Monday, October 31, 2011


Halloween Costume Contest

During my childhood, my brother and sisters often brought home trophies awarded for their various accomplishments in school and on the playing field. The black sheep of the family (as I fancied myself), I was the only one who never brought home a trophy. In school, I was a failure, literally—I graduated at the bottom third of my high school class. The only sport I played was tennis, and my school didn't have a tennis team in my day. I joked self-consciously about my failure to win any trophies, and one Christmas my mother gave me, as a consolation prize, a small trophy purchased at the local sporting goods store. The trophy represented a naked man holding a torch aloft, and the inscription read "Number 1."

Later in life, in the early 1990's, when I worked as a senior software engineer (aka elderly computer programmer) at a Bell-Northern Research lab just outside Atlanta, Georgia, I did win two minor, but satisfying, victories.

The first victory was in an informal chess tournament among company employees. My opponent in the final round was a native of Russia, which takes its chess seriously, and knowledge of that fact made my win all the sweeter.

Shortly before my second victory, the company announced an "adjustment" in its benefits package. In other words, employees would henceforth pay more of a share for the benefits they received, while the benefits themselves would be reduced. Soon thereafter, the company sponsored its annual Halloween costume party. My costume was a simple one. I took an old, torn shirt, and made additional cuts through it with a pair of scissors. Then I wrote "Slashed Benefits" in large letters on two pieces of cardboard, which I hung front and back around my neck, attached with pieces of string, over the torn shirt.

The Halloween costume contest took place in the company cafeteria. There were no judges. Instead, an applause meter measured the applause which greeted each contestant as he (most of the employees were men) entered the cafeteria in costume. A deafening chorus of hand clapping, foot stomping, cheers, and whistles met my appearance as "Slashed Benefits."

I won that year's Halloween costume contest, which was the last one ever held in that lab. Local company management banned all such contests from then on, and I received a black mark for my stunt in my next performance review.

I don't usually like to talk much about myself on this blog, but I thought my children might some day enjoy reading this story about their stodgy father.


4-4-4 Plan

Presidential candidate Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan (9% individual flat tax, 9% national sales tax, 9% business flat tax) has recently attracted much attention. I think we the people should focus rather on implementation of the 4-4-4 plan outlined by Helen and Scott Nearing in The Maple Sugar Book (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), pp. 238-239 (a passage in which the Nearings explain the reasons why they abandoned the city for the country):
Sixth, we wanted, in one sense most important of all, to make a living in about half of our working time—say four or five hours a day—so that we would be freed from the livelihood problem and enabled to devote the other half of our time to teaching, writing, music, travel. We had frequently read and heard theoretical advocacies of such a daily time schedule: four hours for bread labor, four hours for one's vocation, and four hours for social intercourse, but we had seldom seen it practiced in our acquisitive society.* We have succeeded better than we dared to hope, in putting such a formula into practice, but subject to minor modifications. There are times during the year, such as the syrup-making weeks, when we work eight or ten or twelve hours a day. These we balance with at least an equal number of weeks when we do no bread labor whatsoever. During the balance of the year, we succeed moderately well in carrying out the daily 4-4-4 formula.

* In a letter to General Koscuisko in February 26, 1810, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I am retired to Monticello where ... I enjoy a repose to which I have been long a stranger. My mornings are devoted to correspondence. From breakfast to dinner, I am in my shops, my garden, or on horseback among my farms; from dinner to dark, I give to society and recreation with my neighbors and my friends; and from candle light to early bed-time, I read." The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Washington: Memorial Association, 1907. Vol. XII. P. 369.
This admirable plan reminds me of an anonymous poem from the Greek Anthology (10.43, tr. W.R. Paton, with his note), which recommends a slightly longer work day:
Six hours are most suitable for labour, and the four that follow, when set forth in letters,1 say to men "Live."

1 The letters of the alphabet were used as figures: ΖΗΘΙ (meaning "live") is 7,8,9,10.

Ἓξ ὧραι μόχθοις ἱκανώταται· αἱ δὲ μετ' αὐτὰς
  γράμμασι δεικνύμεναι ΖΗΘΙ λέγουσι βροτοῖς.
If elected President, I pledge to work tirelessly (but no more than 4 hours a day) to promote nationwide adoption of the 4-4-4 plan.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


All Creatures Great and Small

George Orwell, in his essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad, wrote, "The toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets." One exception is Ralph Hodgson, Lines:
No pitted toad behind a stone
  But hoards some secret grace;
The meanest slug with midnight gone
  Has left a silver trace.

No dullest eyes to beauty blind,
  Uplifted to the beast,
But prove some kin with angel kind,
  Though lowliest and least.
In the penultimate line, "kind" is a noun (with "angel kind" cf. "mankind"), not an adjective.


Debemur Morti Nos Nostraque

Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962), Quarter-Day:
Death asked: the debtor bit his lip
  And offered something on account;
Death smiled and took a closer grip:
  The debtor paid the full amount.


More on Retirement Planning

From Karl Maurer:
Michael, regarding the Greek tomb inscription you posted last Monday, s.v. "Retirement Planning" – it strikes me as improbable that whoever composed it, who could make 3 hexameters and 2 pentameters that are metrically, and grammatically, faultless, could have spoiled his couplets with 3 consecutive hexameters! I'm not very experienced in Greek inscriptions, but I know that in the Latin ones, such a blemish – as if the composer forgot for a moment to count the feet! – is usually accompanied by other tell-tale signs of amateurism; but here there are none. (Only two eccentricities in spelling, which could be due to the carver.) So I think perhaps if I were if I were the editor, I might put asterisks in place of the missing line 4, and translate e.g. (here line 4 of course is just 'exempli gratia')

Here is a human being: see who you are and what awaits you.
    Looking at this picture consider your end
and use your goods neither as if you had unlimited life,
    [so that when you die young, the heir will enjoy what you did not],
nor as if quick to die, so that when you are old many
    will whip you with words as someone hemmed in by poverty.

(By the way, I wouldn't translate the last clause as 'with the result that' (etc.), as you do, but say either 'in order that' (etc.) or more ambiguously 'so that'; for it's formally a purpose clause, and to me it seems to have more force that way!)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Perils of Fire and Water

Part XIX of Holbrook Jackson's The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1931; rpt. New York: Avenel Books, 1981) is devoted to "The Misfortunes of Books," and Section IV of that part bears the heading "Perils of Fire and Water" (pp. 426-429). An entire book could be written on the subject. Jackson didn't mention, for example, fires at the Library of Congress in 1814 (started by the British) and in 1851.

For a vivid account of an attempt to rescue books from a library threatened by fire, see Morgan Poitiaux Robinson, The Burning of the Rotunda: Being a Sketch of the Partial Destruction of the University of Virginia, 1895 (1905; rpt. Richmond: F.J. Mitchell Ptg. Co., 1921), pp. 14-15:
Of course all of us have heard of the noble heroism of the women of our Southland, but those of us who were fortunate enough to be around here that day saw more than one living example of it. They kicked the glass doors out of the bookcases,—in many instances breaking it out with their bare hands,—and worked side by side with the men long after the fire was in the Library. The boys would get down on their knees and hold out their arms, while the women piled the books as high as they could reach on the outstretched arms; or again, the men would fill the women's silken (for it was Sunday) skirts with books and in each case the one carrying the books would take them to the window opposite the only door to the Library (the window just above the front entrance to the Library of today) and dump them down to the portico of the Rotunda, while others on the portico would carry them down to the Lawn and away from further danger. At first the men had tried to drive the women away, telling them that they would save all the books, etc., but they would not go, but worked everywhere that the men worked,—even in the bucket-lines.
("Noble heroism" indeed, especially since just a year before the fire the University's Board of Visitors had voted against the admission of women. Not until 1970 did the University admit women as undergraduate students.)

Fewer than a third of the volumes stored in the Rotunda were rescued from the fire, but thanks to public funds and private donations, much of the collection was restored. Today the various libraries of the University of Virginia house over five million books. With one of those libraries, Alderman Library, I was once well-acquainted. I worked in its acquisition department, not only throughout my years in graduate school, but also for a couple of years after I received my degree.

Public collections, with effort and determination, can be reconstructed after partial or even total destruction, but what of the loss of an individual scholar's library? I was saddened to learn recently of the damage caused by fire and water to Dr. Robert J. O'Hara's collection of books, painstakingly acquired over a lifetime. Read his moving account here.

Related post: Bookless.


The Linnet

Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962), The Linnet:
They say the world's a sham, and life a lease
  Of nightmare nothing nicknamed Time, and we
Ghost voyagers in undiscovered seas
  Where fact is feign; mirage, reality:

Where all is vain and vanity is all,
  And eyes look out and only know they stare
At conjured coasts whose beacons rise and fall
  And vanish with the hopes that feigned them there:

Where sea-shell measures urge a phantom dance
  Till fancied pleasure drowns imagined pain—
Till Death stares madness out of countenance,
  And vanity is all and all is vain.

