Monday, September 30, 2013


Not Nearly as Difficult as People Maintain

Kathleen Freeman (1897-1959), The Greek Way, an Anthology. Translations from Verse and Prose (London, MacDonald [1947]), pp. vi-vii:
Greek is not nearly as difficult as people maintain (the alphabet, which frightens beginners, can be learnt in a week); and its literature is a veritable Aladdin's Cave. Greek is much more entertaining than bridge or cross-word puzzles (one can do the harder cross-word puzzles much more easily if one has a knowledge of Greek); and you will never find anyone who has pursued Greek to the reading stage who would part with that knowledge for any other whatsoever. I am thinking of a university teacher I know who did Greek first, and then mathematics, at Glasgow, and who is never tired of saying that if he had to choose, it would be the mathematics that he would sacrifice, not the Greek.

But then, of course, he did his Greek with Gilbert Murray. My advice includes this corollary: if you take up Greek, and if you seek help at the outset, be very careful in your choice of a tutor. Let this be the guiding principle: if he or she makes the subject seem hard or dull, he or she is a bad teacher. Scholarship and Hardship are not sisters, or if they are, they they need not always live together. It is better to study alone, with a good text-book, than to put oneself into the hands of a worshipper of grammar. Grammar can be interesting, but it is a means to an end. Conversely, enthusiasm and inaccuracy are not necessarily yoke-fellows either, though it suits the uninspired to maintain this. With good help, one can learn to read easy Greek in a year or less. Mastery of Greek is the work of a lifetime or longer; but there is enjoyment all the way.


The Hygienic Chemistry of Books

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), The Caxtons: A Family Picture, Part IX, Chapter V (My Father's Crotchet on the Hygienic Chemistry of Books):
"If," said my father,—and here his hand was deep in his waistcoat,—"if we accept the authority of Diodorus as to the inscription on the great Egyptian library—and I don't see why Diodorus should not be as near the mark as any one else?" added my father interrogatively, turning round.

My mother thought herself the person addressed, and nodded her gracious assent to the authority of Diodorus. His opinion thus fortified, my father continued,—"If, I say, we accept the authority of Diodorus, the inscription on the Egyptian library was: 'The Medicine of the Mind.' Now, that phrase has become notoriously trite and hackneyed, and people repeat vaguely that books are the medicine of the mind. Yes; but to apply the medicine is the thing!"

"So you have told us at least twice before, brother," quoth the Captain, bluffly. "And what Diodorus has to do with it, I know no more than the man of the moon."

"I shall never get on at this rate," said my father, in a tone between reproach and entreaty.

"Be good children, Roland and Blanche both," said my mother, stopping from her work and holding up her needle threateningly,—and indeed inflicting a slight puncture upon the Captain's shoulder.

