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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