Monday, December 31, 2012


Study in Prison

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 122, on a prison camp in Farnham, Quebec, where Heckscher was an inmate for eighteen months):
Heckscher was coffee maker; he had garbage detail (which meant periodic excursions extra muros); he knit socks in a knitting factory (all but the heels, which were the responsibility of the next man in line). After a time he added to his duties by organizing a school for the younger inmates in which he taught English literature, especially Shakespeare82. In time it was arranged that students in the camps would be allowed to take the McGill University matriculation examinations. The impressive performance of students from the Farnham Camp School was owed to instructions by a small but distinguished faculty83.

82During World War I Heckscher watched his grandfather, Wilhelm Foerster, teach mathematics to French prisoners. Says Heckscher: »If you live long enough much of what happens is repeat performances...I can imagine life goes in convolutions or waves.« (Interview, 1 March 1987). »Things never seem to break off, but reincarnate. That is very important to my way of thinking.« (Interview, 18 February 1987).

83In his account of the prison schools (Deemed Suspect, 146-54) Eric Koch draws upon Heckscher's article »Studies in Concentration: A Released Schoolmaster Speaks,« The Canadian Student 21, 2, 1942, 9. Koch writes: »The academic talent assembled in [Major] Kippen's camp - Farnham - exceeded that of many Canadian universities« (146).
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), The Gulag Archipelago (tr. Thomas P. Whitney):
At the Samarka Camp in 1946 a group of intellectuals had reached the very brink of death: They were worn down by hunger, cold, and work beyond their powers. And they were even deprived of sleep. They had nowhere to lie down. Dugout barracks had not yet been built. Did they go and steal? Or squeal? Or whimper about their ruined lives? No! Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, this is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a "seminar," and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not — they delivered their last lectures to each other.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), letter written from from prison to his brother Carlo (December 19, 1929):
Even if I were condemned to die, I think that I might be serene. The night before the execution I might even study a bit of Chinese!


Demand for Newspapers

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), The Greek Islands (1978; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 2002), p. 145:
As for the science of statistics, I must report respect tempered by scepticism. There was a fine example in Rhodes, where I was saddled with a clerk who went to exaggerated lengths to secure statistics of sales for our little newspaper. Of course you must know who buys your paper and where, for distribution purposes, so I did not discourage his ardour. One day he came to me in some puzzlement and showed me the sales for one small island off Leros, which startled us. Apparently we sold five times more copies than the total population of the island, on which there was only one tiny hamlet. Moreover, I knew from a friend that there was almost nobody except the priest who could read in the place. How then came these prodigious sales?

On my next trip north I called in and the mystery was revealed to me. The price of ordinary brown paper, such as tradesmen use for wrapping, had become very high, because of shortage; they were using my precious newspaper to wrap up their fish because it was cheaper than any other. It was not the prose or the layout or the information which it carried that made them buy; it was a godsend to them for wrapping fish. This was a salutary lesson and I often think of it when I study the circulation of a big London paper. Who is wrapping fish in it? Every editor should ask himself the question at least once a day.


Heapes of Books our Food and Entertainment

Letter from Mary Evelyn to Samuel Tuke (1670):
You will not expect an account in this season of the yeare, how the flowers and greens prosper in the garden, since they are candying in the snow to be preserved for the spring, and our delights confined to the little wooden Roome, which could your perspective reach would for variety be no unpleasing diversion, than to see a dull fire, circled with a philosopher [her son's tutor, Ralph Bohun], a woman, and a child, heapes of books our food and entertainment, silence our law soe strictly observed that neither Dog nor Cat dares transgresse it. The crackling of the ice and whistling winds are our Musica, which if continued long in the same quarter may possibly freeze our witts as well as our penns, though Apollo were himselfe amongst us.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts:

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Content with Hips and Haws

Robert Devereux (1565-1601), 2nd Earl of Essex, in Alexander B. Grosart, ed., Miscellanies of The Fuller Worthies' Library. The Poems of Thomas, Lord Vaux: (Died 1562.) Edward, Earl of Oxford: (Died 1604.): Robert, Earl of Essex: (Died 1601.) and Walter, Earl of Essex: (Died 1576.) (Printed for Private Circulation, 1872), pp. 94-95 (from Ashmole MS. 781, p. 83, and Chetham MS. 8012, p. 86):
Happy were he coulde finish forth his fate
In some vnhaunted desert, moste obscure
From all society, from loue and hate
Of worldly folkes; there might he sleepe secure
There wake againe, and giue God euer praise,        5
Content wth hippes and hawes, and brambleberrie,
In contemplacion passing still his dayes,
And change of holy thoughts to make him merrie;
That when he dyes his tombe might be a bush
Where harmles Robin dwels wth gentle thursh.        10
2 vnhaunted: "Not frequented; lonely, solitary" (Oxford English Dictionary, sense 2)
6 hippes = hips, fruit of the wild rose; hawes = haws, fruit of the hawthorn
10 wth = with; thursh = thrush

Devereux "finished forth his fate" by the punishment of beheading, in the courtyard of the Tower of London, on February 25, 1601.

Marcus Gheereaerts the Younger (1561–1636),
portrait of Devereux, in Trinity College, Cambridge

Saturday, December 29, 2012


The Obstinate Old Way

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), The Land (lines 561-603 of section "Winter"):
He tills the soil to-day,
Surly and grave, his difficult wage to earn.
Cities of discontent, the sickened nerve,
Are still a fashion that he will not learn.
His way is still the obstinate old way,        565
Even though his horses stare above the hedge,
And whinny, while the tractor drives its wedge
Where they were wont to serve,
And iron robs them of their privilege.
Still is his heart not given        570
To such encroachments on a natural creed;
Not wholly given, though he bows to need
By urgency and competition driven,
And vanity, to follow with the tide.
Still with a secret triumph he will say,        575
"Tractor for sand, maybe, but horse for clay,"
And in his calling takes a stubborn pride
That nature still defeats
The frowsty science of the cloistered men,
Their theory, their conceits;        580
The faith within him still derides the pen,
Experience his text-book. What have they,
The bookish townsmen in their dry retreats,
Known of December dawns, before the sun
Reddened the east, and fields were wet and grey?        585
When have they gone, another day begun,
By tracks into a quagmire trodden,
With sacks about their shoulders and the damp
Soaking until their very souls were sodden,
To help a sick beast, by a flickering lamp,        590
With rough words and kind hands?
Or felt their boots so heavy and so swere
With trudging over cledgy lands,
Held fast by earth, being to earth so near?

Book-learning they have known.        595
They meet together, talk, and grow most wise,
But they have lost, in losing solitude,
Something,—an inward grace, the seeing eyes,
The power of being alone;
The power of being alone with the earth and skies,         600
Of going about a task with quietude,
Aware at once of earth's surrounding mood
And of an insect crawling on a stone.
579 frowsty: "Fusty; having an unpleasant smell." (OED)
592 swere: "Loth, reluctant, unwilling, disinclined (to do something)." (OED s.v. sweer)
593 cledgy: "Of the nature of cledge; clayey; stiff, tenacious, sticky." (OED; cledge = " A local name for clay or clayey soil, in Kent, etc.")

And instead of "the obstinate old way," here is the painless new way, as imagined by one of "the cloistered men," Kevin Kelly, "Better Than Human," Wired (December 24, 2012):
The real revolution erupts when everyone has personal their beck and call. Imagine you run a small organic farm. Your fleet of worker bots do all the weeding, pest control, and harvesting of produce, as directed by an overseer bot, embodied by a mesh of probes in the soil. One day your task might be to research which variety of heirloom tomato to plant; the next day it might be to update your custom labels. The bots perform everything else that can be measured.

Isaak Levitan, Evening in the Field

Related posts:


Philological Isolation

Milman Parry (1902-1935), "The Historical Method in Literary Criticism," in The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers, ed. Adam Parry (1971; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 408-413 (at 413):
I have seen myself, only too often and too clearly, how, because those who teach and study Greek and Latin literature have lost the sense of its importance for humanity, the study of those disciplines has declined, and will decline until they quit their philological isolation and again join in the movement of current human thought.


The Divine Presence

Plutarch, That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible 21 = Moralia 1102 A (tr. Benedict Einarson and Philip H. De Lacy):
Rich men and kings have a constant round of one banquet or full-spread dinner after another; but when it is a feast held on the occasion of some sacred rite or sacrifice, and when they believe that their thoughts come closest to God as they as they do him honour and reverence, it brings pleasure and sweetness of a far superior kind. Of this a man gets nothing if he has given up faith in providence. For it is not the abundance of wine or the roast meats that cheer the heart at festivals, but good hope and the belief in the benign presence of the god and his gracious acceptance of what is done.