"'Rem acu tetigisti,' my dear," said my father, borrowing Cicero's pun on the occasion.1 "And now we shall go upon velvet. I say, then, that books, taken indiscriminately, are no cure to the diseases and afflictions of the mind. There is a world of science necessary in the taking them. I have known some people in great sorrow fly to a novel, or the last light book in fashion. One might as well take a rose-draught for the plague! Light reading does not do when the heart is really heavy. I am told that Goethe, when he lost his son, took to study a science that was new to him. Ah! Goethe was a physician who knew what he was about. In a great grief like that you cannot tickle and divert the mind, you must wrench it away, abstract, absorb,—bury it in an abyss, hurry it into a labyrinth. Therefore, for the irremediable sorrows of middle life and old age I recommend a strict chronic course of science and hard reasoning,—Counter-irritation. Bring the brain to act upon the heart! If science is too much against the grain (for we have not all got mathematical heads), something in the reach of the humblest understanding, but sufficiently searching to the highest,—a new language, Greek, Arabic, Scandinavian, Chinese, or Welsh! For the loss of fortune, the dose should be applied less directly to the understanding,—I would administer something elegant and cordial. For as the heart is crushed and lacerated by a loss in the affections, so it is rather the head that aches and suffers by the loss of money. Here we find the higher class of poets a very valuable remedy. For observe that poets of the grander and more comprehensive kind of genius have in them two separate men, quite distinct from each other,—the imaginative man, and the practical, circumstantial man; and it is the happy mixture of these that suits diseases of the mind, half imaginative and half practical. There is Homer, now lost with the gods, now at home with the homeliest, the very 'poet of circumstance,' as Gray has finely called him; and yet with imagination enough to seduce and coax the dullest into forgetting, for a while, that little spot on his desk which his banker's book can cover. There is Virgil, far below him, indeed,—
                                     'Virgil the wise,
Whose verse walks highest, but not flies,'
as Cowley expresses it. But Virgil still has genius enough to be two men,—to lead you into the fields, not only to listen to the pastoral reed and to hear the bees hum, but to note how you can make the most of the glebe and the vineyard. There is Horace, charming man of the world, who will condole with you feelingly on the loss of your fortune, and by no means undervalue the good things of this life, but who will yet show you that a man may be happy with a vile modicum or parva rura. There is Shakspeare, who, above all poets, is the mysterious dual of hard sense and empyreal fancy,—and a great many more, whom I need not name, but who, if you take to them gently and quietly, will not, like your mere philosopher, your unreasonable Stoic, tell you that you have lost nothing, but who will insensibly steal you out of this world, with its losses and crosses, and slip you into another world before you know where you are!—a world where you are just as welcome, though you carry no more earth of your lost acres with you than covers the sole of your shoe. Then, for hypochondria and satiety, what is better than a brisk alterative course of travels,—especially early, out-of-the-way, marvellous, legendary travels! How they freshen up the spirits! How they take you out of the humdrum yawning state you are in. See, with Herodotus, young Greece spring up into life, or note with him how already the wondrous old Orient world is crumbling into giant decay; or go with Carpini and Rubruquis to Tartary, meet 'the carts of Zagathai laden with houses, and think that a great city is travelling towards you.'2 Gaze on that vast wild empire of the Tartar, where the descendants of Jenghis 'multiply and disperse over the immense waste desert, which is as boundless as the ocean.' Sail with the early Northern discoverers, and penetrate to the heart of winter, among sea-serpents and bears and tusked morses with the faces of men. Then, what think you of Columbus, and the stern soul of Cortes, and the kingdom of Mexico, and the strange gold city of the Peruvians, with that audacious brute Pizarro; and the Polynesians, just for all the world like the Ancient Britons; and the American Indians and the South-sea Islanders? How petulant and young and adventurous and frisky your hypochondriac must get upon a regimen like that! Then, for that vice of the mind which I call sectarianism,—not in the religious sense of the word, but little, narrow prejudices, that make you hate your next-door neighbor because he has his eggs roasted when you have yours boiled; and gossipping and prying into people's affairs, and backbiting, and thinking heaven and earth are coming together if some broom touch a cobweb that you have let grow over the window-sill of your brains what like a large and generous, mildly aperient (I beg your pardon, my dear) course of history! How it clears away all the fumes of the head,—better than the hellebore with which the old leeches of the Middle Ages purged the cerebellum! There, amidst all that great whirl and sturmbad (storm-bath), as the Germans say, of kingdoms and empires, and races and ages, how your mind enlarges beyond that little feverish animosity to John Styles, or that unfortunate prepossession of yours that all the world is interested in your grievances against Tom Stokes and his wife!