It may be even as my friends allege.
  I'm pressed to prove that life is something more—
And yet a linnet on a hawthorn hedge
  Still wants explaining and accounting for.

Friday, October 28, 2011



Montesquieu (1689-1755), Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, 1838), p. 620:
L'étude a été pour moi le souverain remède contre les dégoûts de la vie, n'ayant jamais eu de chagrin qu'une heure de lecture n'ait dissipé.
Translation by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), from his "Address at the Opening of the Concord Free Public Library," Complete Works, Vol. XI = Miscellanies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1904), pp. 495-508 (at 505):
Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against the disgusts of life, never having had a chagrin which an hour of reading has not put to flight.
Albert Josef Franke (1860-1924),
Aufmerksame Lectüre


The Bertrams

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams (1859).

Chapter I:
But in the inner feelings of men to men, and of one man's mind to another man's mind, is it not an age of extremest cruelty?

There is sympathy for the hungry man; but there is no sympathy for the unsuccessful man who is not hungry. If a fellow mortal be ragged, humanity will subscribe to mend his clothes; but humanity will subscribe nothing to mend his ragged hopes so long as his outside coat shall be whole and decent.

To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. This is the special text that we delight to follow, and success is the god that we delight to worship. 'Ah! pity me. I have struggled and fallen—struggled so manfully, yet fallen so utterly—help me up this time that I may yet push forward once again!' Who listens to such a plea as this ?' Fallen! do you want bread?' 'Not bread, but a kind heart and a kind hand.' 'My friend, I cannot stay by you; I myself am in a hurry; there is that fiend of a rival there even now gaining a step on me. I beg your pardon; but I will put my foot on your shoulder—only for one moment. Occupet extremum scabies.

Yes. Let the devil take the hindmost; the three or four hindmost if you will; nay, all but those strong-running horses who can force themselves into noticeable places under the judge's eye. This is the noble shibboleth with which the English youth are now spurred on to deeds of—what shall we say?—money-making activity.
Chapter II (Henry Harcourt speaking):
'Nine-tenths of the men in the world neither swim nor sink; they just go along with their bows above the wave, but dreadfully waterlogged, barely able to carry the burdens thrown on them ; but yet not absolutely sinking; fighting a hard fight for little more than mere bread, and forgetting all other desires in their great desire to get that.'
Chapter II:
And it is so hard for a youth to know, to make even a fair guess, as to what his own capacities are! The right man is wanted in the right place; but how is a lad of two and twenty to surmise what place will be right for him? And yet, if he surmises wrong, he fails in taking his tide at its single flood. How many lawyers are there who should have been soldiers! how many clergymen who should have been lawyers! how many unsuccessful doctors who might have done well on 'Change, or in Capel Court!
Chapter VI (Mr. Cruse speaking):
'What, no potatoes! there were potatoes yesterday. Waiter, waiter; who ever heard of setting people down to dinner without potatoes?'
Chapter VIII:
In Sir Lionel's view of the matter, a profession was—a profession. The word was understood well enough throughout the known world. It signified a calling by which a gentleman, not born to the inheritance of a gentleman's allowance of good things, might ingeniously obtain the same by some exercise of his abilities. The more of these good things that might be obtained, the better the profession; the easier the labour also, the better the profession; the less restriction that might be laid on a man in his pleasurable enjoyment of the world, the better the profession.
Chapter IX (cf. Mark Twain on this politically incorrect subject, as well as Chapter XXXIX below):
The female followers of the Prophet had, as they always have, some pretence of a veil for their face. In the present instance, they held in their teeth a dirty blue calico rag, which passed over their heads, acting also as a shawl. By this contrivance, intended only to last while the Christians were there, they concealed one side of the face and the chin. No one could behold them without wishing that the eclipse had been total.
Chapter XVIII:
She, according to her own lights, would have placed freethinkers in the same category with murderers, regicides, and horrid mysterious sinners who commit crimes too dreadful for women to think of.
Chapter XVIII:
Heaven defend me from angry letters! They should never be written, unless to schoolboys and men at college; and not often to them if they be any way tender-hearted. This, at least, should be a rule through the letter-writing world: that no angry letter be posted till four-and-twenty hours shall have elapsed since it was written. We all know how absurd is that other rule, that of saying the alphabet when you are angry. Trash! Sit down and write your letter; write it with all the venom in your power; spit out your spleen at the fullest; 'twill do you good; you think you have been injured; say all that you can say with all your poisoned eloquence, and gratify yourself by reading it while your temper is still hot. Then put it in your desk; and, as a matter of course, burn it before breakfast the following morning. Believe me that you will then have a double gratification.

A pleasant letter I hold to be the pleasantest thing that this world has to give. It should be good-humored; witty it may be, but with a gentle diluted wit. Concocted brilliancy will spoil it altogether. Not long, so that it be tedious in the reading; nor brief, so that the delight suffice not to make itself felt. It should be written specially for the reader, and should apply altogether to him, and not altogether to any other. It should never flatter. Flattery is always odious. But underneath the visible stream of pungent water there may be the slightest under-current of eulogy, so that it be not seen, but only understood. Censure it may contain freely, but censure which in arraigning the conduct implies no doubt as to the intellect. It should be legibly written, so that it may be read with comfort; but no more than that. Calligraphy betokens caution, and if it be not light in hand it is nothing. That it be fairly grammatical and not ill spelled the writer owes to his schoolmaster; but this should come of habit, not of care. Then let its page be soiled by no business; one touch of utility will destroy it all.
Chapter XVIII:
Each was too proud to make the first concession to the other, and therefore no concession was made by either.
Chapter XX (when I asked, my daughter confirmed that this is true):
Ladies have little ways of talking to each other, with nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles, which are quite beyond the reach of men...
Chapter XX (Sir Lionel Bertram speaking):
'But, speaking for myself, I have not many wants now'—nor had he, pleasant old man that he was; only three or four comfortable rooms for himself and his servant; a phaeton and a pair of horses; and another smaller establishment in a secluded quiet street; nothing more than that, including, of course, all that was excellent in the eating and drinking line—'speaking for myself, I have not many wants now.'
Chapter XXII (the funniest chapter in the book, especially the quarrel between Lady Ruth and Miss Ruff):
'I fear you do not approve of cards?' said Miss Todd.

'Approve! oh no, how can I approve of them, Miss Todd?'

'Well, I do, with all my heart. What are old women like us to do? We haven't eyes to read at night, even if we had minds fit for it. We can't always be saying our prayers. We have nothing to talk about except scandal. It's better than drinking; and we should come to that if we hadn't cards.'

'Oh, Miss Todd!'

'You see you have your excitement in preaching, Mr. O'Callaghan. These card-tables are our pulpits; we have got none other. We haven't children, and we haven't husbands—that is, the most of us; and we should be in a lunatic asylum in six weeks if you took away our cards.'
Chapter XXVI:
And then he tried to pray. But praying is by no means the easiest work to which a man can set himself. Kneeling is easy; the repetition of the well-known word is easy; the putting on of some solemnity of mind is perhaps not difficult. But to remember what you are asking, why you are asking, of whom you are asking; to feel sure that you want what you do ask, and that this asking is the best way to get it;—that on the whole is not easy.
Chapter XXVI (George Bertram speaking):
'I can not believe that man placed here by God shall receive or not receive future happiness as he may chance to agree or not to agree with certain doctors who, somewhere about the fourth century, or perhaps later, had themselves so much difficulty in coming to any agreement on the disputed subject.'
Chapter XXXV:
Ah! how much joy is there in this mortal, moribund world, if one will but open one's arms to take it!
Chapter XXXIX (see above, Chapter IX):
Bertram was sufficiently weary of living in a country in which the women go about with their faces hidden by long dirty stripes of calico, which they call veils, and in which that little which is seen of the ladies by no means creates a wish to see more.
Chapter XLI (George Bertram senior and George Bertram junior speaking):
'Well, you're just in time to be in at the last gasp—that's all, my boy.'

'I hope it has not come to that yet, sir.'

'Ah, but it has. How long a time did that man give me, Mary—he that got the twenty pounds? They gave a fellow twenty pounds to come and tell me that I was dying! as if I didn't know that without him.'