καὶ πλουσίοις τε καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἑστιάσεις καὶ πανδαισίαι τινὲς ἀεί πάρεισιν, αἱ δ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἱεροῖς καὶ θυηπολίαις, καὶ ὅταν ἔγγιστα τοῦ θείου τῇ ἐπινοίᾳ ψαύειν δοκῶσι μετὰ τιμῆς καὶ σεβασμοῦ, πολὺ διαφέρουσαν ἡδονὴν καὶ χάριν ἔχουσι. ταύτης οὐδὲν ἀνδρὶ μέτεστιν ἀπεγνωκότι τῆς προνοίας. οὐ γὰρ οἴνου πλῆθος οὐδ᾽ ὄπτησις κρεῶν τὸ εὐφραῖνόν ἐστιν ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐλπὶς ἀγαθὴ καὶ δόξα τοῦ παρεῖναι τὸν θεὸν εὐμενῆ καὶ δέχεσθαι τὰ γιγνόμενα κεχαρισμένως.
Related post: Holidays.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Very Many People

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "Very Many People":
On the Downs, in the Weald, on the Marshes,
  I heard the Old Gods say:
"Here come Very Many People:
  "We must go away.

"They take our land to delight in,        5
  "But their delight destroys.
"They flay the turf from the sheep-walk.
  "They load the Denes with noise.

"They burn coal in the woodland.
  "They seize the oast and the mill.        10
"They camp beside Our dew-ponds.
  "They mar the clean-flanked hill.

"They string a clamorous Magic
  "To fence their souls from thought,
"Till Our deep-breathed Oaks are silent,        15
  "And Our muttering Downs tell nought.

"They comfort themselves with neighbours.
  "They cannot bide alone.
"It shall be best for their doings
  "When We Old Gods are gone."        20

Farewell to the Downs and the Marshes,
  And the Weald and the Forest known
Before there were Very Many People,
  And the Old Gods had gone!
8: A dene (or dean) is a valley.
10 oast: "A kiln; (in later use) spec. one used to dry hops or malt; a building housing this." (Oxford English Dictionary)
13 "They string a clamorous Magic": telegraph or telephone wires?


Love of Country

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), "Native Land" (tr. A. Myers):
I love my native land with such perverse affection!
My better judgement has no standing here.
Not glory, won in bloody action,
nor yet that calm demeanour, trusting and austere,
nor yet age-hallowed rites or handed-down traditions;
not one can stir my soul to gratifying visions.

And yet I love — a mystery to me —
her dreary steppelands wrapped in icy silence,
her boundless, swaying, forest-mantled highlands,
the flood waters in springtime, ample as the sea;
I love to jolt along a narrow country byway
and, slowly peering through the darkness up ahead
while sighing for a lodging, glimpse across the highway
the mournful trembling fires of villages outspread.
I love the smoke of stubble blazing,
heaped wagons on the steppe at night,
a hill mid yellow cornfields raising,
a pair of birch trees silver-bright.
With pleasure few have yet discovered,
a laden granary I see,
a hut with straw thatch neatly covered,
carved window shutters swinging free.
On feast nights with the dew descending,
I'll watch till midnight, never fear
the dance, the stamps and whistles blending
with mumbling rustics full of beer.
The same (tr. Michael Wachtel):
I love my homeland, but with a strange love!
My reason cannot vanquish it.
Not glory, bought with blood,
Not peace full of proud faith,
Not the cherished legends of dark antiquity
Stir in me a joyous dream.

But I love — I know not why —
The cold silence of its steppes,
The swaying of its boundless forests,
The flooding of its rivers, which are like seas;
I love to gallop in a cart down a country road
And, penetrating the shadow of night with my slow gaze,
Sighing for night lodgings, to encounter off to the side
The quivering lights of sad villages;
I love the smoke of the burning field after harvest,
The caravan of carts spending the night in the steppe
And on the hill among the yellow meadows
A pair of birch trees showing white.
With a joy unfamiliar to many
I see a full barn,
A hut, covered with thatch,
A window with carved shutters;
And on a holiday, of a dewy evening,
I am ready to look until midnight
At the dance with stamping of feet and whistling
Accompanied by the speech of drunken peasants.
The same (tr. Dimitri Obolensky):
I love my country, but with a strange love. My reason cannot fathom it. Neither glory, purchased with blood, nor peace, steeped in proud confidence, nor the cherished traditions of the dim past will stir pleasant fancies within me.

But I love — I know not why — the cold silence of her plains, the swaying of her boundless forests, her flooded rivers, wide as the seas; I love to gallop along a country track in a cart and, peering slowly through the darnesss of night and longing for a shelter, to come across the scattered light of sad villages, flickering in the distance. I love the wispy smoke of the burnt stubble-field, the string of carts standing in the steppe at night, and a couple of birches, gleaming white in the yellow cornfield on the hill. With a pleasure unknown to many I see a well-stocked barn, a cottage covered with thatch, a window with carved shutters. And on a holiday, one dewy evening, I am ready to watch until midnight the dance, with its stamping and whistling, to the hum of drunken peasants' voices.

Isaak Levitan, House with Broom Trees

Thursday, December 27, 2012


A Wanawizzi World

Dear Mike,

'Wan-' is a curmudgeon's prefix par excellence, just as 'wane' must be one of the guild's pet verbs. Hardly surprising then in this wanawizzi world that it's all but gone by the board. 'Wannabe' is an open invitation to Heideggerian etymologizing.

Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. WAN-, prefix:
a prefix expressing privation or negation (approximately equivalent to UN- prefix1 or MIS- prefix1), repr. Old English wan-, wǫn-, corresponding to Old Frisian. wan-, won-, Old Saxon wan- (only in wanskefti misfortune = Old English wansceaft), Middle Low German, Middle Dutch wan- (modern Dutch in many new formations, esp. in the sense 'wrong', 'mis-', as in wanbestuur misgovernment, wanluid discordant sound), Old High German wan-, wana (only in wanwâfan unarmed, wanaheil unhealthy, infirm, wanawizzi lacking wit, insane), Middle High German wan- (only in wanwitze inherited from Old High German), modern German wahn- (in wahnwitz, wahnsinn insanity, commonly apprehended as compounds of wahn n., delusion; also in some dialect words, chiefly adopted from Low German); ON., Swedish, Danish van- (in many old formations, to which modern Swedish and Danish have added many more, chiefly adopted from Low German). The prefix is in origin identical with WANE adj.

In Old English the number of words formed with the prefix is considerable, but none of them has survived into modern English, and only one (wanspéd, ill-success) into Middle English. Of the many new formations that arose in Middle English, only wantoȝen, undisciplined, WANTON adj. and n., still survives in use (with no consciousness of its etymological meaning); wanhope and wantrust may have been suggested by the equivalent Middle Dutch forms. It was in the north that the prefix was most prolific, and it probably continued to be productive far into the modern period. The following words, peculiar to the Scottish and northern dialects, are recorded in the Eng. Dial. Dict., mostly with examples (or references to glossaries etc.) from the 18th c., but few if any of them are now in current use:—wancanny adj., WANCHANCY adj., wancheer grief, sadness, wancouth adj. = uncouth, wandeidy adj., mischievous, WANDOUGHT n. and adj., wanearthly adj., WANEASE n., WANFORTUNE n., wanfortunate, adj. WANHAP n., WANLIESUM adj., wanlit adj., wanluck, wanown't adj. = unowned, wanreck 'mischance, ruin', WANREST n., WANTHRIVEN adj., wanuse misuse, waste, WANWEIRD n., WANWORTH adj. and n.
wannabe, n. and adj.
Pronunciation: /ˈwɒnəbɪ/
Forms: Also wannabee.
Etymology: WAN- prefix + epenthetic a + BE v.
A. n.
         = WAN-A-BE n.; an inadequate individual with a defective sense of his or her identity.

Season's greetings,
Eric Thomson

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A Secret Beauty

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), The Land (lines 362-370 of section "Winter"):
Now in the radiant night no men are stirring:
The little houses sleep with shuttered panes;
Only the hares are wakeful, loosely loping
Along the hedges with their easy gait,
And big loose ears, and pad-prints crossing snow;
The ricks and trees stand silent in the moon,
Loaded with snow, and tiny drifts from branches
Slip to the ground in woods with sliding sigh.
Private the woods, enjoying a secret beauty.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Our Calling

Metrodorus, fragment 41 Körte (from Plutarch, That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible 16 = Moralia 1098 C, tr. Benedict Einarson and Philip H. De Lacy):
We are not called to save the nation or get crowned by it for wisdom; what is called for, my dear Timocrates, is to eat and drink wine, gratifying the belly without harming it.