"I can only touch, you see, on a few ingredients in this magnificent pharmacy; its resources are boundless, but require the nicest discretion. I remember to have cured a disconsolate widower, who obstinately refused every other medicament, by a strict course of geology. I dipped him deep into gneiss and mica schist. Amidst the first strata I suffered the watery action to expend itself upon cooling, crystallized masses; and by the time I had got him into the tertiary period, amongst the transition chalks of Maestricht and the conchiferous marls of Gosau, he was ready for a new wife. Kitty, my dear, it is no laughing matter! I made no less notable a cure of a young scholar at Cambridge who was meant for the church, when he suddenly caught a cold fit of freethinking, with great shiverings, from wading out of his depth in Spinoza. None of the divines, whom I first tried, did him the least good in that state; so I turned over a new leaf, and doctored him gently upon the chapters of faith in Abraham Tucker's book (you should read it, Sisty); then I threw in strong doses of Fichte; after that I put him on the Scotch metaphysicians, with plunge-baths into certain German transcendentalists; and having convinced him that faith is not an unphilosophical state of mind, and that he might believe without compromising his understanding,—for he was mightily conceited on that score,—I threw in my divines, which he was now fit to digest; and his theological constitution, since then, has become so robust that he has eaten up two livings and a deanery! In fact, I have a plan for a library that, instead of heading its compartments, 'Philology, Natural Science, Poetry,' etc., one shall head them according to the diseases for which they are severally good, bodily and mental,—up from a dire calamity or the pangs of the gout, down to a fit of the spleen or a slight catarrh; for which last your light reading comes in with a whey-posset and barley-water. But," continued my father, more gravely, "when some one sorrow, that is yet reparable, gets hold of your mind like a monomania; when you think because Heaven has denied you this or that on which you had set your heart that all your life must be a blank,—oh! then diet yourself well on biography, the biography of good and great men. See how little a space one sorrow really makes in life. See scarce a page, perhaps, given to some grief similar to your own; and how triumphantly the life sails on beyond it! You thought the wing was broken! Tut, tut, it was but a bruised feather! See what life leaves behind it when all is done!—a summary of positive facts far out of the region of sorrow and suffering, linking themselves with the being of the world. Yes, biography is the medicine here! Roland, you said you would try my prescription,—here it is;" and my father took up a book and reached it to the Captain.

My uncle looked over it,—Life of the Reverend Robert Hall. "Brother, he was a Dissenter; and, thank Heaven! I am a Church-and-State man to the backbone!"

"Robert Hall was a brave man and a true soldier under the Great Commander," said my father, artfully.

The Captain mechanically carried his forefinger to his forehead in military fashion, and saluted the book respectfully.

"I have another copy for you, Pisistratus,—that is mine which I have lent Roland. This, which I bought for you to-day, you will keep."

"Thank you, sir," said I listlessly, not seeing what great good the Life of Robert Hall could do me, or why the same medicine should suit the old weather-beaten uncle and the nephew yet in his teens.

"I have said nothing," resumed my father, slightly bowing his broad temples, "of the Book of books, for that is the lignum vitae, the cardinal medicine for all. These are but the subsidiaries; for as you may remember, my dear Kitty, that I have said before,—we can never keep the system quite right unless we place just in the centre of the great ganglionic system, whence the nerves carry its influence gently and smoothly through the whole frame—THE SAFFRON BAG!"