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Qui Scribit, Obliviscitur

From Ian Jackson, in response to Qui Scribit, Bis Legit:
I was reading this afternoon Poe's Marginalia, in which I came across this rejection of the value of writing it down:
This making of notes, however, is by no means the making of mere memoranda — a custom which has its disadvantages, beyond doubt. "Ce que je mets sur papier," says Bernardin de St. Pierre, "je remets de ma mémoire, et par consequence je l'oublie;" — and, in fact, if you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.
— from the United States Magazine, and Democratic Review for November 1844, p.484, as printed in John Carl Miller's edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Marginalia, University Press of Virginia 1981, p.1.
See Bernardin de St. Pierre, The Studies of Nature, tr. E. Clarke, Vol. III (London: W. Emans, 1836), p. 146:
In the national schools every thing should be conducted after the academic manner of the Greek philosophers. The pupils should study sometimes sitting, sometimes standing; at one time in the fields, at another in the amphitheatre, or in the park surrounding it. They would have no occasion for pens, paper, or ink; each should only carry with him the classic that was to be the subject of his lesson. I have frequently found from experience that we forget what we write. What I consign to paper, I wipe from my memory, and very soon from my recollection; this I have perceived in the case of whole works which I had written out fair, and which appeared as strange to me as if they had been executed by another hand. This is not the case with the impressions left upon our minds by the discourse of another, especially if it be accompanied with something striking. The tone of the voice, the gesture, the respect due to the speaker, the reflections of our neighbors, concur to engrave the words of a discourse much deeper than writing.
Original French from Bernardin de St. Pierre, Oeuvres, ed. L. Aimé-Martin (Paris: Lefèvre, 1833), p. 469:
Dans les écoles de la patrie, tout se passerait à la manière académique des philosophes grecs. Les élèves y étudieraient tantôt assis, tantôt debout; tantôt à la campagne, tantôt dans l'amphithéâtre ou dans le parc qui l'environnerait. Il n'y serait besoin ni de plumes, ni de papier, ni d'encre; chacun apporterait seulement avec lui le livre classique qui serait le sujet de la leçon. J'ai éprouvé bien des fois que l'on oublie ce qu'on écrit. Ce que je mets sur le papier, je l'ôte de ma mémoire, et bientôt de mon souvenir; je m'en suis aperçu à des ouvrages entiers que j'avais mis au net, et qui me paraissaient aussi étrangers que s'ils eussent été faits d'une autre main que de la mienne. Il n'en est pas de même des impressions que nous laisse la conversation d'autrui, surtout quand elle est accompagnée d'un grand appareil. Le ton de voix, le geste, le respect dû à l'orateur, les réflexions de nos voisins, concourent à nous graver les paroles d'un discours bien mieux que l'écriture.
It's clear that Poe didn't write down Bernardin de St. Pierre's words after reading them, but instead relied on his memory, which proved inexact!

The controversy is an old one, according to Plato, Phaedrus 274 e-275 a (supposed conversation between Theuth, inventor of writing, and Thamus, tr. R. Hackforth):
But when it came to writing Theuth said, 'Here, O king, is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories; my discovery provides a recipe for memory and wisdom.' But the king answered and said, 'O man full of arts, to one it is given to create the things of art, and to another to judge what measure of harm and of profit they have for those that shall employ them. And so it is that you, by reasons of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring, have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder.'
Lionello Spada (1576-1622), St. Jerome

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


An Annoyance

When I was at university, it would always annoy me when a fellow student interrupted a professor's lecture to ask a question or make a comment. I was paying money to hear the professor's words, I thought, not those of some empty-headed whippersnapper. Although I'll probably never sit in a classroom again, I was recently pleased to read this, from Plutarch, On Listening to Lectures 10 (Moralia 42 F, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
Now the person who comes to a dinner is bound to eat what is set before him and not to ask for anything else or to be critical; so he who comes to a feast of reason, if it be on a specified subject, must feel bound to listen to the speaker in silence. For those persons who lead the speaker to digress to other topics, and interject questions, and raise new difficulties, are not pleasant or agreeable company at a lecture; they get no benefit from it, and they confuse both the speaker and his speech.

δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἐπὶ δεῖπνον ἥκοντα τοῖς παρακειμένοις χρῆσθαι καὶ μηδὲν αἰτεῖν ἄλλο μηδ᾽ἐξελέγχειν· ὁ δ᾽ ἐπὶ λόγων ἀφιγμένος ἑστίασιν, ἂν μὲν ἐπὶ ῥητοῖς, ἀκροάσθω σιωπῇ τοῦ λέγοντος (οἱ γὰρ εἰς ἄλλας ὑποθέσεις ἐξάγοντες καὶ παρεμβάλλοντες ἐρωτήματα καὶ προσδιαποροῦντες, οὐχ ἡδεῖς οὐδ᾽εὐσυνάλλακτοι πρὸς ἀκρόασιν ὄντες, ὠφελοῦνται μὲν οὐδέν, τὸν δὲ λέγοντα καὶ τὸν λόγον ὁμοῦ συνταράττουσιν).


Sooner or Later

Horace, Odes 2.3.25-28 (tr. Niall Rudd):
We are all driven to the same pen; for all alike is the lot shaken in the urn; sooner or later, out it will come, and put us aboard the skiff for eternal exile.

omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
versata urna serius ocius
  sors exitura et nos in aeternum
    exsilium impositura cumbae.
Archinus, quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6.2.22 (tr. William Wilson):
All men are bound to die sooner or later.

πᾶσι μὲν ἀνθρώποις ὀφείλεται ἀποθανεῖν ἢ πρότερον ἢ εἰς ὕστερον.
Propertius 2.28.57-58 (tr. H.E. Butler):
Neither beauty nor fortune abideth everlastingly for any; sooner or later death awaiteth all.

nec forma aeternum aut cuiquam est fortuna perennis:
  longius aut propius mors sua quemque manet.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.32-33 (Orpheus speaking to the rulers of the underworld, tr. Stanley Lombardo):
We are all owed to you, and after a brief delay
Sooner or later we all rush down to this place.

omnia debemur vobis, paulumque morati
serius aut citius sedem properamus ad unam.
I owe these parallels to R.G.M. Nisbet and Margaret Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 65.

The following illustration of Death drawing lots from an urn comes from Otto van Veen (1556-1629), Quinti Horatii Flacci Emblemata (Antwerp: Philip Lisaert, 1612), p. 203:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Mr. Crawley's Desk

Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, Chapter IV (The Clergyman's House at Hogglestock):
At the further end of the room there was an ancient piece of furniture, which was always called "papa's secretary," at which Mr. Crawley customarily sat and wrote his sermons, and did all work that was done by him within the house. The man who had made it, some time in the last century, had intended it to be a locked guardian for domestic documents, and the receptacle for all that was most private in the house of some paterfamilias. But beneath the hands of Mr. Crawley it always stood open; and with the exception of the small space at which he wrote, was covered with dog's-eared books, from nearly all of which the covers had disappeared. There were there two odd volumes of Euripides, a Greek Testament, an Odyssey, a duodecimo Pindar, and a miniature Anacreon. There was half a Horace,—the two first books of the Odes at the beginning and the De Arte Poetica at the end having disappeared. There was a little bit of a volume of Cicero, and there were Caesar's Commentaries in two volumes, so stoutly bound that they had defied the combined ill-usage of time and the Crawley family. All these were piled upon the secretary, with many others,—odd volumes of sermons and the like; but the Greek and Latin lay at the top, and showed signs of frequent use.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), Still Life

Monday, October 24, 2011


Retirement Planning

Utrecht, Archaeological Institute, inventory number Arch. 160 (grave stele from Smyrna, 2nd century A.D.):

On top of the stele is an image of an old man sitting down. In his left hand he holds a staff, which is resting on what seems to be a skull. Here is the Greek text, from Georg Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca ex lapidibus conlecta (Berlin: Reimer, 1878), p. 115, number 303:
Ἄνθρωπος τοῦτ' ἐστί· τίς εἶ βλέπε καὶ τὸ μένον σε·
  εἰκόνα τήνδ' ἐσορῶν σὸν τὸ τέλος λόγισαι,
καὶ βιότῳ χρῆσαι μήθ' ὡς ἰς αἰῶνας ἔχων ζῆν,
μήθ' ὡς ὠκύμορος, ἵνα γηράσαντά σε πολλοί
  μαστίξωσι λόγοις θλειβόμενον πενίῃ.
My translation:
This is a man; see who you are and what awaits you;
looking at this image consider your end,
and use your possessions neither as going to live forever
nor as going to die early, with the result so that when you're old many
will assail you with words as being oppressed by poverty.
The first two verses are simple to understand. The train of thought in the last three verses is somewhat convoluted, but the underlying meaning seems to be as follows:
If you thought you were to live forever, you might spare your possessions so they would last a long time; if you thought you would die young, you might squander your possessions. In the latter case, if in fact you didn't die young, many would criticize you in your penurious old age, because you had nothing left for your support.
This is the interpretation of Louis Robert, "Hellenica, XXVIII: Sur une épitaphe chrétienne de Phrygie. ΒΛΕΠΕ," Revue de Philologie, 3e ser., 18 (1944) 53-56 (at 55) = his Opera Minora Selecta III (1969) 1419-1422 (at 1421), who cites (n. 5) the following parallel from the Greek Anthology (10.26, attributed to Lucian, tr. W.R. Paton):
Enjoy thy possessions as if about to die, and use thy goods sparingly as if about to live. That man is wise who understands both these commandments, and hath applied a measure both to thrift and unthrift.

