikely that they will ever speak of the Rockefeller Mountains or use the names designated by breakfast food companies. More likely a name emerges almost automatically from a place as well as from a man and the relationship between name and thing is very close. In the naming of places in the West this has seemed apparent. In this connection there are two examples: in the Sierras there are two little mountains which were called by the early settlers "Maggie's Bubs." This name was satisfactory and descriptive, but it seemed vulgar to later and more delicate lovers of nature, who tried to change the name a number of times and failing, in usage at least, finally surrendered and called them "The Maggies," explaining that it was an Indian name. In the same way Dog ----- Point (and I am delicate only for those same nature lovers) has had finally to be called in print "The Dog." It does not look like a dog, but it does look like that part of a dog which first suggested its name. However, anyone seeing this point immediately reverts to the designation which was anatomically accurate and strangely satisfying to the name-giving faculty.
Related posts:


Mastering Greek Grammar

William Field, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Opinions of the Rev. Samuel Parr, LL.D., Vol. I (London: Henry Colburn, 1828), p. 18, n. 1:
He once said to a friend, "When a boy, I used to rise at five o'clock, and go into the garden, with a Greek grammar for my companion; and I made myself master of it in that way."


Indispensable to a Happy Life

Cicero, De Officiis 1.4.13 (tr. Walter Miller):
Above all, the search after truth and its eager pursuit are peculiar to man. And so, when we have leisure from the demands of business cares, we are eager to see, to hear, to learn something new, and we esteem a desire to know the secrets or wonders of creation as indispensable to a happy life.

In primisque hominis est propria veri inquisitio atque investigatio. Itaque cum sumus necessariis negotiis curisque vacui, tum avemus aliquid videre, audire, addiscere cognitionemque rerum aut occultarum aut admirabilium ad beate vivendum necessariam ducimus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The Night Closes In

Fred Reed, A Culture in Regression: We Don't Need No Steenking Books:
The night closes in. Read the surveys of what children know, what students in universities know. Approximately nothing. We have become wanton morons. As the intellectual shadows fall again, as literacy declines and minds grow dim in the new twilight, who will copy the parchments this time?

No longer are we a schooled people. Brash new peasants grin and peck at their iPods. Unknowing, incurious, they gaze at their screens and twiddle, twiddle. They will not preserve the works of five millennia. They cannot. They do not even know why.

Twilight really does come. Sales of books fall. Attention spans shorten. Music gives way to angry urban grunting. The young count on their fingers when they do not have a calculator, know less by the year. We have already seen the first American generations less educated than their parents. College graduates do not know when World War One happened, or what the Raj was. They have read nothing except the nothing that they read, and little of that. Democracy was an interesting thought.

Ours will be a stranger Dark Age than the old one. Our peasants brush their teeth and wash, imagine themselves of the middle class, but their heads are empty.

And they rule. We have achieved the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hod-carriers in designer jeans, they do not quite burn books but simply ignore them. Their college degrees amount to high-school diplomas, if that, but they neither know nor care.

The things that have forever constituted civilization—respect for learning whether one had it or not, wide reading, careful use of language, manners, such notions as “lady” and “gentleman”—these are held in contempt.


It is Unmanly to Complain

Anthony Trollope, Dr. Wortle's School (1881), Part II, Chapter VI, conversation between Mr. Peacocke (first speaker) and Lord Carstairs:
'There are sorrows which must be hidden, which it is better to endeavour to bury by never speaking of them, by not thinking of them, if that were possible.'

'Is it as bad as that?' the lad asked.

'It is bad enough sometimes. But never mind. You remember that Roman wisdom—"Dabit Deus his quoque finem." And I think that all things are bearable if a man will only make up his mind to bear them. Do not tell anyone that I have complained.'

'Who—I? Oh, never!'