1 Cicero's joke on a senator who was the son of a tailor: "Thou hast touched the thing sharply" (or with a needle, acu).

2 Rubruquis, sect. xii.
On the saffron bag, see Part VI, Chapter II.


The Triballian Dialect and Metre

E. Lobel, review of J.M. Edmonds, ed., Lyra Graeca (London: William Heinemann, 1922), in Classical Review 36 (1922) 120-121 (in a couple of words I could not reproduce the macron together with breathing and accent):
It has hitherto been the view of scholars, both ancient and modern, that Sappho and Alcaeus (whose remains are exposed on pp. 182-307, 318-428) normally composed in the Aeolic dialect of Lesbos. Mr. Edmonds evidently does not unreservedly share this opinion. In many of his emendations and restorations there appear words, forms, and metres which are quite alien to normal Aeolic usage. As he has nowhere divulged to what dialect they belong, and I have been unable to discover for myself, I will refer to them for convenience as Triballian. That Aeolic and Triballian are quite distinct may be seen by simply turning over the pages. For instance, Aeolic has πρὸϲ, Triballian adds προτὶ (S. 110, 8215, 1642, etc.). Aeolic says ϲὺ, ϲὲ, ἔγω, Triballian adds τὺ, τὲ, ἔγων (S. 27, 3815, 839, 151). Aeolic says ἒων, Triballian adds εἴϲ and ὢν (S. 58, A. 277, etc.), Aeolic πόηϲαι, Triballian also ποίηϲαι (S. 891; the -οι- forms of ποιεῖν are never found in Alcaeus or Sappho). Aeolic has only φάοϲ, ἔργον, κάλα, γᾶν, Triballian also φαῦοϲ (S. 8514), ὄργον (A. 273), κᾶλα, (S. 653), and γάαν (e.g. S. 943; it appears to have a special taste for this word). There are, of course, some Triballian words which never occur in Aeolic at all. Again, in Aeolic the imperfect of ἀλέομαι would appear as ἀλήμαν, in Triballian it is ἀλλόμαν (p. 252 n.), and similarly ἤλγει (S. 411) seems to be Triballian for ἄλγη. Aeolic has infinitives in -ην, as πώνην, Triballian also in -εμεν, as πώνεμεν (A. 1645). In Aeolic ο + α contract to ω, as in ὤνηρ (for ὁ ἀνήρ), but the Triballian form resembles the Attic; thus τὸ αἴρητον becomes ταἴρητον (S. 8513). Aeolic rejects hiatus; Triballian welcomes such collocations as κεὖ ἐποίηϲαϲ (S. 891) and ἄνευ ἀρέταϲ (S. 1001). Finally, for a specimen of Triballian metre I may refer to his number 82 of Sappho, unless indeed that is a prose poem. These facts will have to be investigated by students of Greek dialects with more attention than they have hitherto received.
I find this very funny, although I realize that my sense of humor isn't shared by everyone. A Triballian god appears in Aristophanes' Birds and speaks gibberish barely resembling Greek (1615, 1628-1629, 1678-1679).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Sunday, September 29, 2013



Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (© 2011; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2013), pp. 479-480:
In a homage to Henri Michaux (arguably the greatest poet in the French language this century), Borges made an interesting point: "A writer who was born in a big country is always in danger of believing that the culture of his native country encompasses all his needs. Paradoxically, he therefore runs the risk of becoming provincial." Naturally, the poet from Buenos Aires was in a good position to detect the secret strength of the poet from Namur (Michaux loathed his birthplace—the province of a province).

In the time of Goethe, Weimar was a town somewhat smaller than Queanbeyan today. I wonder if there was not a direct relation between the universal reach of Goethe's antennae (not only did he keep abreast of the latest developments on the English and French literary scenes, but he even displayed an enthusiastic interest in newly translated Chinese novels!) and the narrow horizon of his provincial abode. My point is not that Queanbeyan is shortly going to produce a Goethe—though this remains of course entirely possible; the emergence of genius is always arbitrary and its manifestation presents no necessity. I merely wish to underline Borges's paradox: cosmopolitanism is more easily achieved in a provincial setting, whereas life in a metropolis can insidiously result in a form of provincialism.

People who live in Paris, London or New York have a thousand convincing reasons to feel that they are "where the action is," and therefore they tend to become oblivious to the fact that rich developments are also taking place elsewhere. This is something which educated people who live in a village are unlikely ever to forget. (Still, needless to say, there is one thing worse than ignoring the outside world when in New York, and that is ignoring the outside world when in Queanbeyan.)

Culture is born out of exchanges and thrives on differences. In this sense, "national culture" is a self-contradiction, and "multiculturalism" a pleonasm. The death of culture lies in self-centredness, self-sufficiency and isolation.



[St. John Lucas (1879–1934),] The Last Arcadian, and Other Papers (London: Leonard Smithers & Co., 1899), pp. 2-3:
God knows, my only wish is to slip through the world like a shadow, leaving no trace on the lives of others. But the wealth necessary to enable one to be actually as well as mentally an anchorite has been denied me; I am poor—so poor that I have to stint and save for months in order to be able to attain to my seven precious days of freedom in the country. And the life is very hard. Caged in a stuffy office day after day, in the same dusty air, with the same maddening wheels in the street outside, writing everlastingly beneath a flickering gas-jet, or if the day is fair, by the little light that manages to penetrate the cobwebs and grime of the tight-shut windows, it is small wonder that a man's soul dies within him, that he becomes a mere automaton, joyless, hopeless, almost lifeless. I think that my nature is too dead to be discontented, yet at times I wake up to the ghastly horror of it all, and reckon up the hours and days and years of dull torment before me. It is of such moments that Hell is made.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Fools and Slow of Heart

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), The Way of All Flesh, chapter XXXII (on Althea Pontifex):
But she would say a wicked thing quietly on her own account sometimes, and called my attention once to a note in her prayer book which gave an account of the walk to Emmaus with the two disciples, and how Christ had said to them, "O fools and slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets have spoken"—the "all" being printed in small capitals.