Ὡς τεθνηξόμενος τῶν σῶν ἀγαθῶν ἀπόλαυε,
  ὡς δὲ βιωσόμενος φείδεο σῶν κτεάνων.
ἔστι δ῾ ἀνὴρ σοφὸς οὗτος, ὃς ἄμφω ταῦτα νοήσας
  φειδοῖ καὶ δαπάνῃ μέτρον ἐφηρμόσατο.
To the bibliography on this stele by Josef Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, Bd. I: Die Westküste Kleinasiens von Knidos bis Ilion (Stuttgart; B.G. Teubner, 1998), p. 545, add Katherine M.D. Dunbabin, "Sic Erimus Cuncti ... The Skeleton in Graeco-Roman Art," Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 101 (1986) 185-255 (at 242 ff.).

Update: See More on Retirement Planning.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Advice for Students

Quintilian 2.9.1-3, tr. William M. Smail in Quintilian on Education. Being a Translation of Selected Passages from the Institutio Oratoria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. 105:
1. Having dealt at length with the duties of teachers, I confine my advice to pupils to one precept in the meantime, to wit, that they should love their teachers no less than their studies themselves and should regard them as the parents not indeed of their bodies but of their minds.

2. Such dutiful affection will greatly aid their work. For thus they will listen with willing ear and believe what they are told, and strive to resemble their instructors; and again they will gather in their classrooms with joyful eagerness, will not resent correction, will rejoice in being praised, and by their zeal will strive to win their teacher's love.

3. For as it is the duty of the one to teach, so it is the duty of these others to prove themselves apt to learn: otherwise neither is sufficient without the other...

1. Plura de officiis docentium locutus discipulos id unum interim moneo, ut praeceptores suos non minus quam ipsa studia ament et parentes esse non quidem corporum, sed mentium credant.

2. Multum haec pietas conferet studio; nam ita et libenter audient et dictis credent et esse similes concupiscent, in ipsos denique coetus scholarum laeti alacres conuenient, emendati non irascentur, laudati gaudebunt, ut sint carissimi studio merebuntur.

3. Nam ut illorum officium est docere, sic horum praebere se dociles: alioqui neutrum sine altero sufficit...
J.J. Grandville, School

Thanks very much to Ian Jackson for the gift of Smail's translation, together with several other books.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


A Little Kingdom

Martial 12.31 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
This wood, these springs, this woven shade of overhanging vine, this ductile stream of flowing water, and the meadows and the rose beds that yield nothing to twice-flowering Paestum, and the potherbs green in January and not frostbitten, and the household eel that swims in closed water, and the white tower that harbors birds white as itself, these are the gifts of my lady. To me, when I returned after seven lusters, Marcella gave this house, this little realm. If Nausicaa were to offer me her father's gardens, I could say to Alcinous: "I prefer my own."
The same, tr. Peter Whigham:
This glade, these spring-waters, this laced shade
  of roving vine, irrigant winding stream,
Rose-beds fine as Paestum's, flow'ring twice,
  winter greens that sprout in winter's frosts,
Pet eels squiggling in th' aquarium,
  dovecote white as white doves it harbors—
Gifts of Marcella: I, back (long gone), these
  small domestic sovereignties receive.
Should Nausicaa her father's gardens proffer,
  "Alcinous, thanks," I'ld say, "I like mine best."
The same, tr. Garry Wills:
These woods, these founts, this woven upland vine,
These winding, plashing runnels, all are mine;
These meads that rival Paestum's twice-blown rose,
And winter green not wanned by winter's snows,
The slimy eel that my own fishpond pens,
The dovecote white with snowy denizens,
Marcella's bounty. Wandering long and late,
This home she gave me and this modest state.
Were to my eyes Alcinous' garden shown
I'ld say, "Nausicaa, I prefer mine own."
The Latin:
Hoc nemus, hi fontes, haec textilis umbra supini
  palmitis, hoc riguae ductile flumen aquae,
prataque nec bifero cessura rosaria Paesto,
  quodque viret Iani mense nec alget holus,
quaeque natat clusis anguilla domestica lymphis,
  quaeque gerit similes candida turris aves,
munera sunt dominae: post septima lustra reverso
  has Marcella domos parvaque regna dedit.
si mihi Nausicaa patrios concederet hortos,
  Alcinoo possem dicere 'malo meos.'
The garden of Alcinous was the prototypical locus amoenus in classical literature (Homer, Odyssey 7.112-132, tr. William Cowper):
Without the court, and to the gates adjoin'd
A spacious garden lay, fenced all around
Secure, four acres measuring complete.
There grew luxuriant many a lofty tree,
Pomegranate, pear, the apple blushing bright,
The honied fig, and unctuous olive smooth.
Those fruits, nor winter's cold nor summer's heat
Fear ever, fail not, wither not, but hang
Perennial, whose unceasing zephyr breathes
Gently on all, enlarging these, and those
Maturing genial; in an endless course
Pears after pears to full dimensions swell,
Figs follow figs, grapes clust'ring grow again
Where clusters grew, and (ev'ry apple stript)
The boughs soon tempt the gath'rer as before.
There too, well-rooted, and of fruit profuse,
His vineyard grows; part, wide-extended, basks,
In the sun's beams; the arid level glows;
In part they gather, and in part they tread
The wine-press, while, before the eye, the grapes
Here put their blossom forth, there, gather fast
Their blackness. On the garden's verge extreme
Flow'rs of all hues smile all the year, arranged
With neatest art judicious, and amid
The lovely scene two fountains welling forth,
One visits, into ev'ry part diffus'd,
The garden-ground, the other soft beneath
The threshold steals into the palace-court,
Whence ev'ry citizen his vase supplies.
Such were the ample blessings on the house
Of King Alcinoüs by the Gods bestow'd.

ἔκτοσθεν δ᾽ αὐλῆς μέγας ὄρχατος ἄγχι θυράων
τετράγυος· περὶ δ᾽ ἕρκος ἐλήλαται ἀμφοτέρωθεν.
ἔνθα δὲ δένδρεα μακρὰ πεφύκασι τηλεθόωντα,
ὄγχναι καὶ ῥοιαὶ καὶ μηλέαι ἀγλαόκαρποι        115
συκέαι τε γλυκεραὶ καὶ ἐλαῖαι τηλεθόωσαι.
τάων οὔ ποτε καρπὸς ἀπόλλυται οὐδ᾽ ἀπολείπει
χείματος οὐδὲ θέρευς, ἐπετήσιος· ἀλλὰ μάλ᾽ αἰεὶ
Ζεφυρίη πνείουσα τὰ μὲν φύει, ἄλλα δὲ πέσσει.
ὄγχνη ἐπ᾽ ὄγχνῃ γηράσκει, μῆλον δ᾽ ἐπὶ μήλῳ,        120
αὐτὰρ ἐπὶ σταφυλῇ σταφυλή, σῦκον δ᾽ ἐπὶ σύκῳ.
ἔνθα δέ οἱ πολύκαρπος ἀλωὴ ἐρρίζωται,
τῆς ἕτερον μὲν θειλόπεδον λευρῷ ἐνὶ χώρῳ
τέρσεται ἠελίῳ, ἑτέρας δ᾽ ἄρα τε τρυγόωσιν,
ἄλλας δὲ τραπέουσι· πάροιθε δέ τ᾽ ὄμφακές εἰσιν        125
ἄνθος ἀφιεῖσαι, ἕτεραι δ᾽ ὑποπερκάζουσιν.
ἔνθα δὲ κοσμηταὶ πρασιαὶ παρὰ νείατον ὄρχον
παντοῖαι πεφύασιν, ἐπηετανὸν γανόωσαι·
ἐν δὲ δύω κρῆναι ἡ μέν τ᾽ ἀνὰ κῆπον ἅπαντα
σκίδναται, ἡ δ᾽ ἑτέρωθεν ὑπ᾽ αὐλῆς οὐδὸν ἵησι        130
πρὸς δόμον ὑψηλόν, ὅθεν ὑδρεύοντο πολῖται.
τοῖ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐν Ἀλκινόοιο θεῶν ἔσαν ἀγλαὰ δῶρα.
John Constable, A Cottage in a Cornfield

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts:

Friday, October 21, 2011


Leigh Hunt on Book Catalogues

Leigh Hunt (1784–1859), quoted by Alexander Ireland, The Book-Lover's Enchiridion: Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1883), p. 137:
A Catalogue is not a mere catalogue or list of saleables, as the uninitiated may fancy. Even a common auctioneer's catalogue of goods and chattels suggests a thousand reflections to a peruser of any knowledge. Judge then what the case must be with a catalogue of books; the very titles of which run the rounds of the whole world, visible and invisible; geographies—biographies—histories—loves—hates—joys—sorrows—cookeries—sciences—fashion,—and eternity! We speak on this subject from the most literal experience; for often and often have we cut open a new catalogue of old books, with all the fervour and ivory folder of a first love; often read one at tea; nay, at dinner; and have put crosses against dozens of volumes in the list, out of the pure imagination of buying them, the possibility being out of the question!
I can't find the original on the World Wide Web. I think it comes from one of Hunt's "Retrospective Review" essays published in The Monthly Repository, circa 1837.

Johann Boxbarth (1671-1727), Bibliothek

Related posts:

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Ars Est Celare Artem

James Hayford, Sweat:
If it shows signs of sweat
It isn't finished yet.