οὐδὲν δεῖ σῴζειν τοὺς Ἕλληνας οὐδ᾽ ἐπὶ σοφίᾳ στεφάνων παρ᾽ αὐτῶν τυγχάνειν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν οἶνον, ὦ Τιμόκρατες, ἀβλαβῶς τῇ γαστρὶ καὶ κεχαρισμένως.


Begin With the Index

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 132-133, footnotes omitted):
A founding member of the Society of Indexers, organized in 1957, Heckscher is a theorist of indexing whose unusual gifts were recognized in 1987 when he was given the Carey Award for being an »explorer of the frontiers of indexing as an art form«. The classic example of a Heckscherian index is that which accompanies Heckscher's commentary on Camerarius's description of Dürer's Melencolia I. Heckscher later prepared a commentary on this index, »The Unconventional Index and its Merits,« which he published in The Indexer. An index, he argues, should be a self-sufficient entity which »balances« the text: he observes that the text of his article runs to some 40 pages, notes and index (set in small type) to some 27 and 18 pages respectively.

A Heckscherian index is arranged alphabetically, but the last-name-first rule is abandoned: »Heckscher, William Sebastian« is conventional and dull: »William [Bill] Sebastian H e c k s c h e r« is preferable. Entries are information-rich, and are intended to relieve the text of encumbering detail. Cross-references are lavish. The index Heckscher admires is a »child of the imagination«: it may be »so readable that one may begin with the index, deriving from it such pleasure as will stimulate eagerness to turn back to the text, perhaps piecemeal rather than as a continuous whole«.

Heckscher distinguishes this sort of analytical index from »the index that precedes the work-to- come or that may be an end in itself«. His personal indexes, containing entries beyond number, are of the latter type. Here are stored the fruits of his voluminous and patient reading. Extracted passages and engendered thoughts (petites perceptions) are recorded on 3 x 5 cards, given iconographical headings, cross-indexed, and filed along with various kinds of ephemera — postcards, newspaper clippings, papiers trouvés. »Up to a point,« he says, »I have been extremely conscientious in tending to my filing system, which has the following divisions:

1. An English into Latin vocabulary
2. A list, chronologically arranged from B.C. into eternity (I have prophecies for many centuries) in chronological order.
3. An alphabetical listing of everything under the sun which sometimes yields astonishing treasures».
Here is a photograph of Heckscher's workroom, from Charlotte Schoell-Glass and Elizabeth Sears, Verzetteln als Methode: Der humanistische Ikonologe William S. Heckscher (1904-1999) (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008 = Hamburger Forschungen zur Kunstgeschichte, VI), p. 111 (thanks to Ian Jackson for sending this):

Arthur Stanley Pease, quoted in J.P. Elder et al., "Arthur Stanley Pease 1881-1964," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965) ix:
I will confess that I am by nature a collector, that I began with marbles and horse-chestnuts, advanced to postage stamps, continued with botany and books, and at all times have gathered facts and occasionally ideas.

These two latter items, in lack of sufficient cranial space for dead storage, I enter methodically on 3 x 5 slips of paper. When enough of a kind are amassed, they are outspread, classified, digested, written down, dehydrated, and lo! an article, or more rarely a book, to be perused by some lone watcher in Czechoslovakia or beside the Bay of Biscay.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Free Association

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 129):
In his writing, as in his conversation, Heckscher proceeds indirectly to his end. He does not set out to defend a position or to plead a case. He sees it as a danger when scholars behave as lawyers, struggling to convince judge and jury and to defeat a prosecutor: under these circumstances »scholarship turns into a kind of sic et non story, where you try to prove your point, where you are desperate to suppress subconsciously arguments which might not be favorable«121. Airtight arguments are inherently suspect; Heckscher is convinced that common sense makes little sense in historical study. The critical thing is to build associatively, to construct bridges between ideas.

121 Interview, 29 May 1987. Heckscher is always on the alert to recognize and avoid these mechanisms of repression. When he learned about the ascetic ideal of custodia oculorum — guarding the eyes against that which should not be seen — he found a moral in it: an art historian must be a voyeur. Gula oculorum is, for the artist, a virtue (»Biography and Evaluation of the Artist,« in An Exhibition of the Sculpture and Drawings of Raimondo Puccinelli (exhib. Duke University Museum of Art, 29 September-12 November, 1974, 3). Heckscher, who says, »I try to avoid lying in any form in my research,« draws a lesson from Freud, who, only after agonies, was able to face the evidence for infant sexuality. (Interview, 25 February 1987). Life in Hitler's Germany bred in Heckscher a fear of any kind of thought control.
Id. (p. 133):
Heckscher is a student of the human mind and its workings. To understand creative products of the past, he suggests, the scholar must himself be a creative thinker. By cultivating the art of free association, he may acquire that liberation which provides a balance to scholarly discipline. Once recently Heckscher decided to take the phrase »free association« and translate it into Latin as a way of gaining insight into the nature of the concept. He devised 23 different ways of expressing the idea, among them: conjunctio idearum; sententiarum nexus; disjecta membra — quasi metallica — magnete servitio apte interconnecta; cogitationes irrepresse emblematizatae; liberatio idearum et notionum jam misere inhibitarum quae nunc per vim affirmativam, quae — per viam mutuae attractionis — tute et argute, aequabiliter et eleganter (sine ullo artificio) nova nobis monstrant reperta148.

148 Letter, 8 April 1987.
Thanks to Dr. John Lavagnino for drawing my attention to Sears' very interesting biographical essay on Heckscher.


Upon Christ His Birth

John Suckling (1609-1642), "Upon Christ His Birth," in his Works: The Non-Dramatic Works, ed. Thomas Clayton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 9-10:
Strange news! a Cittie full? will none give way
To lodge a guest that comes not every day?
Noe inne, nor taverne void? yet I descry
One empty place alone, where wee may ly:
In too much fullnesse is some want: but where?
Mens empty hearts: let's aske for lodgeing there.
But if they not admit us, then wee'le say
Their hearts, as well as inn's, are made of clay.


A Disappointed Scholar

Francis Lucas, "Nightingale—In Memoriam / J.S. (a disappointed scholar)," in Sketches of Rural Life and Other Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889), pp. 117-118:
Sing on, brave bird. He cannot chide thee now
For adding night to sadness. In the deeps
Of an unfathomable quiet sleeps
The spirit which once mantled on that brow,
And spoke in those sad eyes. Nor ever creeps
Into his sweet forgetfulness the gall
Of disappointment, slights, and unsuccess,
Nor the despondency at matin-call
When needs still multiplied as means grew less.
Well, there were hours which even he could bless,
Oddments of time which found him at his ease,
By the loved stream or in the cool recess,
Under the shadow of his garden trees,
With Goethe, Molière, or Sophocles.
J.S. was John Sugars, master of the Free School in Hitchin. See Reginald L. Hine, Confessions of an Un-common Attorney (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1945), pp. 221-222:
Sometimes, there flits by me the pallid spectre of John Sugars, Niblock's most promising pupil, a man of brilliant parts and strikingly handsome appearance who also became master of that school. But a hopeless love affair broke his heart and snapped the mainspring of his ambition. Under him the school went on dwindling and decaying, until its doors were closed and the prematurely old master sank into private life. Now at long last, 'equilibrious in adversitie,' he could bury himself in his books, with no disturbing clangour of the school-house bell. Often, they said, he would sit up talking with his old scholars, John Gatward or John Widdows, until the stars paled at the first flush of dawn. Once, as he stood on Widdow's doorstep, saying a last good-bye, the birds were already in song. 'Do you like to hear them sing?' he asked his friend, 'I hate it.' It was that sad utterance that echoed in Francis Lucas's memory when he sat down some months later to write his touching elegy for 'J.S., a disappointed scholar'...
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Devastation at Sayes Court

William Henry Hart, "Peter the Great at Sayes Court, Deptford," Notes and Queries 2nd Series, Number 19 (May 10, 1856) 365-367 (at 365):
In the latter part of the seventeenth century, Sayes Court, Deptford, the seat of the celebrated John Evelyn, was honoured by the temporary residence of the Czar of Muscovy, Peter the Great, who was then on a visit to this country. He was desirous of obtaining a knowledge of shipbuilding, and consequently chose this spot in order that he might be near the dockyard at Deptford, where he would have ample opportunity for pursuing his studies in naval architecture. Until about this period Evelyn had made Sayes Court his residence, where he bestowed great pains in cultivating and laying out his garden. In 1696, he let the premises to Captain Benbow, afterwards Admiral, of whom he thus speaks in his Diary:
"I have let my house to Captain Benbow, and have the mortification of seeing every day much of my former labours and expense there impairing for want of a more polite tenant."
In the commencement of the year 1698, Benbow underlet the house, together with all his furniture, to the Czar, but he soon had to regret the accommodation he had afforded to his Majesty, for in the month of May in that year we find him petitioning the Lords of the Treasury that compensation be made him for the damage the Czar had done to his house, garden, and furniture.
An excerpt from the petition (id., p. 356):
May 9th, 1698.