Thanks to Ian Jackson for passing along another version of the same passage, from Daniel Howard's edition of the original manuscript, as unretouched by Streatfeild, published as Ernest Pontifex, or the Way of all Flesh (Methuen 1965):
But she would say a wicked thing quietly on her own account sometimes, and called my attention once to a passage in her prayer-book which gave an account of the walk to Emmaus with the two disciples, and how Christ had called them "fools and slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets had told them" — the "all" being printed in small capitals.


The Best People

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), Samuel Johnson (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1944), p. 157:
Many persons of that time freely admitted to a conviction which it has since become customary to conceal—the conviction, that is to say, that, certain extravagances of Christian theory notwithstanding, the "best people" socially and intellectually are also the "best people" spiritually. Thus the Duchess of Buckingam—genuinely shocked by the Wesleyan insistence that all mankind (even including the nobility) had corrupt hearts—could write in righteous protest to the pious Countess of Huntingdon: "It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiment so much at variance with high rank and good breeding."



In the Loeb Classical Library edition of Cicero, Tusculan Disputations. With an English Translation by J.E. King (rev. ed. 1945; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), I noticed the following misprints.

P. xi (Introduction):
In answer to the question how he managed to write them so quickly he says himself in a letter to Atticus: ἀπόγραφα sunt, minore labore funt; verba tantum adfero, quibus abundo.6

6 Ad Att. xii.52.3.
For funt read fiunt.

Pp. 98-99 (1.34.84):
qui et domesticis et forensibus solaciis ornamentisque privati

I have been robbed of the consolations of family life4 and the distinctions of a public career

4 Domesticus refers to the death of his daughter Tullia, forensibus to his inactivity under the absolute rule of Caesar.
For Domesticus read Domesticis.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Erasmus on Cicero

Erasmus, letter 499 to Johannes Ulattenus (1523; tr. Conyers Middleton):
When I was a boy, I was fonder of Seneca than of Cicero, and till I was twenty years old could not bear to spend any time in reading him; while all the other writers of antiquity generally pleased me. Whether my judgment be improved by age, I know not; but am certain, that Cicero never pleased me so much when I was fond of those juvenile studies as he does now when I am grown old; not only for the divine felicity of his style, but the sanctity of his heart and morals: in short, he has inspired my soul, and made me feel myself a better man. I make no scruple, therefore, to exhort our youth to spend their hours in reading and getting his books by heart, rather than in the vexatious squabbles and peevish controversies with which the world abounds. For my own part, though I am now in the decline of life, yet as soon as I have finished what I have in hand, I shall think it no reproach to me to seek a reconciliation with my Cicero, and renew an old acquaintance with him, which for many years has been unhappily intermitted.
The Latin, from Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami Epistolae, Pars Posterior (Leiden: Vander, 1706), cols. 1881-1882:
Mihi puero minus arridebat Cicero, quam Seneca: jamque natus eram annos viginti, priusquam ferrem diutinam ejus lectionem, cum caeteri pene omnes placerent. An aetatis progressu profecerim, nescio, certe nunquam mihi magis placuit Cicero, tum quum adamarem illa studia, quam nunc placuit seni: non tantum ob divinam quandam orationis felicitatem, verum etiam ob pectoris eruditi sanctimoniam. Profecto meum afflavit animum, meque mihi reddidit meliorem. Itaque non dubitem hortari juventutem, ut in hujus libris evolvendis atque etiam ediscendis bonas horas collocent potius, quam in rixosis ac pugnacibus libellis, quibus nunc undique scatent omnia. Me vero, tametsi jam vergente aetate, nec pudebit, nec pigebit, simulatque extricaro me ab his quae sunt in manibus, cum meo Cicerone redire in gratiam, pristinamque familiaritatem, nimium multis annis intermissam, renovare menses aliquot.