Sweat over it until
Your art conceals your skill.

Effort succeeds; success
Is looking effortless.


Scene of Desolation

Charles Dormer, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon (1632-1709), defined wood as "an excrescence of the earth provided by God for the payment of debts." (Samuel Pepys, Diary, May 5, 1667.)

A few years later, just across the Channel, in Normandy, another noble Charles, this one Baron de Sévigné (1648–1713), had the woods on one of the family's estates cut down to raise money, to his mother's chagrin:
I was yesterday at Buron, and returned from thence this evening. I have been ready to weep to see the desolation of this estate; there were the finest trees in the world upon it, and my son, in his last journey, gave the finishing stroke to the last. He would even have sold a little copse, which was the greatest ornament of the place. Is not this lamentable? He scraped together four hundred pistoles by this plunder, of which he had not a single penny left in a month. It is impossible to think with patience how he acts, and what his Britany journey cost him, notwithstanding he discharged his coachman and footman at Paris, and took nobody but Larmechin with him. He has found out the art of spending an immense deal of money, without making any show for it, of losing, without playing, and of paying, without discharging his debts. War or peace, he is for ever crying out for money; in short, he is a perpetual drain, and what he does with his money I cannot conceive, for he appears to have no particular passion; I really think his hand is a crucible, which melts money the instant it is put into it. You must bear with me a little, my dear child, while I give a vent to my vexation. The afflicted dryads, the venerable sylvan deities, driven from their ancient abodes, and not knowing where to hide their heads; the old crows, who had inhabited the summits of our lofty oaks for upwards of two centuries; and the melancholy owls, who dwelt beneath the impenetrable shades of their branches, from whence, with their shrill cries, they denounced approaching misfortunes to man, all, methought, crowded around me with their complaints; and who knows but several of our old oaks might have spoken, like that in which Clorinda was enclosed? This place was once un luogo d'incanto (a place of enchantment), if ever there was one. In short, my imagination was so forcibly struck with the scene of desolation that presented itself that I returned home in sorrow; nor was the supper which the first president gave me able to rouse my spirits.
Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and her Friends, vol. VI (London: Printed for J. Walker et al., 1811), pp. 24-25 (May 27, 1680, to her daughter).


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Qui Scribit, Bis Legit

On several pages of his informative and entertaining web site, Bill Thayer has this to say about copying ancient texts:
As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)
One might expect the proverb "Qui scribit, bis legit" to have originated with a medieval scribe, but the earliest occurrence in Google Books dates only from the nineteenth century, in Gaetano Foschini, I Motivi del Codice Civile del Regno d'Italia (Chieti: Scalpelli, 1867), unpaginated preface "Al Benevolo Lettore," where Foschini calls it "il precetto de' miei buoni Maestri," i.e. "the precept of my good teachers." The proverb doesn't appear in Renzo Tosi's Dizionario delle sentenze latine e greche — my thanks to Laura Gibbs for checking.

I also find the proverb, with a different word order, in The Linguist; or, Weekly Instructions in the French and German Languages, No. II (Saturday, April 2, 1825) 18:
Whatever DR. JOHNSON may have said to the contrary, the old Latin adage, bis legit qui scribit, (he who writes reads twice) remains perfectly true.
So far as I can tell, Johnson himself never referred to the Latin proverb, but he did discuss the alleged connection between copying and memorization in The Idler, No. 74 (Saturday, September 15, 1759):
Others I have found unalterably persuaded, that nothing is certainly remembered but what is transcribed; and they have therefore passed weeks and months in transferring large quotations to a common-place book. Yet why any part of a book, which can be consulted at pleasure, should be copied, I was never able to discover. The hand has no closer correspondence with the memory than the eye. The act of writing itself distracts the thoughts, and what is read twice is commonly better remembered than what is transcribed.
From childhood on, Johnson exhibited extraordinary feats of memorization. See, e.g., this story related by Boswell:
Of the power of his memory, for which he was all his life eminent to a degree almost incredible, the following early instance was told me in his presence at Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, 'Sam, you must get this by heart.' She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: But by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. 'What's the matter?' said she. 'I can say it,' he replied, and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.
Similar is this anecdote from his school days, also recorded by Boswell:
Mr. Hector remembers having recited to him eighteen verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim, varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line.
Despite Johnson's preaching and practice, in my own life "Qui scribit, bis legit" has proved useful. I often forget what I read, even if I've read it several times. But I used to fill sheets of paper front and back with Greek and Latin declensions and conjugations, copied over and over by hand, and some of them, at least, have stuck with me to this day.

George Cattermole (1800-1868), The Scribe

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Success in Life

Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams (1859), Chapter V (The Choice of a Profession):
Not a word was said about the degree—at least, not then. Indeed Mr. Bertram did not think very much about degrees. He had taken no degree himself, except a high degree in wealth, and could not understand that he ought to congratulate a young man of twenty-two as to a successful termination of his school-lessons....He could not blame his nephew: he could not call him idle, as he would have delighted to do had occasion permitted; but he would not condescend to congratulate him on being great in Greek or mighty in abstract mathematics.


'Success in life is not to be won by writing Greek verses; not though you write ever so many. A ship-load of them would not fetch you the value of this glass of wine at any market in the world.'


How Long?

Bion of Smyrna, fragment 8, lines 8-14, preserved in Stobaeus 4.16.15 (tr. J.D. Reed):
But since the gods have agreed for one span of life to come
for humans, and that short and lesser than all things,
how long, O wretches, are we to work at toils and tasks?
And how long are we to cast our soul into profits and into crafts,
forever desiring much more wealth?
Have we then all indeed forgotten that we are mortal,
and that we have been allotted a brief time by Fate?

εἰ δὲ θεοὶ κατένευσαν ἕνα χρόνον ἐς βίον ἐλθεῖν
ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τόνδε βραχὺν καὶ μείονα πάντων,
ἐς πόσον, ἆ δειλοί, καμάτως κεἰς ἔργα πονεῦμες,
ψυχὰν δ̓ ἄχρι τίνος ποτὶ κέρδεα καὶ ποτὶ τέχνας
βάλλομες ἱμείροντες ἀεὶ πολὺ πλείονος ὄλβω;
ἦ λαθόμεθ̓ ἄρα πάντες, ὅτι θνατοὶ γενόμεσθα,
χὠς βραχὺν ἐκ Μοίρας λάχομες χρόνον;

Monday, October 17, 2011


Tempus Fugit

Greek Anthology 10.81 (Palladas, tr. W.R. Paton):
Alas for the brevity of life's pleasure! Mourn the swiftness of time. We sit and we sleep, toiling or taking our delight, and time is advancing, advancing against us wretched men, bringing to each the end of life.

Ὢ τῆς βραχείας ἡδονῆς τῆς τοῦ βίου·
τὴν ὀξύτητα τοῦ χρόνου πενθήσατε.
ἡμεῖς καθεζόμεσθα καὶ κοιμώμεθα,
μοχθοῦντες ἢ τρυφῶντες: ὁ δὲ χρόνος τρέχει,
τρέχει καθ᾽ ἡμῶν τῶν ταλαιπώρων βροτῶν,
φέρων ἑκάστου τῷ βίῳ καταστροφήν.


The Corporate Mind

Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays (Washington: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005), pp. 59-60:
It [the corporate mind] does not care who it is, for it is not anybody; it is a mind perfectly disembodied. It does not care where it is so long as its present location yields a greater advantage than any other. It will do anything at all that is necessary, not merely to live, but to aggrandize itself. And it charges its damages indifferently to the public, to nature, and to the future.

The corporate mind at work overthrows all the virtues of the personal mind, or throws them out of account. The corporate mind knows no affection, no desire that is not greedy, no local or personal loyalty, no sympathy or reverence or gratitude, no temperance or thrift or self-restraint. It does not observe the first responsibility of intelligence, which is to know when you don't know or when you are being unintelligent. Try to imagine an official standing up in the high councils of a global corporation or a great public institution to say, "We have grown too big," or "We now have more power than we can responsibly use," or "We must treat our employees as our neighbors," or "We must count ourselves as members of this community," or “We must preserve the ecological integrity of our work places," or "Let us do unto others as we would have them do unto us"—and you will see what I mean.

The corporate mind, on the contrary, justifies and encourages the personal mind in its worst faults and weaknesses, such as greed and servility, and frees it of any need to worry about long-term consequences. For these reliefs, nowadays, the corporate mind is apt to express noisily its gratitude to God.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Mark of a True Man

Richard Mullen, Anthony Trollope: A Victorian in His World (London: Duckworth, 1990; rpt. Savannah: Frederic C. Beil, 1992), pp. 586-587:
One day an American acquaintance arrived shortly before noon and declined to join them at another breakfast. 'What,' asked Trollope, 'do you mean to say you are not man enough to eat two breakfasts?'