'Not that I have said anything which all the world might not know; but that it is unmanly to complain.'
See also Anthony Trollope, The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870), Chapter LXVIII:
'Have you no feeling that, though it may be hard with you here,'—and the Vicar, as he spoke, struck his breast,—'you should so carry your outer self, that the eyes of those around you should see nothing of the sorrow within? That is my idea of manliness, and I have ever taken you to be a man.'
Related posts: On Keeping a Stiff Upper Lip; Grosse Seelen Dulden Still; Hiding Troubles; Nietzsche on Emotional Incontinence; Buckled Lips; Emotional Incontinence; Euripidea; Hostile Laughter; Hostile Laughter in Euripides' Medea; Icy Laughter; Notes to Myself; On Concealing One's Misfortunes; Quotations about Complaints.


Farthest Off From Every Eye

John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, ed. Eric Robinson, Volume V = Northborough Poems... (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), p. 231:
The fieldling flower it thrives the best
The farthest off from every eye
The bird is happier on her nest
Where but the sheep go grazing bye
Ah me I think that I could rest
& think & sleep deliciously
A time worn forrests hermit guest
& fix a tent beneath a tree
John Singer Sargent, A Tent in the Rockies

Monday, September 12, 2011


I Live Conversing with the Dead

Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645), From La Torre (Desde La Torre), tr. Christopher Johnson:
Withdrawn to this solitary place,
with a few but learned books,
I live conversing with the dead,
listening to them with my eyes.

Open always, if not always understood,
they amend, they enrich my affairs:
in rhythms of contrapuntal silence,
awakened, they speak to the dream of life.

O Don José, for those great souls
absconded by death, the learnéd
press avenges time's slanders.

In irrevocable flight the hour flees;
but it can be counted fortunate
when we better ourselves by reading.

Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos,
con pocos, pero doctos libros juntos,
vivo en conversación con los difuntos,
y eschucho con mis ojos a los muertos.

Si no siempre entendidos, siempre abiertos,
o enmiendan, o fecundan mis asuntos;
y en músicos callados contrapuntos
al sueño de la vida hablan despiertos.

Las grandes almas que la muerte ausenta,
de injurias de los años, vengadora,
libra, ¡oh gran don Iosef!, docta la imprenta.

En fuga irrevocable huye la hora;
pero aquélla el mejor cálculo cuenta,
que en la lección y estudios nos mejora.
Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665–1747), Bookshelf


The Love of Riches

Cicero, De Officiis 1.20.68 (tr. Walter Miller):
Beware of ambition for wealth; for there is nothing so characteristic of narrowness and littleness of soul as the love of riches.

pecuniae fugienda cupiditas; nihil enim est tam angusti animi tamque parvi quam amare divitias.
José de Ribera, An Old Usurer


Caesar Wants All Your Mind

Anthony Trollope, Dr. Wortle's School (1881), Part III, Chapter VIII:
'Clifford, junior,' he said, 'I shall never make you understand what Caesar says here or elsewhere if you do not give your entire mind to Caesar.'

'I do give my entire mind to Caesar,' said Clifford, junior.

'Very well; now go on and try again. But remember that Caesar wants all your mind.'

Sunday, September 11, 2011


The Cedar and the Shrub

John Ogilby, Aesopic's or A Second Collection of Fables, Paraphras'd in Verse: Adorn'd with Sculpture, and Illustrated with Annotations (London: Printed by Thomas Roycroft for the Author, 1668), pp. 84-85 (Fab. XXXIII: Of the Cedar and the Shrub):
A Cedar whose tall Branches did extend
To kiss the Sky, and Roots to Hell descend,
Puff'd up with Pride, swoln with vain Folly big,
Owl'd with a bush and staring Periwig;
Which Madame May curl'd for his Summer Cap,
To drop off with the first Autumnal clap,
Thus proudly spake unto a neighbouring Shrub.

Thou inconsiderate, ill-manner'd Grub,
When I vouchsafe to look thus down on thee,
Scorn'st thou to stoop, and bow that Wooden Knee?
When by my kindness thou are happy made,
From Wind and Sun protected by my Shade!

Knowst thou not me, whose Arms build Tow'rs and Towns,
Whose Knees make floating Citys on the Downs;
The strongest Marble Arch without my Wood,
Ne'r stood the Violence of a second Flood;
If my huge Branches strengthen not the Frame,
Down comes the Structure like a Millers Damm!
Nay more, on me the Royal Eagle builds!
The Lion and his train that range the Fields,
When Boreas huffs, or scorching Phoebus burns,
My Leavy shadow to his Palace turns;

The Mexicans, as flying Fame reports,
Not only off, but in me build their Courts.