Likelihood versus Certainty

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.9.17 (tr. J.E. King):
I shall humour you and explain what you wish as best I can, not however as if I were the Pythian Apollo making statements to be regarded as certain and unalterable, but following out a train of probabilities as one poor mortal out of many. For further than likelihood as I see it I cannot get. Certainty will be for those who say such things can be known and who claim wisdom for themselves.

geram tibi morem et ea, quae vis, ut potero, explicabo, nec tamen quasi Pythius Apollo, certa ut sint et fixa quae dixero, sed ut homunculus unus e multis, probabilia coniectura sequens. ultra enim quo progrediar quam ut veri similia videam non habeo. certa dicent ii, qui et percipi ea posse dicunt et se sapientes esse profitentur.


A Man Should Not Write Like This of His Home

H.D.F. Kitto (1897-1982), The Greeks (1951; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 35:
Hesiod himself had no great love for the climate of his native spot, and, as we have so far given the Greek climate high marks, it is only fair that so distinguished an authority should be heard on the other side. Hesiod disliked the sweltering heat of summer, and he hated the winter – 'the month of Lenaeon, evil days, cattle-flaying days, when the frosts that appear for men’s sorrow cover the earth as the breath of the north-easter from Thrace bloweth on the wide sea and stirreth it, and earth and wood bellow aloud. Many an oak of lofty foliage and many a stout pine in the mountain glens doth his onset bring low to the bounteous earth, and all the unnumbered forest crieth aloud, and the wild beasts shudder and set their tails between their legs, even they whose hide is covered with hair. Yea, even through these, shaggy-breasted though they are, he bloweth with chill breath. Through the hide of the ox he bloweth, and it stayeth him not, and through the thin-haired goat: but nowise through the sheep doth the might of Boreas blow, because of their abundant wool. But he maketh the old man bent.' Of the eight winds Hesiod hated four. The others 'are of the race of gods, a great boon to mortal men. But these are random winds, blowing fitfully on the sea; they fall on the misty deep, a great bane to mortal men, and rage with evil tempest. Different at different times they blow, and scatter ships and destroy sailors. And there is no defence against woe for men who meet those winds upon the deep. And those again over the infinite flowery earth destroy the pleasant works of men, filling them with dust and grievous turmoil.'1

But Hesiod was a farmer, and a Boeotian, 'of Ascra, a sorry place near Helicon; bad in winter, hard in summer, never good' – and a man should not write like this of his home, even though his father has come there from Asia Minor, and no doubt told Hesiod times without number how much better it had been in Asia.

1. Transl. A.W. Mair.
The excerpts are from Works and Days 504-518, Theogony 871-880, and Works and Days 639-640.

Hat tip: Daniel Orazio.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Wrong Road

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journal LM, p. 51, in The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. X (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 312:
What wrong road have we taken that all the improvements of machinery have helped every body but the operative? him they have incurably hurt.
An operative is a factory worker.


No Hands

Plutarch, Sayings of Spartan Women = Moralia 240 E (said by Gorgo, daughter of king Cleomenes, about Aristagoras of Miletus; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
When she had watched Aristagoras having his shoes put on and laced by one of the servants, she said, "Father, the foreigner hasn't any hands!"

τὸν δ᾽ Ἀρισταγόραν ὑπό τινος τῶν οἰκετῶν ὑποδούμενον θεασαμένη, 'πάτερ,' ἔφη, 'ὁ ξένος χεῖρας οὐκ ἔχει.'
Diogenes Laertius, 6.2.44 (said by Diogenes the Cynic; tr. R.D. Hicks):
Hence to a man whose shoes were being put on by his servant, he said, "You have not attained to full felicity, unless he wipes your nose as well; and that will come, when you have lost the use of your hands."