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, chapter 2 (underlining added):
"Don't be a fool, Bilbo Baggins!" he said to himself, "thinking of dragons and all that outlandish nonsense at your age!" So he put on an apron, lit fires, boiled water, and washed up. Then he had a nice little breakfast in the kitchen before turning out the dining-room. By that time the sun was shining; and the front door was open, letting in a warm spring breeze. Bilbo began to whistle loudly and to forget about the night before. In fact he was just sitting down to a nice little second breakfast in the dining-room by the open window, when in walked Gandalf.

"My dear fellow," said he, "whenever are you going to come? What about an early start?—and here you are having breakfast, or whatever you call it, at half past ten!"
Pieter Claesz, Breakfast with Ham



Eric Thomson writes: "There's a cruel irony to Rose Macaulay's coy approach to book catalogues. She had dire need of them six years later. Better to be homeless than bookless. In May 1941, she was both and there's no doubting which caused her the greater anguish:
'Forgive this dislocated scrawl written in train to Romford to spend night with my sister', Rose scribbled on an odd scrap of paper to Daniel George on the evening of 14 May. 'Came up last night from Liss to find Lux: House no more — bombed and burned out of existence, and nothing saved. I am bookless, homeless, sans everything but my eyes to weep with. All my (and your) notes on animals gone — I shall never write that book now. I don't expect you kept any notes of what you copied for me...I shall take a room somewhere, till I can look round...I had a borrowed typewriter with me at Liss; little else, but the clothes I am wearing. What does one do? I have no O[xford] D[ictionary]. No Purchas. No nothing...It would have been less trouble to have been bombed myself.'

Not only in her first stunned bewilderment, but later too, the loss of her books caused Rose extreme anguish. Another flat could be found; her furniture could be replaced — in fact readily so, for the sale of Margaret's belongings could be cancelled. But her books...To Rose her books were her intimate, beloved friends, the companions of her daily life. 'The less I brood over my lost darlings', she wrote in her next letter to Daniel George, 'the better for my sanity.' To Gilbert Murray, in reply to a letter of sympathy, she used more measured terms but there was no disguising her grief. 'I do indeed feel destitute and bereaved without my books — they were the heritage of 4 generations of book-lovers, besides my own collection. Nothing can replace them. But I have begun to try round for some of them at the second-hand booksellers. And Logan Pearsall Smith, whom I saw yesterday, has given me some of his, and returned me some I had lent him...I don't know what one does...I have little heart for anything.'
Constance Babington Smith, Rose Macaulay: A Biography (London: Collins, 1972), pp. 156-157."

Friday, October 14, 2011


A Stimulant

Ian Jackson sent me Rose Macaulay's delightful essay on "Booksellers' Catalogues," from her Personal Pleasures (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1935), pp. 91-95. On receiving some booksellers' catalogues in the mail, Macaulay first resolves to resist temptation by discarding the catalogues without a second look:
How lightly, softly, insinuatingly, they arrive, flipping through the letter-box, alighting like leaves on the passage floor; green like leaves of spring, red or brown or orange like leaves of autumn, or white like drifts of snow; but each folded neatly and precisely in a wrapper of thin or stout dun-coloured paper. I will not open them; I will not slit that concealing jacket that protects me from the song of these luring sirens; like Odysseus and his sailors, I will be deaf and blind. I will cast them, as I cast without a pang all the other catalogues of merchandise that arrive in my home, unopened into the waste-paper basket.
A bit of print, however, protruding from the wrapper of one of the catalogues, catches her attention. The catalogue offers for sale, among other books, John Wilkin's Discovery of a New World in the Moone and Thomas Moufet's Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum:
My dear Bishop Wilkins and my dear Dr. Moufet, looking up at me from parallel columns. It is apparent that I cannot waste-paper them without a look; I have the greatest regard for them both, the insectophile French physician, and the mathematical, ingenious, speculative Bishop of Chester...
She puts ticks in the margins of the catalogue, including one opposite William Shipway's Campanologia, not for purchase, she tells herself, but "in case I wish to refer to its title again." Certain books in the catalogue do not merit a tick, such as modern first editions:
Why does anyone prefer a first edition of a modern book to a later one? I am told that this is one of the diseases that one cannot hope to understand unless one suffers from it. It is, I presume, called protophilism, or even protomania. Sufferers from it keep, perhaps, the first white stone they see when out walking, or the newspapers for the first day of each month, or the top button off each of their coats, or the first stamp out of each stamp-book, or the programmes of the first nights of plays, or the firstlings of the infant year. Jehovah collected firstborns, alike of men, beasts, and plants, saying, "They are mine," so the instinct has high and ancient origin....I could, for my part, read lists of modern firsts for ever, and remain as full in purse as when I began; I never feel "they are mine." I could wish that catalogues contained nothing else, and were not, instead, alive with more perilous seductions.
She reads the catalogue through to the very end:
And so down to Zola and Zoology, the former of which seems to remain a bore, even in a catalogue, while the latter is so enticing that to read the names of its dryest manuals is a stimulant.

A stimulant: yes, the word is apt. To read these catalogues is like drinking wine in the middle of the morning; it elevates one into that state of felicitous intoxication in which one feels capable of anything.
John Singer Sargent,
Woman Reading in a Cashmere Shawl

Related post: Book Catalogues.

Thursday, October 13, 2011



Theognis 1007-1012 (tr. Dorothea Wender):
I will advise all men: while you still have
The glorious flower of youth and noble thoughts,
Enjoy these precious goods. To be young twice
Is not permitted mortals by the gods,
Nor to be free from death; vile Age will come,
Destructive, and will put us to the test,
And lay his hands on top of all our heads.

ξυνὸν δ' ἀνθρώποις ὑποθήσομαι, ὄφρα τις ἥβης
  ἀγλαὸν ἄνθος ἔχων καὶ φρεσὶν ἐσθλὰ νοῇ,
τῶν αὐτοῦ κτεάνων εὖ πασχέμεν· οὐ γὰρ ἀνηβᾶν
  δὶς πέλεται πρὸς θεῶν οὐδὲ λύσις θανάτου
θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποισι· κακὸν δ' ἐπὶ γῆρας ἐλέγχει
  οὐλόμενον, κεφαλῆς δ' ἅπτεται ἀκροτάτης.

1007 ἥβης: ἡβᾷ Bergk; 1011 κακὸν: καλὸν Bergk

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Gissing and Greek

Thanks to Andrew Rickard for drawing my attention to the following description of George Gissing by H.G. Wells, quoted by Frank Swinnerton in George Gissing: A Critical Study (London: Secker, 1912), p. 29:
His meals were of bread and dripping, stewed tea, cheese at times, soup bought desiccated in penny packets, and such like victual; and a common friend, himself no mean novelist, has described his entertainment there of a Sunday afternoon;—Gissing, with flushed face and shining eyes, declaiming Greek choruses and capping sonorous quotations—"There are miserable wretches," he would say, "who know not the difference between dochmiacs and antispasts!"—until hunger could wait no longer. Thereupon he would become spasmodically culinary in a swift anti-climax: "Now for the squalid meal!"
Andrew comments: "I think the 'common friend' Wells mentions above is Morley Roberts (1857-1942), who writes about their shared enthusiasm for Greek in A Writer’s Novitiate, an essay that can be found in Vol. XXIX, No. 3 (July, 1993) of The Gissing Newsletter:
In the years of my wanderings I had forgotten almost all the Greek I ever knew and my friend was in the same case. Yet we went to work with enthusiasm and almost every night for some months we read Aeschylus and Sophocles. The way we worked would have made an old-fashioned scholar tear his hair for we wanted to get at the poetry of the plays and did not disdain any kind of crib. But when we had read a play once we read it again and again and it was not long before we knew a dozen of these ancient masterpieces almost by heart. And all this time I should have been trying to make money. Instead of doing so I ate and drank Greek and thought of little else so long as I got a crust of bread."
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Excerpts from George Eliot, Romola (1863).

Chapter III (Nello speaking):
"Heaven forbid I should fetter my impartiality by entertaining an opinion."
Chapter VI (Bardo de' Bardi speaking):
"I myself, for having shown error in a single preposition, had an invective written against me wherein I was taxed with treachery, fraud, indecency, and even hideous crimes. Such, my young friend, such are the flowers with which the glorious path of scholarship is strewed!"
Chapter VI (Tito Melema speaking):
"He was of opinion that a new and more glorious era would open for learning when men should begin to look for their commentaries on the ancient writers in the remains of cities and temples—nay, in the paths of the rivers, and on the face of the valleys and mountains."
Chapter XII (Monna Brigida speaking):
"Well, well; if I didn't bring you some news of the world now and then, I do believe you'd forget there was any thing in life but these mouldy ancients, who want sprinkling with holy water if all I hear about them is true."
Chapter XXX:
And now again Baldassare said, "I am not alone in the world; I shall never be alone, for my revenge is with me."