The vain Tree boasting thus, no end had made,
But that the Axe unto the Root was laid;
Then boystrous blows resound, and thundring strokes;
Such bring proud Cedars low, and sturdy Okes;

The Bush then seeing how her palsied Crown
Sunk by degrees, just ready to drop down,
Spake to the Dying, at her latest gasp,
In Deaths Convulsions trembling like an Asp.

Hadst thou been as Mean as I, th'hadst scap'd all Tax,
Nor hadst thou been Condemned to the Ax;
Thou that so late Contemn'st a Herricane,
Charg'd with Hail-shot, and Deluges of Rain;
Those Covenanting-brethren thirty two,
Winds that not only Threaten but can Doe,
that Spring and Fall, each Change of weather fly,
Not to the ruine only of the Sky,
But in their rage what e'r Menarchick, bear
O'r Sea and Land and sweep them through the Air;
Your Parts and Riches, that you so did crack,
Though Tempests could not, lay you on your back;
I Arm'd with Poverty, thus Mean and Low,
Defie the Hatchet and all Winds that blow.

Who have what e'r their wishes could devise,
Should ne'r the Poor and abject'st Worm despise:
When altering Times, and fickle Fortunes frown,
Brings oft the Proudest in a moment down.
The word "owl'd" in line 4 ("Owl'd with a bush and staring Periwig") puzzled me at first. My initial impulse was to emend—"crown'd" was a possibility, I thought, or perhaps "cowl'd," as I could find no explanation in the Oxford English Dictionary under "owl" as a verb. But Ian Jackson, who drew this poem to my attention, asked:
Have you noted that Captain Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), gives s.v. Ivy:

Like an owl in an ivy bush, a simile for a meagre or weazle faced man, with a large wig, or very bushy hair.
Note the identical association of Owl, Bush and Periwig in Ogilby's fourth line.
The source of Ogilby's fable is probably Avianus 19, Latin text and English translation in Minor Latin Poets, edd. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff (rev. ed. 1935; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 710-713:
A very lovely pine made mockery of a prickly bramble bush in a serious dispute touching their claims to beauty. The pine said it was unfair it should have to contend with such as no title brought by merit into its own class. "For my tapering trunk rises towards the clouds, and rears starward the lofty foliage of my tree-top; and when I am placed on the ship's open deck in the centre, the sails unfurled by the wind hang upon me. But you—everyone passes you by with scorn, because your growth of thorns gives you an ugly appearance." The bramble rejoins: "True, now you rejoice and all you profess is fair, and in your domineering way you take pleasure in my defects. But in that day when the threatening axe shall hew your fine limbs, how you would then wish that you had possessed my thorns!"

Horrentes dumos abies pulcherrima risit,
  cum facerent formae iurgia magna suae,
indignum referens cum istis certamen haberi,
  quos meritis nullus consociaret honor:
"nam mihi deductum surgens in nubila corpus
  verticis erectas tollit in astra comas.
puppibus et patulis media cum sede locamur,
  in me suspensos explicat aura sinus;
at tibi deformem quod dant spineta figuram,
  despectum cuncti praeteriere viri."
ille refert: "nunc laeta quidem bona sola fateris
  et frueris nostris imperiosa malis;
sed cum pulchra minax succidet membra securis,
  quam velles spinas tunc habuisse meas!"
In turn, the source for Avianus is probably Babrius 64, Greek text and English translation in Babrius and Phaedrus, ed. Ben Edwin Perry (1965; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 80-81:
The fir tree and the bramble vied with one another. The fir tree praised herself in many ways: "I'm handsome, tall, and well-proportioned. I grow straight up; my top is neighbour to the clouds. I am the main pillar of the house, and the keel of the ship. How can you, a thistle, with so great a tree compare yourself?" The bramble answered her and said: "If you will call to mind the axes that are always cleaving you, to be a bramble will seem better even in your reckoning."

Every distinguished man not only has greater fame than lesser men but he also undergoes greater dangers.