Some observations made upon the gardens and plantations which belong to the honourable John Evelyn, Esquire, att his house of Sayes Court, in Deptford, in the County of Kent.

During the time the Zar of Muscovie inhabited the said house, severall disorders have been committed in the gardens and plantations, which are observed to be under two heads: one is what can be repaired again, and the other what cannot be repaired.

1. All the grass works is out of order, and broke into holes by their leaping and shewing tricks upon it.
2. The bowling green is in the same condition.
3. All that ground which used to be cultivated for eatable plants is all overgroune with weeds and is not manured nor cultivated, by reason the Zar would not suffer any men to worke when the season offered.
4. The wall fruite and stander fruite trees are unpruined and unnailed.
5. The hedges nor wilderness are not cutt as they ought to be.
6. The gravell walks are all broke into holes and out of order.

These observations were made by George London, his Majesties Master Gardener, and he certifies that to putt the gardens and plantations in as good repair as they were in before his Zarrish Majestie resided there will require the summe of fifty-five pounds, as is Justified by me.

                                                                                                           GEORGE LONDON.

Great dammages are done to the trees and plants, which cannot be repaired as the breaking the branches of the wall fruit trees, spoiling two or three of the finest true phillereas, breaking severall holleys and other fine plants.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



In Hac Voluptate Consenui

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 21.10 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Go to his [Epicurus'] Garden and read the motto carved there: "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure." The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: "Have you not been well entertained?" "This garden," he says, "does not whet your appetite; it quenches it. Nor does it make you more thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst by a natural cure, a cure that demands no fee. This is the 'pleasure' in which I have grown old."

cum adieris eius hortulos et inscriptum hortulis <legeris>:
'hospes, hic bene manebis, hic summum bonum voluptas est,'
paratus erit istius domicilii custos hospitalis, humanus, et te polenta excipiet et aquam quoque large ministrabit et dicet, 'ecquid bene acceptus es?' 'non inritant,' inquit 'hi hortuli famem sed exstinguunt, nec maiorem ipsis potionibus sitim faciunt, sed naturali et gratuito remedio sedant; in hac voluptate consenui.'

legeris add. Buecheler
C. Brakman, "Annaeana," Mnemosyne 56 (1928) 139-158 (at 140), conjectured portulis for hortulis, but he was anticipated by T.G. Tucker, "Notes and Suggestions on Latin Authors," Classical Quarterly 7 (1913) 54-57 (at 56).


The Church of Unbent Knees

Christopher Morley (1890-1957), "The Church of Unbent Knees," in Songs for a Little House (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1917), p. 39:
As I went by the church to-day
  I heard the organ cry;
And goodly folk were on their knees,
  But I went striding by.

My minster hath a roof more vast:
  My aisles are oak trees high;
My altar-cloth is on the hills,
  My organ is the sky.

I see my rood upon the clouds,
  The winds, my chanted choir;
My crystal windows, heaven-glazed,
  Are stained with sunset fire.

The stars, the thunder, and the rain,
  White sands and purple seas—
These are His pulpit and His pew,
  My God of Unbent Knees!
Related post: The Religion of the Fields.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Descriptio Hiemis

Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492), Ambra, first three stanzas (tr. Jon Thiem et al.):
Fled is the time of year that turned the flowers
Into ripe apples, long since gathered in.
The leaves, no longer cleaving to the boughs,
Lie strewn throughout the woods, now much less dense,
And rustle should a hunter pass that way,
A few of whom will sound like many more.
Though the wild beast conceals her wandering tracks,
She cannot cross those brittle leaves unheard.

Among the leafless trees, the verdant laurel
Stands alongside the fragrant Cyprian myrtle,
And firs rise green against the alpine whiteness,
And bend their branches loaded down with snow.
The cypress hides within herself some birds.
The robust pine does battle with the winds,
and lowly junipers keep prickly leaves
yet spare the hand that plucks them carefully.

On some mild sunny slope the olive seems
Now white, now green, according to the wind:
So nature in the olive tree sustains
The greenery that fails in other leaves.
Already with much toil the migrant birds
Have led their weary families beyond
The sea, and on the way had shown them Tritons
And Nereids and other prodigies.
The same, tr. Susanna Watts:
Fled is that Season, which, with ripening ray,
To blushing fruit matur'd the blossoms gay;
No more the leaf its airy station keeps,
But strews th' impoverish'd groves in withering heaps;
Low rustling if, with hasty brushing feet.
The desolated path some hunter beat:—
No more in safety lurks the beast of prey,
The dry disorder'd leaves his track betray.

Still blooms the Laurel 'mid the forest drear,
And the sweet shrub to Cytherea dear;
Mid the white Alps the Fir his verdure shows,
His branches bending with their weight of snows;
To some lone bird the Cypress shelter lends,
While with the winds the vigourous Pine contends;
The humble Juniper, though thorns surround,
The hand that gently crops forbears to wound;

On some sweet sunny hill the Olive grows,
Now green, now silver, as the zephyr blows,
Distinguish'd high o'er all the sylvan scene,
Propitious Nature feeds its constant green.
The wand'ring Birds with strength of wing endued.
O'er trackless seas have led their weary brood;
And show'd them as they pass'd, the sea-born train,
Tritons and Nereids sporting in the main.
The Italian:
Fugita è la stagion che avea conversi
e fiori in pomi già maturi e còlti;
in ramo non può più foglia, tenersi,
ma sparte per li boschi assai men folti
si fan sentir, se avvien che gli atraversi
el cacciatore, e i pochi paion molti;
la fera, se ben l'orme vaghe absconde,
non va secreta per le secche fronde.

Tra li àlbor secchi stassi il läur lieto,
e di Ciprigna l'odorato arbusto;
verdeggia nelle bianche alpe l'abeto,
e piega e rami già di neve onusto;
tiene el cipresso qualche uccel secreto,
e co' venti combatte il pin robusto;
l'umil ginepro con le acute foglie
la man non punge altrui, chi ben lo coglie.

La uliva in qualche dolce piaggia aprica
secondo el vento par or verde or bianca:
natura in questi tal serba e nutrica
quel verde che nell'altre fronde manca.
Già e peregrini uccei con gran fatica
hanno condotto la famiglia stanca
di là dal mare, e pel camin lor mostri
Nerëide, Tritoni et altri mostri.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


The Value of Useless Knowledge

William S. Heckscher, "Erwin Panofsky: A Curriculum Vitae," Reprinted by the Department of Art and Archaeology from the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, volume XXVIII, number 1, 1969, p. 8:
If in retrospect we try to assess the influences, academic and personal, that shaped Erwin Panofsky's mind, I think we must beware of seeing him as a man nurtured by the "great books" or by the works of the "great masters" only. On the contrary, it was the curriculum-shunned texts, often written in a language either intentionally obscure or outright abstruse, that he taught us to appreciate as true supports of our humanistic studies. "Who has read Hisperica famina?" he might ask members of his privatissimum. "Are you familiar with Lycophron's Alexandra? Do you understand the significance of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus? Of Hiob Ludolph's Assyrian studies? Of Kepler's Somnium? And when we shook our heads, he might add, "Gentlemen, you have yet to discover the value of useless knowledge."
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


A One-Man Job

William S. Heckscher, "Erwin Panofsky: A Curriculum Vitae," Reprinted by the Department of Art and Archaeology from the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, volume XXVIII, number 1, 1969, p. 18:
Despite endless and fruitful exchanges of ideas and information which he imparted to and elicited from friends and colleagues, Panofsky kept his work under cover, as it were. Anything worthy of the term "research" was to him a one-man job. Conversely, he remained to the end deeply suspicious of any kind of computerized knowledge, of data-retrieval systems, of iconological institutes, and of index-work carried out by the "little people" as being capable of making meaningful contributions to the humanities.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Alone.