It was as the instrument of that revenge, as something merely external and subservient to his true life, that he bent down again to examine himself with hard curiosity—not, he thought, because he had any care for a withered, forsaken old man, whom nobody loved, whose soul was like a deserted home, where the ashes were cold upon the hearth, and the walls were bare of all but the marks of what had been. It is in the nature of all human passion, the lowest as well as the highest, that there is a point at which it ceases to be properly egoistic, and is like a fire kindled within our being to which every thing else in us is mere fuel.
Chapter XXXI:
There was one thing that would have made the pang of disappointment in her husband harder to bear: it was, that any one should know he gave her cause for disappointment. This might be a woman's weakness, but it is closely allied to a woman's nobleness. She who willingly lifts up the veil of her married life has profaned it from a sanctuary into a vulgar place.
Chapter XXXVI:
Hard speech between those who have loved is hideous in the memory, like the sight of greatness and beauty sunk into vice and rags.
Chapter XXXVIII:
[T]hen he turned towards the book which lay open at his side. It was a fine large manuscript, an odd volume of Pausanias. The moonlight was upon it, and he could see the large letters at the head of the page:

                ΜΕΣΣΗΝΙΚΑ. ΚΒ.

In old days he had known Pausanias familiarly; yet an hour or two ago he had been looking hopelessly at that page, and it had suggested no more meaning to him than if the letters had been black weather-marks on a wall; but at this moment they were once more the magic signs that conjure up a world.
Chapter XXXIX:
[T]he lie was not so difficult when it was once begun; and as the words fell easily from his lips, they gave him a sense of power such as men feel when they have begun a muscular feat successfully.
Chapter XLII:
That had a patriotic sound; but, looked at more closely, the Holy League seemed very much like an agreement among certain wolves to drive away all other wolves, and then to see which among themselves could snatch the largest share of the prey.
Chapter XLV (Nello speaking):
"I myself was thought beautiful by the women at one time—when I was in my swaddling-bands."
Chapter XLVII:
Life was so complicated a game that the devices of skill were liable to be defeated at every turn by air-blown chances, incalculable as the descent of thistle-down.
Chapter XLVII:
She liked to hear the rain: the stormy heavens seemed a safeguard against men's devices, compelling them to inaction.
Chapter LXI:
In that declaration of his, that the Cause of his party was the Cause of God's kingdom, she heard only the ring of egoism.
Chapter LXIV:
Our naked feelings make haste to clothe themselves in propositions which lie at hand among our store of opinions, and to give a true account of what passes within us something else is necessary besides sincerity, even when sincerity is unmixed.
Related post: Middlemarch.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


An Ode by Ronsard

John Jay Chapman, Song after Ronsard:
Sink the wine within the spring,
  And cool it deep and long:
Send Jeanne to me, and let her bring
  Her lute, to chant a song.
Three shall dance and one shall sing,
  Call Barbe, that in the whirl
Her heavy tresses she may fling
  Like a mad Tuscan girl.

See! the sun has dipped his head,
  We may not live till morning;
Fill my cup, boy, till the bead
  Run over with no warning.
Curse the dolt that slaves to get,
  Curse doctor and divine;
My wits were never sober yet
  Till they were washed with wine!
Ronsard, Odes 2.10:
Fay refraischir mon vin de sorte
Qu'il passe en froideur un glaçon:
Fay venir Janne, qu'elle apporte
Son luth pour dire une chanson:
Nous ballerons tous trois au son:
Et dy à Barbe qu'elle vienne,
Les cheveux tors à la façon
D'une folastre Italienne.

Ne vois-tu que le jour se passe?
Je ne vy point au lendemain:
Page, reverse dans ma tasse,
Que ce grand verre soit tout plain:
Maudit soit qui languit en vain:
Ces vieux medecins je n'appreuve:
Mon cerveau n'est jamais bien sain,
Si beaucoup de vin ne l'abreuve.
The same, tr. Norman R. Shapiro:
Come here and chill my wine, my friend;
For colder would I have it be
Than ice. Then straightway go and send
For damsel Jeanne, and tell her she
Should bring her lute; then shall we three
Dance to her tune; and have Barbe come
As well, braids twisted fetchingly,
Like lass Italian, frolicsome.

Can you not see how fast today
Dies with tomorrow, and flies on?
Page, come and fill my goblet, pray,
Full to the brim! A curse upon
Those who but languish—now, anon—
In vain; and graybeard Doctors too!
My brain grows weak; my spirit, wan,
Without my wine, gone all askew.
The same, tr. Stanley Appelbaum:
Have my wine chilled so that
It surpasses an icicle in coldness;
Have Joan come, let her bring
Her lute to perform a song:
We shall all three dance to her playing.
And tell Barbara to come,
Her hair twisted in the style
The madcap Italian girls wear.

Can't you see that the day is passing?
I don't live for tomorrow.
Page, replenish the wine in my cup,
Let this tall glass be full to the brim.
Curse the man who languishes in vain;
I don't agree with these old Physicians:
My brain is never fully sound
Until it is flooded with much wine.
Cf. Horace, Odes 3.14.17-22 (tr. Niall Rudd):
Go, my boy, and look for scented ointment and a jar that remembers the Marsian War, if there is anywhere a crock that has managed to elude the marauding Spartacus. And tell the clear-voiced Neaera to hurry up, tying a band around her myrrh-scented hair.

i, pete unguentum, puer, et coronas
et cadum Marsi memorem duelli,
Spartacum si qua potuit vagantem
            fallere testa.
dic et argutae properet Neaerae
murreum nodo cohibere crinem.


Rachel Ray

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, Rachel Ray (1863).

Chapter VI:
Of all men he was the most unconscious of his own defects.
Chapter VI:
He was not a gentleman. I do not mean to say that he was a thief or a liar; nor do I mean hereby to complain that he picked his teeth with his fork and misplaced his 'h's'. I am by no means prepared to define what I do mean—thinking, however, that most men and most women will understand me.
Chapter XIII:
There is no personal encounter in which a young man is so sure to come by the worst as in that with a much older man. This is so surely the case that it ought to be considered cowardly in an old man to attack a young one. If an old man hit a young man over the head with a walking-stick, what can the young man do, except run away to avoid a second blow? Then the old man, if he be a wicked old man, as so many are, tells all his friends that he has licked the young man.
Chapter XVIII:
Individual men are like the separate links of a rotatory chain. The chain goes on with continuous easy motion as though every part of it were capable of adapting itself to a curve, but not the less is each link as stiff and sturdy as any other piece of wrought iron.
Chapter XIX:
We, all of us, read more in the faces of those with whom we hold converse, than we are aware of doing. Of the truth, or want of truth, in every word spoken to us, we judge, in great part, by the face of the speaker. By the face of every man and woman seen by us, whether they speak or are silent, we form a judgement—and in nine cases out of ten our judgement is true. It is because our tenth judgement—that judgement which has been wrong—comes back upon us always with the effects of its error, that we teach ourselves to say that appearances cannot be trusted. If we did not trust them we should be walking ever in doubt, in darkness, and in ignorance.
Chapter XX:
A wife does not cease to love her husband because he gets into trouble. She does not turn against him because others have quarrelled with him. She does not separate her lot from his because he is in debt! Those are the times when a wife, a true wife, sticks closest to her husband, and strives the hardest to lighten the weight of his cares by the tenderness of her love!
Chapter XXVI:
He was a radical at heart if ever there was a radical. But in saying this I must beg my reader to understand that a radical is not necessarily a revolutionist or even a republican. He does not, by reason of his social or political radicalism, desire the ruin of thrones, the degradation of nobles, the spoliation of the rich, or even the downfall of the bench of bishops. Many a young man is frightened away from the just conclusions of his mind and the strong convictions of his heart by dread of being classed with those who are jealous of the favoured ones of fortune. A radical may be as ready as any aristocrat to support the crown with his blood, and the church with his faith. It is in this that he is a radical; that he desires, expects, works for, and believes in, the gradual progress of the people. No doctrine of equality is his. Liberty he must have, and such position, high or low, for himself and others, as each man's individual merits will achieve for him. The doctrine of outward equality he eschews as a barrier to all ambition, and to all improvement. The idea is as mean as the thing is impracticable. But within—is it in his soul or in his heart?—within his breast there is a manhood that will own no inferiority to the manhood of another. He retires to a corner that an earl with his suite may pass proudly through the doorway, and he grudges the earl nothing of his pride. It is the earl’s right. But he also has his right; and neither queen, nor earl, nor people shall invade it. That is the creed of a radical.
Chapter XXVI:
Marvellous is the power which can be exercised, almost unconsciously, over a company, or an individual, or even upon a crowd by one person gifted with good temper, good digestion, good intellects, and good looks.

Monday, October 10, 2011


One of the Most Ungregarious of Beings

George Wilson, The Life of the Hon. Henry Cavendish (London: Printed for the Cavendish Society, 1851), pp. 165-170 (footnotes omitted, ellipses in original):
A more eventless life, according to the ordinary judgment of mankind, than that of Cavendish, could scarcely be conceived. His character, however, was a very remarkable and interesting one, and I shall try to explain what its prominent peculiarities were. The most striking of these, at a first glance, was, a singular love for solitariness, and a reluctance to mix with his fellows, which I may perhaps best denote by saying, that Cavendish was one of the most ungregarious of beings. The following quotations from the writings of some of his more eminent contemporaries, who were well qualified to form an estimate of his disposition, will illustrate this, as well as most of his other characteristics.