Ἤριζον ἐλάτη καὶ βάτος πρὸς ἀλλήλας.
ἐλάτης δ' ἑαυτὴν πολλαχῶς ἐπαινούσης·
"καλὴ μέν εἰμι καὶ τὸ μέτρον εὐμήκης,
καὶ τῶν νεφῶν σύνοικος ὀρθίη φύω,
στέγης τε μέλαθρον εἰμι καὶ τρόπις πλοίων·
δένδρῳ τοσούτῳ πῶς, ἄκανθα, συγκρίνῃ;"
βάτος πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν "ἢν λάβῃς μνήμην
τῶν πελέκεών <τε> τῶν ἀεί σε κοπτόντων,
βάτος γενέσθαι καὶ σὺ μᾶλλον αἱρήσῃ."

Ἅπας ὁ λαμπρὸς τῶν ἐλαττόνων μᾶλλον
καὶ δόξαν ἔσχε χὐπέμεινε κινδύνους.
In Ogilby's Aesopic's or A Second Collection of Fables, the fable of the Cedar and the Shrub is magnificently illustrated by Wenceslaus Hollar:

Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982; rpt. 2002), p. 61 (no. 405), described the illustration thus: "The man on r. is chopping down a large tree, while three men are hauling on a rope passed round its trunk. A wood in backg."

In Edward Hodnett, Francis Barlow, First Master of English Book Illustration (Ilkley: Scolar Press, 1978), the plate appears as figure 67 on page 156 and is identified as Hollar's. Hodnett, p. 154, wrote: "The rhythmic arrangement of woodsmen in 'The Cedar and the Shrub' (fig. 67) creates one of Hollar's most original and dynamic illustrative interpretations."


Saturday, September 10, 2011



Richard Goodman, French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France (1991; rpt. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992), p. 160:
I recommend that all bachelors have a garden. It will give them, in some small way, the experience of being a parent. I make analogies to sex and birth and and children when I talk about a garden because they come naturally. In a garden, you put your seeds into the earth, into the mother earth. They germinate, they grow, they flower—like children. After they begin to grow, you worry about them, you tend them constantly, you fret over their maladies. Some are stronger, bigger and healthier than others. That concerns you. And mystifies you.
p. 199:
Was all this effort for a few string beans, a few tomato plants, some basil and lettuce, some zucchini and a few eggplants—all of which we could buy at a store so very cheaply and so easily?

Gustave Caillebotte, Les Jardiniers


"Around" Preceding an Abstract Noun

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, interviewed on the PBS Newshour (September 6, 2011, How Should U.S. Postal Service's Financial Problems Be Fixed?), emphasis added:I first noticed this ugly locution (the preposition "around" preceding an abstract noun) in the corporate world approximately four years ago. Managers infected each other with this tic of speech like a bad cold, until all were repeating it. It makes me wince every time I hear it.

Other linguistic peeves: "boots on the ground," "24/7."

Friday, September 09, 2011


Sweet Pear Tree

The Book of Odes, No. 16, tr. Burton Watson in The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. 20-21:
That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't hack it—
Lord Shao camped there.

That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't harm it—
Lord Shao stopped there.

That broad and spreading sweet pear,
don't hew it, don't fell it—
Lord Shao rested there.1

1Tradition says that Lord Shao is Chi Shih, the duke of Shao, an early Chou period statesman mentioned in historical texts.
The Grand Scribe's Records, Volume V.1: The Hereditary Houses of Pre-Han China, Part I, ed. William H. Nienhauser, Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), p. 171 (from Hereditary House 4, 34.1550, tr. Hongyu Huang, footnotes and Chinese characters omitted):
Having regulated the western regions, the Duke of Shao achieved great concord among the myriad people. The Duke of Shao made an inspection tour of the district towns. [On his journey] there was a sweet pear-tree, and he decided lawsuits and administrative affairs underneath it. From the marquises and the earls down to the commoners everyone obtained his proper position and there was no one whose post was misassigned. After the Duke of Shao expired, the common people longed for his administration, cherished the sweet pear-tree and dared not fell it. They chanted an ode to it and composed the poem of "Kan-t'ang" (Sweet pear-tree).