Humor of Botanical Nomenclature

Joseph Wood Krutch (1898-1970), The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California (1961; rpt. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986), p. 67:
But by far the most famous herb among the native population in Baja is the highly aromatic shrub called damiana (Turnera diffusa) reputed to be highly effective as an aphrodisiac and drunk either as a tea or as a liqueur coyly labeled "Especially recommended to lovers." Unfortunately, or fortunately, its reputation, like that of most reputed aphrodisiacs, is probably undeserved but it ought to be better known as an example of the humor, sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional, of botanical nomenclature. The mostly tropical genus to which damiana belongs was named in honor of the sixteenth-century English botanist William Turner who compiled the best of the early English herbals. So far, that is appropriate enough. But Turner was also an Anglican dean whose leanings towards puritanism got him into ecclesiastical trouble and it hardly seems right that his name should be attached to a plant reputed to promote a sin which the puritans particularly abhorred. 
Ann-Mari Jönsson, The Reception of Linnæus's Works in Germany with Particular Reference to his Conflict with Siegesbeck:
Initially Linnæus and Siegesbeck had been on friendly terms. There are four very ingratiating letters from Siegesbeck to Linnæus between 1735-1737. But there seems to have been some irritation under the surface. In Hortus Cliffortianus, printed as early as in the summer of 1737, Linnæus had named a newly found plant Siegesbeckia! Now, what sort of a plant is this? It is a small, stinking European weed (Sw. Klibbfrö). Linnæus had probably been warned about Siegesbeck's attack and thus sought to castigate him. One of Linnæus's ideas in Critica botanica (1737, pp. 78-81) is that there should be a link between the plant and the botanist whom it was named after. For example, Magnolia, Linnæus says, has very handsome leaves and flowers, which recall the splendid botanist Magnol. But Dorstenia has insignificant flowers, faded and past their prime, like the works of Dorsten!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Winter, Plague, and Pestilence

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), from A Pleasant Comedie, called Summers Last Will and Testament (London: Simon Stafford, 1600):
Autumne hath all the Summers fruitefull treasure,
Gone is our sport, fled is poore Croydens pleasure:
Short dayes, sharp dayes, long nights come on a pace,
Ah who shall hide us, from the Winters face?
Colde dooth increase, the sicknesse will not cease,
And here we lye God knowes, with little ease:
  From winter, plague & pestilence, good Lord deliver us.

London dooth mourne, Lambith is quite forlorne,
Trades cry, Woe worth, that ever they were borne:
The want of Terme, is towne and Cities harme,
Close chambers we do want, to keep us warme,
Long banished must we live from our friends:
This lowe built house, will bring us to our ends.
  From winter, plague & pestilence, good Lord deliver us.


Maddened by Brew House Beer

Letter from Henry Holmes to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston (April 30, 1826), in Broadlands Archives BR121a/15/1:
I am sorry to report a most wanton and mischievous outrage committed last night on your Lordship's property, and that of several other inhabitants – a fine cedar close to Middlebridge is 'shorter by the head' – about 5 or 6 feet having been snapped off, and upwards of 30 firs in the plantation at the end of Town Mean on the Salisbury Road, have been severed in the same way or worse... at present we are without any clue to lead to a detection of the offenders... a hand bill will be out in the morning – the mayor has been very active, but his jurisdiction is limited and we want a county magistrate very much in the immediate neighbourhood of this place. It is supposed the offenders live out of the town, and were madden'd by that abominable composition called brew house beer...
Carl J. Griffin, "'Cut down by some cowardly miscreants': Plant Maiming, or the Malicious Cutting of Flora, as an Act of Protest in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Rural England," Rural History 19.1 (April 2008) 29-54 (at 29, with note on p. 48):
On the night of Saturday 6th May 1826 the small Hampshire market town of Romsey was subjected to a series of malicious attacks on both private and public property. The brick walls and paling alongside the River Test were pitched into the water, numerous gates were thrown off their hinges, several porches were demolished and thirty young trees plus a 'beautiful' cedar belonging to Lord Palmerston were 'wantonly cut and broken down'. Whilst the targeting of the property of Palmerston, the Secretary of State for War, aroused particular attention in the provincial press, in other respects there was nothing extraordinary about this systematic campaign of destruction.2

2. Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 8th May 1826.
Salisbury and Winchester Journal (May 8, 1826), from a report dated "Winchester, Saturday, May 6":
Several daring outrages were on Saturday night last committed in Romsey. A remarkable fine cedar tree, the property of Lord Palmerston, growing near Middlebridge, together with upwards of 30 other young timber trees were wantonly cut or broken down; several gates, porches of doors, a quantity of palling and brick-work, were thrown down and carried away, the greater part of which was subsequently found in the River Test. In consequence of the above depredations, measures are in contemplation for establishing a permanent watch in the town.
Griffin's date of May 6, 1826, is incorrect. The tree maiming must be dated a week earlier, on Saturday, April 29, 1826.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Heureux Qui Comme Ulysse

An anonymous correspondent quoted in Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), The Greek Islands (1978; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pp. 42-43:
On Ithaca I was once accosted by a little man on a donkey who addressed me in good American with the flat vowels of Detroit, where he had lived and worked for half a century. Though old, he was extremely spry, and dark as an olive with clever, twinkling eyes. He said he had come back to die at home, and was proud to show me his humble cottage in a small olive plot. His attitude was extremely aristocratic and he made Turkish coffee and offered me, in regal fashion, a spoonful of the traditional traditional viscino—a cherry jam. All he owned apart from his house and a donkey and a couple of suits of clothes was a machine which, by the turn of a handle, could shred down corn cobs. He had planted some corn in a pocket nearby. He said that he was utterly happy to be home and missed nothing and nobody in the new world. He looked indeed blissfully happy to be home at last and I thought of Ulysses.
Related posts:

Friday, December 21, 2012


Writers and Books in Heaven

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), "An Earth Upon Heaven," The Companion (April 2, 1828):
Somebody, a little while ago, wrote an excellent article in the New Monthly Magazine on "Persons one would wish to have known." He should write another on "Persons one could wish to have dined with." There is Rabelais, and Horace, and the Mermaid roysters, and Charles Cotton, and Andrew Marvell, and Sir Richard Steele, cum multis aliis: and for the colloquial, if not the festive part, Swift and Pope, and Dr. Johnson, and Burke, and Horne Tooke. What a pity one cannot dine with them all round! People are accused of having earthly notions of heaven. As it is difficult to have any other, we may be pardoned for thinking that we could spend a very pretty thousand years in dining and getting acquainted with all the good fellows on record; and having got used to them, we think we could go very well on, and be content to wait some other thousands for a higher beatitude. Oh, to wear out one of the celestial lives of a triple century's duration, and exquisitely to grow old, in reciprocating dinners and teas with the immortals of old books! Will Fielding "leave his card" in the next world? Will Berkeley (an angel in a wig and lawn sleeves!) come to ask how Utopia gets on? Will Shakespeare (for the greater the man, the more the good-nature might be expected) know by intuition that one of his readers (knocked up with bliss) is dying to see him at the Angel and Turk's Head, and come lounging with his hands in his doublet-pockets accordingly?


Item, books. Shakespeare and Spenser should write us new ones! Think of that. We would have another Decameron: and Walter Scott (for he will be there too;—we mean to beg Hume to introduce us) shall write us forty more novels, all as good as the Scotch ones; and Radical as well as Tory shall love him.
Related posts:


The Forest Primeval

Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007), pp. 9-10:
Puszcza, an old Polish word, means "forest primeval." Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, the half-million acres of the Białowieża Puszcza contain Europe's last remaining fragment of old-growth, lowland wilderness. Think of the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows. The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker's croak, a pygmy owl's low whistle, or a wolf's wail, then returns to stillness.

The fragrance that wafts from eons of accumulated mulch in the forest's core hearkens to fertility's very origins. In the Białowieża, the profusion of life owes much to all that is dead. Almost a quarter of the organic mass above ground is in assorted stages of decay—more than 50 cubic yards of decomposing trunks and fallen branches on every acre, nourishing thousands of species of mushrooms, lichens, bark beetles, grubs, and microbes that are missing from the orderly, managed woodlands that pass as forests elsewhere.

Together those species stock a sylvan larder that provides for weasels, pine martens, raccoons, badgers, otters, fox, lynx, wolves, roe deer, elk, and eagles. More kinds of life are found here than anywhere else on the continent—yet there are no surrounding mountains or sheltering valleys to form unique niches for endemic species. The Białowieża Puszcza is simply a relic of what once stretched east to Siberia and west to Ireland.