Professor Playfair, of Edinburgh, visited London in 1782, and was frequently present at the meetings of the Royal Society Club, one of the very few places of comparatively public resort which Cavendish attended. The impression made upon Playfair is thus recorded:—

"Mr. Cavendish is a member also of this meeting. He is of an awkward appearance, and has certainly not much the look of a man of rank. He speaks likewise with great difficulty and hesitation, and very seldom. But the gleams of genius break often through this unpromising exterior. He never speaks at all but that it is exceedingly to the purpose, and either brings some excellent information, or draws some important conclusion. His knowledge is very extensive and very accurate; most of the members of the Royal Society seem to look up to him as to one possessed of talents confessedly superior; and, indeed, they have reason to do so, for Mr. Cavendish, so far as I could see, is the only one among them who joins together the knowledge of mathematics, chemistry, and experimental philosophy."

I have already quoted a reference to the same effect from Dr. Thomas Thomson. He further states of Cavendish:—"He was shy and bashful to a degree bordering on disease; he could not bear to have any person introduced to him, or to be pointed out in any way as a remarkable man. One Sunday evening he was standing at Sir Joseph Banks', in a crowded room, conversing with Mr. Hatchett, when Dr. Ingenhousz, who had a good deal of pomposity of manner, came up with an Austrian gentleman in his hand, and introduced him formally to Mr. Cavendish. He mentioned the titles and qualifications of his friend at great length, and said that he had been peculiarly anxious to be introduced to a philosopher so profound and so universally known and celebrated as Mr. Cavendish. As soon as Dr. Ingenhousz had finished, the Austrian gentleman began, and assured Mr. Cavendish that his principal reason for coming to London was to see and converse with one of the greatest ornaments of the age, and one of the most illustrious philosophers that ever existed. To all these high-flown speeches Mr. Cavendish answered not a word, but stood with his eyes cast down, quite abashed and confounded. At last, spying an opening in the crowd, he darted through it with all the speed of which he was master, nor did he stop till he reached his carriage, which drove him directly home."

Sir Humphry Davy, in addition to the eloquent eulogium passed on Cavendish, soon after his death, left this less studied but more graphic sketch of the philosopher amongst his papers:—"Cavendish was a great man, with extraordinary singularities. His voice was squeaking, his manner nervous, he was afraid of strangers, and seemed, when embarrassed, even to articulate with difficulty. He wore the costume of our grandfathers; was enormously rich, but made no use of his wealth. He gave me once some bits of platinum, for my experiments, and came to see my results on the decomposition of the alkalis, and seemed to take an interest in them; but he encouraged no intimacy with anyone....He lived latterly the life of a solitary, came to the club dinner, and to the Royal Society, but received nobody at his own house. He was acute, sagacious, and profound, and, I think, the most accomplished British philosopher of his time."

Lord Brougham gives the following account of his estimate of Cavendish's character:—"He was of a most reserved disposition and peculiarly shy habits. This led to some singularity of manner, which was further increased by a hesitation or difficulty of speech, and a thin shrill voice. He entered diffidently into any conversation, and seemed to dislike being spoken to. He would often leave the place where he was addressed, and leave it abruptly, with a kind of cry or ejaculation, as if scared and disturbed....He hardly ever went into society. The only exceptions I am aware of are an occasional christening at Devonshire or Burlington House, the meetings of the Royal Society, and Sir Joseph Banks' weekly conversaziones. At both the latter places I have met him, and recollect the shrill cry he uttered as he shuffled quickly from room to room, seeming to be annoyed if looked at, but sometimes approaching to hear what was passing among others. His face was intelligent and mild, though, from the nervous irritation which he seemed to feel, the expression could hardly be called calm."

Mr. W.H. Pepys gives the following interesting description of his interviews with Cavendish:—"The first time I saw him was at Sir Joseph Banks' house in Soho-square; it was a general meeting of men devoted to science. I was relating to Sir Joseph some experiments that I had been making with the voltaic battery, when I observed an old gentleman in a complete (faded violet) suit of clothes, and what was then termed a knocker-tailed periwig, very attentive to what I was describing. When I caught his eye he retired in great haste, but I soon found he was again listening near me. Upon enquiry I heard it was Mr. Cavendish, but at the same time was cautioned by Sir Joseph to avoid speaking to him as he would be offended, if he speaks to you, continue the conversation; he is full of information, particularly as to chemistry.

"I met him soon after at the Royal Society Club, and sitting very near him he commenced some enquiry upon what I had said at Sir Joseph's, which plainly showed he had remembered me. His speech was hesitating and excited, but he was very quick of comprehension."

Dr. Davy, who met Cavendish one or two years before his death, gives a similar account of his appearance and manners. "I well remember him, as he was in the habit occasionally, between 1808 and 1809, of coming to the laboratory of the Royal Institution, drawn there, no doubt, by the researches then in progress. His dress was that of the gentleman of the preceding half century. The frilled shirt-wrist, the high coat collar, the cocked hat, in brief, almost the court dress of the then and the present time. His appearance was, apart from his dress, nowise distinguished: of fair complexion, small, and not marked features, a feeble and somewhat hesitating voice. He was then aged, turned, I believe, of seventy; but though his body seemed infirm, his conversation and queries denoted quickness and acuteness, and undiminished vigour of mind, and that I think, was the impression on my brother's mind, who always held him, as his writings testify, in the greatest respect."

The following account of Cavendish is from one of our most accomplished chemists, who communicated it orally to Mr. Tomlinson, from whom I received it. "When I was a very young man—a new Fellow of the Royal Society—I always looked upon it as a great honour to be noticed by Cavendish, and so did the other young members of the society. We used to dine at the Crown and Anchor, and Cavendish often dined with us. He came slouching in, one hand behind his back, and taking off his hat (which by the bye he always hung up on one particular peg), he sat down without taking notice of anybody. If you attempted to draw him into conversation he always fought shy. Dr. Wollaston's directions I found to succeed best. He said, 'the way to talk to Cavendish is never to look at him, but to talk as it were into vacancy, and then it is not unlikely but you may set him going!'"

J.G. Children, Esq., was often in the company of Cavendish, and thus refers to his interviews with him; "I am now the Father of the Royal Society Club. I remember Cavendish well, and have often dined at the Crown and Anchor with him. When I first became a member of the club, I recollect seeing Cavendish on one occasion talking very earnestly to Marsden, Davy, and Hatchett. I went up and joined the group, my eye caught that of Cavendish, and he instantly became silent: he did not say a word. The fact is he saw in me a strange face, and of a strange face he had a perfect horror. I don't think I had been introduced to him, but I was so afterwards, and then he behaved to me very courteously. He was an old man when I joined the club, and was regarded by all as a great authority."

The most remarkable illustration, however, of Cavendish's excessive shyness is, perhaps, that contained in the following account of his reluctance to make his appearance at the soirées of Sir Joseph Banks, which he frequently attended. It was communicated by a senior member of the Royal Society to Mr. Tomlinson, from whom I obtained it: "I have myself seen him stand a long time on the landing, evidently wanting courage to open the door and face the people assembled, nor would he open the door until he heard someone coming up the stairs, and then he was forced to go in."

He was thus to appearance a misanthrope, and still more a misogynist. He was reported among his contemporaries, indeed, to have a positive dislike of women. Lord Burlington informs me, on the authority of Mr. Allnutt, an old inhabitant of Clapham, "that Cavendish would never see a female servant, and if an unfortunate maid ever showed herself she was immediately dismissed." Lord Brougham tells us that Cavendish "ordered his dinner daily by a note, which he left at a certain hour on the hall table, w here the housekeeper was to take it, for he held no communication with his female domestics from his morbid shyness."

I might multiply illustrations of Cavendish's extreme repugnance to encounter females, but two additional instances may suffice. At one time he was in the habit of walking in the neighbourhood of Clapham with methodical accuracy at a particular hour of the day. Two ladies, who watched his movements, and had observed the punctuality with which he reached the same spot at the same hour every day, took a gentleman with them on one occasion to catch a sight of the famous philosopher. "He was in the act of getting over a stile when he saw to his horror that he was being watched." He never appeared in that road again, and his walks in future were taken in the evening.

The following incident occurred at a meeting of the Royal Society Club, in the early part of this century, and was reported by one of the most accomplished Fellows of the Society to Mr. Tomlinson. "One evening we observed a very pretty girl looking out from an upper window on the opposite side of the street, watching the philosophers at dinner. She attracted notice, and one by one we got up and mustered round the window to admire the fair one. Cavendish, who thought we were looking at the moon, bustled up to us in his odd way, and when he saw the real object of our study, turned away with intense disgust, and grunted out Pshaw!"
Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to Cavendish and his quirks.
J.J. Grandville, A Misanthrope,
with caption "Je n'y suis pour personne,"
i.e. "I'm not at home for any caller."

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