Daniel Fertig comments:
As with many many other material objects and things from the natural world, in Chinese literature and culture, the pear tree took on and retained a symbolic meaning from this early use that would be understood by the cultural elites. In the case of the pear tree, as a result of the poem and story you cited, it became affiliated with the adjudication of legal cases. Thus, the title of the 13th century book of legal case studies that was used by government magistrates as a kind of legal handbook: Tang yin bi shi (棠阴比事) , translated by the Dutch sinologist, diplomat and writer Robert van Gulik as "Parallel Cases from Under the Pear Tree".



Long, Barren Silence

William Wordsworth:
I am not One who much or oft delight
To season my fireside with personal talk,
About Friends, who live within an easy walk,
Or Neighbours, daily, weekly, in my sight:
And, for my chance-acquaintance, Ladies bright,
Sons, Mothers, Maidens withering on the stalk,
These all wear out of me, like Forms, with chalk
Painted on rich men's floors, for one feast-night.
Better than such discourse doth silence long,
Long, barren silence, square with my desire;
To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,
By my half-kitchen my half-parlour fire,
And listen to the flapping of the flame,
Or kettle, whispering its faint undersong.
Vincent Van Gogh, Farmer Sitting at the Fireside Reading

Related posts:

Thursday, September 08, 2011


The English Class System

Eduardo Villaseñor (1896-1978), The English, Are They Human? (Mexico: Anglomexican Institute, 1953), pp. 9-10:
Their classes, in my opinion, are the following:

1. The King and the Queen,
2. The Royal family,
3. The nobility,
4. The Prime Minister,
5. The Lords,
6. The Members of Parliament,
7. Shakespeare,
8.‎ The Palace Guards,
9. The tailors,
10. The comedians and movie stars,
11. The other poets and writers,
12. The policemen,
13. The doctors,
14. The maitres d'hotel,
15. After the maitres d'hotel, all native Englishmen in general,
16. After the Englishmen, Scots, Welshmen, Irish and other natives of the British Isles,
17. After all natives, dogs,
18. After dogs, cats,
19. After animals, Commonwealth subjects,
20. After Commonwealth subjects, other foreigners, but in the following order:
1. Scandinavian and German,
2. American,
3. French,
4. Russian and Central European,
5. Oriental (Chinese, Indian, etc.),
6. African and Japanese, Zulus, and other queer tribes,
7. The Argentines, then all other South Americans, including, against all geography, Mexicans and Central Americans.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Something to Offend Everyone.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Is Life Worth Living?

The Day-Book of John Stuart Blackie (London: Grant Richards, 1902), pp. 120-123:
Is life worth living? This means, I suppose,
You don't quite like the smell that meets your nose:
Well, I agree, a leek is not a rose,
But with all that, I mean to keep my NOSE.

Is life worth living? Well, to tell you true,
It scarcely is—if all men were like you!

Is life worth living? Ask the bird that wings
Its breezy way, and upward soars and sings.

Is life worth living? Well, I would not fetter
A free man's choice; try if death suits you better.

Is life worth living? To propose the question
Gives proof of huge conceit or bad digestion.

Is life worth living? You don't like your dinner!
What then? This proves that you're a sickly sinner.

Is life worth living? Well, the truth to tell,
I'm pleased with Earth—where would you choose to dwell ?

Is life worth living? Well, in any place—
Earth, hell, or heaven—sour blood will make wry face.

Is life worth living? Well—one thing is clear,
If you go hence, no man will miss you here.

Is life worth living? Ask the flowers that spread
Their summer glory o'er the blushing bed.
They court the sun; and you debate if light
Were not much better swallowed up in night.
The mouth from which such senseless babblings come
Should do the world a pleasure and be—dumb!

Is life worth living? Ask the blackcocks and the hens,
That pick hard berries in wild Highland glens;
They die sometimes by rot, sometimes by shot,
But all agree that they would rather not.
Learn, reasoning man, from the unreasoning bird,
And when you could be wise, don't be absurd.

Is life worth living? Pity 'tis that ever
Wit should forge nonsense, itching to be clever!
Go, work like other men, and find your joy
In fruitful toil, and don't write books, my boy.