Feliks Brzozowski (1836-1892), Forest Landscape

Related post: An Ocean of Green.


The Last Oracle

Philostorgius, Church History 7.1c = Passion of Artemius 35 (Artemius speaking to Julian, tr. Philip R. Amidon):
Know therefore that the strength and power of Christ is invincible and unconquerable. You yourself are certainly convinced of this from the oracles that the physician and quaestor Oribasius recently brought you from the Apollo in Delphi. But I will repeat the oracle to you, whether you wish to hear it or not. It runs as follows:
Go tell the king the wondrous hall is fallen to the ground.
Now Phoebus has a cell no more, no laurel that fortells,
No talking spring; the water that once spoke is heard no more.
George Cedrenus, Compendium Historiarum, ed. I. Bekker, Tomus Prior (Bonn: Weber, 1838 = Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, 34), p. 532 (304 A, my translation):
He [Julian] sends his physician and quaestor Oribasius to raise up Apollo's temple at Delphi. After departing and undertaking the work, he receives an oracle from the god:
Say to the king, the cunningly wrought hall has fallen to the ground,
Phoebus no longer has a hut, or prophetic laurel tree,
Or talking spring; extinguished is also the talking water.
Translation of the oracle by William Marris:
Tell ye the king: the carven hall has fallen in decay:
    Apollo hath no chapel left, no prophesying bay,
No talking spring. The stream is dry that had so much to say.
Another translation, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, from his poem "The Last Oracle":
Tell the king, on earth has fallen the glorious dwelling,
And the watersprings that spake are quenched and dead.
Not a cell is left the God, no roof, no cover;
In his hand the prophet laurel flowers no more.
Another translation, by Kenneth Rexroth:
Go tell the King: the daedal
Walls have fallen to the earth,
Phoibos has no sanctuary,
No prophetic laurel, no
Speaking spring. The garrulous
Water has dried up at last.
The Greek:
εἴπατε τῷ βασιλῆι· χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά.
οὐκέτι Φοῖβος ἔχει καλύβαν, ὀυ μάντιδα δάφνην,
οὐ παγὰν λαλέουσαν. ἀπέσβετο καὶ λάλον ὕδωρ.
Many authorities regard the oracle as a forgery. It is "quasi-historical response" number 263 in Joseph Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 353. Some additional bibliography (most of which I haven't seen):



Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012), "Possibilities" (tr. Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh):
I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the river.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


The Beau Idéal of Human Nature

Sydney Smith, "Professional Education" in his Works, Vol. I (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859), pp. 166-175 (at 170-171):
The bias given to men's minds is so strong, that it is no uncommon thing to meet with Englishmen, whom, but for their grey hairs and wrinkles, we might easily mistake for school-boys. Their talk is of Latin verses; and it is quite clear, if men's ages are to be dated from the state of their mental progress, that such men are eighteen years of age, and not a day older. Their minds have been so completely possessed by exaggerated notions of classical learning, that they have not been able in the great school of the world, to form any other notion of real greatness. Attend, too, to the public feelings—look to all the terms of applause. A learned man!—a scholar!—a man of erudition! Upon whom are these epithets of approbation bestowed? Are they given to men acquainted with the science of government? thoroughly masters of the geographical and commercial relations of Europe: to men who know the properties of bodies, and their action upon each other? No: this is not learning; it is chemistry, or political economy—not learning. The distinguishing abstract term, the epithet of Scholar, is reserved for him who writes on the Æolic reduplication, and is familiar with the Sylburgian method of arranging defectives in ω and μι. The picture which a young Englishman, addicted to the pursuit of knowledge, draws—his beau idéal of human nature—his top and consummation of man's powers—is a knowledge of the Greek language. His object is not to reason, to imagine, or to invent; but to conjugate, decline, and derive. The situations of imaginary glory which he draws for himself, are the detection of an anapaest in the wrong place, or the restoration of a dative case which Cranzius had passed over, and the never-dying Ernesti failed to observe. If a young classic of this kind were to meet the greatest chemist or the greatest mechanician, or the most profound political economist of his time, in company with the greatest Greek scholar, would the slightest comparison between them ever come across his mind?—would he ever dream that such men as Adam Smith and Lavoisier were equal in dignity of understanding to, or of the same utility as, Bentley and Heyne? We are inclined to think, that the feeling excited would be a good deal like that which was expressed by Dr. George about the praises of the great King of Prussia, who entertained considerable doubts whether the King, with all his victories, knew how to conjugate a Greek verb in μι.


Beds for All Who Come

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), Up-Hill:
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012



Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (Jery Melford to Sir Watkins Phillips, Bath, April 30):
My uncle and he are perfectly agreed in their estimate of life; which Quin says, would stink in his nostrils, if he did not steep it in claret.


A Quick Study

Life of St. Brendan, XV (tr. Denis O'Donoghue):
It was during the winter season, in the third year of his pilgrimage, that St. Brendan arrived at the monastery, and snow had fallen copiously so as to cover the ground, but none of it fell on St. Brendan or his disciples while they waited before the barred door. The door porter, noticing this from within, called out to them: "Come in at once, and let your own merits open the door unto you." Whereupon St. Brendan directed his disciple Talmach to open the door for them in the name of Christ; and when he, in obedience, put forth his hand towards the door, the bolts at once flew back, and were no longer visible. They then entered, and went towards the church of the monastery, the doors of which were closed against them in like manner; but St. Brendan knowing that this was done as a trial of his virtue, only placed his hand on the folding door, and said: "Oh, church of Christ, my true mother, open unto me;" instantly the seals or locks were broken, and the church lay open before them, when they went at once into the choir.

Here St. Gildas had a missal written in Greek characters, and this was placed on the altar for use at Mass. Then the sacristan said to St. Brendan, by order of St. Gildas: "Man of God, our father abbot commands you to offer the holy sacrifice; here is the altar prepared, and a missal in Greek letters, in which you are to read the Mass, as our abbot does." When St. Brendan opened the missal he prayed: "Grant unto me, O Lord Jesus, a knowledge of those unknown letters, as Thou hast by Thy power opened these doors that were barred against us." Truly all things are possible to the true believer, for St. Brendan knew at once those Greek characters as well as he did the Latin ones he had learned from his infancy.
The Latin:
Tunc yems erat et post tres annos in illa peregrinacione Sanctus Brendanus ad illum locum pervenit. Nix tunc pluit cooperiens terram sed nichil supra Sanctum Brendanum vel discipulos suos ante ostium clausum manentes fluxit. Hoc videns hostiarius de intus dixit eis: venite et merita vestra aperiant vobis. Tunc Sanctus Brendanus vocato discipulo suo Talmach dixit: vade et in Xti nomine aperi nobis ostium. Illico ille extendens manum recesserunt intus serae et ultra non apparuerunt; et ad templum venientes simili modo clausum erat ante eos. Sciensque Sanctus Brendanus quod temptacio erat ei, possuit manum suam duabus valvis et ait: Vera mater, Ecclesia Xti, aperi mihi. Et statim sigillis fractis aperta est ecclesia et intraverunt chorum.

Et habebat Sanctus Gylldas missalem librum scriptum Graecis litteris et possitus est ille liber super altare. Et custos templi ex jussione Sancti Gilldae dixit Sancto Brendano: vir Dei, praecipit tibi sanctus senex noster ut offeras corpus Xti: ecce altare hic (et) librum graecis litteris scriptum et canta in eo sicut abbas noster. Aperiensque Sanctus Brendanus librum ait: demonstra michi Domine Jhesu istas litteras ignotas, sicut aperuisti ostia clausa ante nos. Profecto possibilia sunt omnia credenti. Ilico jam litteras grecas scivit Sanctus Brendanus sicuti latinas quas didicit ab infancia.


A Giant Planet of Greed

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Creative Unity (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922), pp. 115-116:
But in recent centuries a devastating change has come over our mentality with regard to the acquisition of money. Whereas in former ages men treated it with condescension, even with disrespect, now they bend their knees to it. That it should be allowed a sufficiently large place in society, there can be no question; but it becomes an outrage when it occupies those seats which are specially reserved for the immortals, by bribing us, tampering with our moral pride, recruiting the best strength of society in a traitor's campaign against human ideals, thus disguising, with the help of pomp and pageantry, its true insignificance. Such a state of things has come to pass because, with the help of science, the possibilities of profit have suddenly become immoderate. The whole of the human world, throughout its length and breadth, has felt the gravitational pull of a giant planet of greed, with concentric rings of innumerable satellites, causing in our society a marked deviation from the moral orbit. In former times the intellectual and spiritual powers of this earth upheld their dignity of independence and were not giddily rocked on the tides of the money market. But, as in the last fatal stages of disease, this fatal influence of money has got into our brain and affected our heart. Like a usurper, it has occupied the throne of high social ideals, using every means, by menace and threat, to seize upon the right, and, tempted by opportunity, presuming to judge it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The Life of a Professor

Mark Pattison (1813-1884), Suggestions on Academical Organisation with Especial Reference to Oxford (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1868), p. 163:
"The life of a professor" (Professor Ritschl is reported to have said) "would be a very pleasant one if it was not for the lecturing."



Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Gryll Grange, chapter XIX (Rev. Dr. Opimian speaking):
Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers. If you look at the results which science has brought in its train, you will find them to consist almost wholly in elements of mischief. See how much belongs to the word Explosion alone, of which the ancients knew nothing. Explosions of powder-mills and powder-magazines; of coal-gas in mines and in houses; of high-pressure engines in ships and boats and factories. See the complications and refinements of modes of destruction, in revolvers and rifles and shells and rockets and cannon. See collisions and wrecks and every mode of disaster by land and by sea, resulting chiefly from the insanity for speed, in those who for the most part have nothing to do at the end of the race, which they run as if they were so many Mercuries, speeding with messages from Jupiter. Look at our scientific drainage, which turns refuse into poison. Look at the subsoil of London, whenever it is turned up to the air, converted by gas leakage into one mass of pestilent blackness, in which no vegetation can flourish, and above which, with the rapid growth of the over-growing nuisance, no living thing will breathe with impunity. Look at our scientific machinery, which has destroyed domestic manufacture, which has substituted rottenness for strength in the thing made, and physical degradation in crowded towns for healthy and comfortable country life in the makers. The day would fail, if I should attempt to enumerate the evils which science has inflicted on mankind. I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of science to exterminate the human race.


Textual Criticism

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), A Journey from This World to the Next, chapter 8:
I then observed Shakespeare standing between Betterton and Booth, and deciding a Difference between those two great Actors, concerning the placing an Accent in one of his Lines: this was disputed on both sides with a Warmth, which surprized me in Elysium, till I discovered by Intuition, that every Soul retained its principal Characteristic, being, indeed, its very Essence. The Line was that celebrated one in Othello;

      Put out the Light, and then put out the Light,

according to Betterton. Mr. Booth contended to have it thus;

      Put out the Light, and then put out the Light.

I could not help offering my Conjecture on this Occasion, and suggested it might perhaps be,

      Put out the Light, and then put out thy Light.

Another hinted a Reading very sophisticated in my Opinion,

      Put out the Light, and then put out thee, Light;

making Light to be the vocative Case. Another would have altered the last Word, and read,

      Put out thy Light, and then put out thy Sight.

But Betterton said, if the Text was to be disturbed, he saw no reason why a Word might not be changed as well as a Letter, and instead of put out thy Light, you may read put out thy Eyes. At last it was agreed on all sides, to refer the matter to the Decision of Shakespeare himself, who delivered his Sentiments as follows: 'Faith, Gentlemen, it is so long since I wrote the Line, I have forgot my Meaning. This I know, could I have dreamed so much Nonsense would have been talked, and writ about it, I would have blotted it out of my Works: for I am sure, if any of these be my Meaning, it doth me very little Honour.'


Intellectually Impoverished Reviewers

G.W. Bowersock, "The Art of the Footnote," The American Scholar 53.1 (Winter 1984) 54-62 (at 56):
"I cannot profess myself very desirous of Mr. Davis' acquaintance," wrote Gibbon, "but if he will take the trouble of calling at my house any afternoon when I am not at home, my servant shall show him my library, which he will find tolerably well furnished with the useful authors, ancient as well as modern, ecclesiastical as well as profane, who have directly supplied me with the materials of my History." This should be the classic response to all those intellectually impoverished reviewers who can think of nothing better to do when assessing a book than to add a few missing items of bibliography.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Never Needing a Companion

Meng Haoran (689-740), "Returning at Night to Lumen Mountain" (tr. Witter Bynner):
A bell in the mountain-temple sounds the coming of night.
I hear people at the fishing-town stumble aboard the ferry,
While others follow the sand-bank to their homes along the river.
...I also take a boat and am bound for Lumen Mountain—
And soon the Lumen moonlight is piercing misty trees.
I have come, before I know it, upon an ancient hermitage,
The thatch door, the piney path, the solitude, the quiet,
Where a hermit lives and moves, never needing a companion.
The same, tr. Kenneth Rexroth:
I can hear the evening bell
In the mountain temple ringing
Above the voices of people
Calling for the ferry at
Fisherman's Crossing, and others
Going home to the village
Along the river beaches.
I take the boat back to Lu-Men.
On the mountain the moon shines
Through misty trees. At last I find
The ancient cabin of Lord P'ang,
Hidden by the cliffs,
On a path through the pines,
Where all is eternal peace,
And only a solitary
Man comes and goes by himself.
The same, tr. David Hinton:
As day fades into dusk, the bell at a mountain temple sounds.
Fish-Bridge island is loud with people clamoring at the ferry,

and others follow sandy shores towards their river village.
But returning home to Deer-Gate, I paddle my own little boat,

Deer-gate's incandescent moonlight opening misty forests,
until suddenly I've entered old Master P'ang's isolate realm,

Cliffs the gate, pine the path—it's forever still and silent,
just this one recluse, this mystery coming and going of itself.
The same, tr. Ye Yang:
At the mountain temple, the bells are ringing, the twilight is approaching;
I hear noise from those who race to get on the ferry by the Fishing Bridge.
People go to the riverside village along the sandy shore;
I also ride in a boat, on my way to the Deer Gate.
At the Deer Gate, the moon shines through the misty woods;
Before I know it, I've come to where the ancient recluse lived.
Doors in rock, path in pines, have long been quiet and forlorn;
Only a recluse moves around here, back and forth, late at night.


Looking Up Words in the Dictionary

Sydney Smith (1771-1845), Works, Vol. II (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859), pp. 93-95:
Every one will admit that of all the disgusting labours of life, the labour of lexicon and dictionary is the most intolerable. Nor is there a greater object of compassion than a fine boy, full of animal spirits, set down in a bright sunny day, with a heap of unknown words before him to be turned into English, before supper, by the help of a ponderous dictionary alone. The object in looking into a dictionary can only be to exchange an unknown sound for one that is known. Now it seems indisputable, that the sooner this exchange is made the better. The greater the number of such exchanges which can be made in a given time, the greater is the progress, the more abundant the copia verborum obtained by the scholar. Would it not be of advantage if the dictionary at once opened at the required page, and if a self-moving index at once pointed to the requisite word? Is any advantage gained to the world by the time employed first in finding the letter P, and then in finding the three guiding letters PRI? This appears to us to be pure loss of time, justifiable only if it be inevitable: and even after this is done, what an infinite multitude of difficulties are heaped at once upon the wretched beginner! Instead of being reserved for his greater skill and maturity in the language, he must employ himself in discovering in which of many senses which his dictionary presents the word is to be used; in considering the case of the substantive, and the syntaxical arrangement in which it is to be placed, and the relation it bears to other words. The loss of time in the merely mechanical part of the old plan is immense. We doubt very much, if an average boy, between ten and fourteen, will look out or find more than sixty words in an hour; we say nothing, at present, of the time employed in thinking of the meaning of each word when he has found it, but of the mere naked discovery of the word in the lexicon or dictionary. It must be remembered, we say an average boy—not what Master Evans, the show-boy, can do; nor what Master Macarthy, the boy who is whipt every day can do; but some boy between Macarthy and Evans: and not what this medium boy can do while his mastigophorous superior is frowning over him, but what he actually does when left in the midst of noisy boys, and with a recollection that by sending to the neighbouring shop, he can obtain any quantity of unripe gooseberries upon credit. Now, if this statement be true, and if there are 10,000 words in the Gospel of St. John, here are 160 hours employed in the mere digital process of turning over leaves! ....

We have hitherto been occupied with finding the word: we will now suppose, after running a dirty finger down many columns, and after many sighs and groans, that the word is found. We presume the little fellow working in the true orthodox manner, without any translation: he is in pursuit of the Greek word Βαλλω, and after a long chase, seizes it, as greedily as a bailiff possesses himself of a fugacious captain. But, alas! the vanity of human wishes!—the never-sufficiently-to-be-pitied stripling has scarcely congratulated himself upon his success, when he finds Βαλλω to contain the following meanings in Hederick's Lexicon:—1. Jacio; 2. Jaculor; 3. Ferio; 4. Figo; 5. Saucio; 6. Attingo; 7. Projicio; 8. Emitto; 9. Profundo; 10. Pono; 11. Immitto; 12. Trado; 13. Committo; 14. Condo; 15. Aedifico; 16. Verso; 17. Flecto. Suppose the little rogue, not quite at home in the Latin tongue, to be desirous of affixing English significations to these various words, he has then, at the moderate rate of six meanings to every Latin word, one hundred and two meanings to the word Βαλλω! or, if he is content with the Latin, he has then only seventeen.

Carl Larsson, Required Reading

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Something Very Badly Wrong

Nicholas Horsfall, "Fraud as Scholarship: The Helen Episode and the Appendix Vergiliana," Illinois Classical Studies 31/32 (2006-2007) 1-27 (at 3):
Intellectually speaking, there is something very badly wrong with (most) Latinists.



G.W. Bowersock, "Ronald Syme (March 11, 1903-September 4, 1989)," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 135.1 (March 1991) 118-122 (at 120):
Like most great humanistic scholars, he worked entirely alone—apart from the solace of a cheap cigar. He had no interest in collaborative research projects and specious programs for which funding could easily be raised. It was more with pride than bitterness that he wrote in the preface to his Tacitus,
The task has been long and laborious (for all that ostensible drudgery can be sheer delight). It has been hampered by various delays and vexations. Nor, in making the written text fit for publication and compiling the vast index, can aid or alleviation be recorded from any academic body, from any fund or foundation dedicated to the promotion of research in history and letters.


Sans Teeth, Sans Eyes, Sans Taste, Sans Everything

Maximianus, Elegies 1.119-156 (tr. L.R. Lind):
Now hearing is less, taste less, my very eyes
Grow dim; I barely know the things I touch,        120
No smell is sweet, no pleasure now is grateful:
Devoid of feeling, who's sure that he survives?
Lethean oblivion comes upon my mind
Nor can it now, confused, remember itself;
It rises to meet no demand, with the body weakens,        125
Is stupefied, concentrating on its ills.
I sing no songs; the greatest joy of song
Has fled; true grace of voice has perished quite.
I arouse no public, write no alluring poems,
Seek favorable judgments with suits by no means savage.        130
The handsome looks I loved have now departed,
And now I seem to be as dead as they.
Instead of my healthy red and white complexion
A pallor stains my face, bloodless as death.
My parched skin dries, stiff tendons stand out on it,        135
And claw-like hands now scratch my itching limbs.
Once smiling eyes now weep with endless tears,
Both night and day deplore their punishment,
And where neat eyebrows brought together lashes
Now a rough forest overhangs and covers        140
As though the eyes were stowed in some dark cavern:
What fierce and frighful thing they see I know not.
To gaze at an old man now brings fear, nor can you
Believe that he's a man, who lacks man's reason.
If I read books, the letters split in two,        145
The page I knew seems larger than it was.
I seem to see a bright light through the clouds;
The clouds themselves are bright within my eyes.
Daylight is gone though I still live; who will
Deny that hell is fenced with opaque darkness?        150
What madman has convinced him to believe
Such things, to wish it worse than he had prayed for?
Now come his ills, a thousand perils come,
And now sweet banquets and delights grow harmful.
We must abandon everything that pleases;        155
That we may live, we are deprived of living.
The Latin:
iam minor auditus, gustus minor; ipsa caligant
  lumina; vix tactu noscere certa queo.        120
nullus dulcis odor, nulla est iam grata voluptas:
  sensibus expertem quis superesse putet?
en Lethaea meam subeunt oblivia mentem,
  nec confusa sui iam meminisse potest:
ad nullum consurgit opus, cum corpore languet        125
  atque intenta suis astupet illa malis.
carmina nulla cano: cantandi summa voluptas
  effugit et vocis gratia vera perit.
non fora sollicito, non blanda poemata fingo,
  litibus haut rabidis commoda iura sequor.        130
ipsaque me species quondam dilecta reliquit
  et videor formae mortuus esse meae.
pro niveo rutiloque prius nunc inficit ora
  pallor et exanguis funereusque color.
aret sicca cutis, rigidi stant undique nervi,        135
  et lacerant uncae scabida membra manus.
quondam ridentes oculi nunc fonte perenni
  deplangunt poenas nocte dieque suas;
et quos grata prius ciliorum serta tegebant,
  desuper incumbens hispida silva premit,        140
ac velut inclusi caeco conduntur in antro:
  torvum nescio quid heu furiale vident.
iam pavor est vidisse senem, nec credere possis
  hunc hominem humana qui ratione caret.
si libros repeto, duplex se littera findit,        145
  largior occurrit pagina nota mihi.
claram per nebulas videor mihi cernere lucem,
  nubila sunt oculis ipsa serena meis.
eripitur sine morte dies: caligine caeca
  septum tartareo quis neget esse loco?        150
talia quis demens homini persuaserit auctor
  ut cupiat voto turpior esse suo?
iam subeunt morbi, subeunt discrimina mille,
  iam dulces epulae deliciaeque nocent.
cogimur a gratis animum suspendere rebus,        155
  atque ut vivamus vivere destitimus.

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Dropping Off

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Taxonomy of Handshakes

A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his Daughter, Lady Holland, Vol. I (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855), pp. 350-351:
On meeting a young lady who had just entered the garden, and shaking hands with her: "I must," he said, "give you a lesson in shaking hands, I see. There is nothing more characteristic than shakes of the hand. I have classified them. Lister, when he was here, illustrated some of them. Ask Mrs. Sydney to show you his sketches of them when you go in. There is the high official,—the body erect, and a rapid, short shake, near the chin. There is the mortmain,—the flat hand introduced into your palm, and hardly conscious of its contiguity. The digital,—one finger held out, much used by the high clergy. There is the shakus rusticus, where your hand is seized in an iron grasp, betokening rude health, warm heart, and distance from the Metropolis; but producing a strong sense of relief on your part when you find your hand released and your fingers unbroken. The next to this is the retentive shake,—one which, beginning with vigour, pauses as it were to take breath, but without relinquishing its prey, and before you are aware begins again, till you feel anxious as to the result, and have no shake left in you. There are other varieties, but this is enough for one lesson."


Brazen Arboricide at Brasenose College

Thomas Hearne (1678-1735), Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, ed. H.E. Salter, Vol. IX: August 10, 1725-March 26, 1728 (Oxford: Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1914), p. 361, lines 1-7:
Oct. 25 (Wed). [1727] Last Week they cut down the fine pleasant Garden in Brasennose College Quadrangle, wch was not only a great Ornament to it, & was agreeable in the Quadrangles of our old Monasteries, but was a delightful & pleasant Shade in Summer Time, & made the rooms, in hot seasons, much cooler than otherwise they would have been. This is done by the direction of the Principal, and some others, purely to turn it into a Grass Plot, & to erect some silly Statue there.
The Principal of Brasenose at the time (1710-1745) was Robert Shippen.

Fifty years or so earlier, and perhaps continuing up to 1727, the garden in the quadrangle was a "knot-garden." See Robert Plot, The Natural History of Oxford-Shire, Being an Essay toward the Natural History of England (Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1677), p. 261:
As to the Arts relating to Trees, the chiefest are those of the Planter and Gardener making curious Walks, and Topiary works of them; such is the Dial cut in Box in New College Garden, the Kings arms, and the College coat of arms there, and at Exeter College; beside the other Garden knots of Box in both those Colleges, and in Brasen-nose College Quadrangle...
Here is an engraving of Brasenose College, from David Loggan, Oxonia Illustrata (Oxoniae: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1675):

And here is a close-up view of the knot-garden in the quadrangle on the right from the same engraving:

As for the fate of the "silly statue," see E.W. Allfrey, "The Architectural History of the Buildings" = Monograph III of Brasenose College Quatercentenary Monographs (Oxford: Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1909), p. 41:
The statue exists no longer. It stood in the middle of the 'grass platt', and first appeared in 1727; preparation for it, the base and so forth, having been made two years before. It was the gift of Dr. George Clarke, of Brasenose and All Souls, and appears in all the old prints and photographs of the quadrangle up to 1881, when it was removed, chiefly because it had fallen into disrepair and possibly as offering too great temptation to undergraduate efforts in gymnastics, statuary painting, or costumery.
On other outbreaks of arboricide in eighteenth-century Oxford see:
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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