Is life worth living? Ask the question when
Death's scythe is near, you'll get true answer then.

Is life worth living? This depends on you!
Be true, and worth will live in all you do;
Be false, and honest Nature will uprise,
And blow your worthless work, like chaff, before your eyes.

Is life worth living? Is the sun worth shining?
The sea worth flowing, or the grass worth growing?
The clouds worth raining, or your wit worth straining?
If to this way your wise men are inclining,
I'll be a fool with some few grains of sense remaining.

Is life worth living? When all Nature cries
Amen to you, I'll shut both ears and eyes,
And creep for comfort where the dead man lies!

Is life worth living? Yours or mine? Inanity
May suit your taste! My watchword is Humanity.
I'm proud to be a man, the top of Nature,
And, as a man with men, to grow to kingly stature.

When fears increase and apprehensions grow,
Life is not worth the living. Let us go!
Cf. George Borrow, Lavengro (1851), Chapter XXV:
'Life is sweet, brother.'
'Do you think so?'
'Think so!—There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?'

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


In the Shade

Karl Maurer kindly sent me some of his translations of Anyte (fl. 290 B.C.), from the Greek Anthology. Here are two for your delectation.

Greek Anthology 9.313:
Sit beneath the beautiful, thick leaves of this laurel
    and from the fresh spring sip sweet water
so that breathless in the troubles of the heat your dear body
    may rest, touched by the breath of the west wind.

ἵζευ τᾶσδ᾽ ὑπὸ καλὰ δάφνας εὐαλ<δ>έα φύλλα
    ὡραίνου τ᾽ ἄρυσαι νάματος ἁδὺ πόμα,
ὄφρα τοι ἀσθμαίνοντα πόνοις θέρεος φίλα γυῖα
    ἀμπαύσηις πνοιᾶι τυπτόμενα Ζεφύρου.
Greek Anthology 16.228:
Stranger, rest your worn limbs under this elm. For you
    sweetly rustles a breeze among the green leaves.
Drink the rushing cold of the spring: for wayfarers
    in the boiling heat this repose is dear.

ξεῖν, ὑπὸ τὰν πτελέαν τετρυμένα γυῖ᾽ ἀνάπαυσον·
    ἁδύ τοι ἐν χλωροῖς πνεῦμα θροεῖ πετάλοις·
πίδακά τ᾽ ἐκ παγᾶς ψυχρὰν πίε· δὴ γὰρ ὁδίταις
    ἄμπαυμ᾽ ἐν θερμῶι καύματι τοῦτο φίλον.
Edith Martineau, In Rokeby Park

Related posts:


Laziness and Busy-ness

John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 182-183:
For in some beastly way this fine laziness has got itself a bad name. It is easy to see how it might have come into disrepute, if the result of laziness were hunger. But it rarely is. Hunger makes laziness impossible. It has even become sinful to be lazy. We wonder why. One could argue, particularly if one had a gift for laziness, that it is a relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise, whereas most busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tic.


How can such a process have become a shame and a sin? Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find the time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, nor great thefts, nor lead a mob. He would be more likely to think about it and laugh. And a nation of lazy contemplative men would be incapable of fighting a war unless their very laziness were attacked. Wars are the activities of busy-ness.
Samuel Palmer, The Sleeping Shepherd

Related posts: Scratch a Sluggard, and Find a Saint; Work and Leisure; Praise of Laziness; Lazy Man's Song; Exquisite Pregnant Idleness; How Can I Work?; Dolce Far Niente; Weekdays of Unfreedom; Idleness and Business; Archilochus on the Idle Life; Idleness.

Monday, September 05, 2011


Labor Day

From United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation—August 2011:
Number of unemployed persons: 14.0 million
Unemployment rate: 9.1%
Long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more): 6.0 million
Persons working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job: 8.8 million
Persons not counted as unemployed because because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey: 2.6 million

Jacob Burck (1907–1982), Solving the Unemployment Problem

Blanche Grambs (1916-2010), No Work

William Gropper (1897–1977), Graduation Day

Dan Rico (1912-1985), Scrapped

Art Young (1866-1943), No Work Here

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