ὅθεν πρὸς τὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ οἰκέτου ὑποδούμενον, 'οὔπω,' εἶπε, 'μακάριος εἶ, ἂν μή σε καὶ ἀπομύξῃ· τοῦτο δ᾽ ἔσται πηρωθέντι σοι τὰς χεῖρας.'
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 29.8.19 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
We walk with the feet of others, we recognise our acquaintances with the eyes of others, rely on others' memories to make our salutations, and put into the hands of others our very lives; the precious things of nature, which support life, we have quite lost. We have nothing else of our own save our luxuries.

alienis pedibus ambulamus, alienis oculis agnoscimus, aliena memoria salutamus, aliena et vivimus opera, perieruntque rerum naturae pretia et vitae argumenta. nihil aliud pro nostro habemus quam delicias.



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), "Gesellschaft," tr. David Luke:
A quiet scholar once left a large party and went home. He was asked: 'How did you like it?' 'If they were books,' he said. 'I should not read them.'
The same, tr. John Frederick Nims:
Once, at a party, a taciturn prof
Met hordes of new people, but soon hurried off.
When asked how he liked them, their manners, their looks,
Said, "I wouldn't read them, if they had been books."
In German:
Aus einer großen Gesellschaft heraus
Ging einst ein stiller Gelehrter zu Haus.
Man fragte: Wie seid Ihr zufrieden gewesen?
»Wären's Bücher,« sagt' er, »ich würd' sie nicht lesen.«

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Preach Not to Me Your Musty Rules

John Dalton (1709-1763), Comus: A Masque. (Now Adapted to the Stage) as Alter'd from Milton's Masque (London: A. Millar, 1762), p. 51 ("Euphrosyne sings"):
Preach not to me your musty rules,
  Ye drones that mould in idle cell;
The heart is wiser than the schools,
  The senses always reason well.

If short my span, I less can spare
  To pass a single pleasure by;
An hour is long, if lost in care;
  They only live, who life enjoy.


How to Calm Anxiety

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 28.5.25 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
Some people, to calm mental anxiety, carry saliva with the finger to behind the ear.

alius saliva post aurem digito relata sollicitudinem animi propitiat.
See Frank W. Nicolson, "The Saliva Superstition in Classical Literature," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 8 (1897) 23-40 (this remedy on p. 33).


The Millennium

[St. John Lucas (1879–1934),] The Last Arcadian, and Other Papers (London: Leonard Smithers & Co., 1899), pp. 54-56:
To the country-nurtured, this steady advance of the outskirts of cities seems nothing better than matricide. Will it ever cease, or will the whole country be urbanized,—worse still, suburbanized,—in a century or two? Surely, before that happens, in life, as in literature an hundred years ago, a romantic revival shall take place. Some new Wordsworth, greater in action than he of Rydal, shall arise. A Coleridge, whose zeal on Nature's behalf shall never flag, shall move the nation to the love of simplicity and botany. Then shall their armies march on London, armed with ploughshares and—for the time of pruning-hooks is not yet—packets of seed. Clematis shall hide the shame of the National Gallery, and Virginia-creeper shall make the Nelson Column to blush in its embrace. No cottage more than one storey high shall be built in London. No loom shall be worked but by hand in Manchester. Nothing shall stand in Oxford and Cambridge save the Colleges, such Churches as may have the good fortune to pass a severe physical examination, and perhaps the shops of the tobacconists. Corn shall grow on the Aston Villa football ground at Birmingham, and the Thames shall be navigated by hollowed-out tree-trunks only. Brighton shall disappear. Hastings shall be swept away. Llandudo shall perish utterly. Anybody not putting garden-seats on railway-lines will be fined heavily for each offence. Anybody who possesses an income of £1,000 a year will be liable to a fine of £990; and this rule will, in proportion, apply to all incomes greater than my own. The coins thus accumulated will be kept as playthings for the erstwhile plutocrats, who will inhabit the lunatic asylums. The penal establishments will still be used as hotels for the incorrigibly idle; latch-keys, however, will be provided for the inmates. All shady company-promoters and directors will be allotted to their shareholders, each of whom will be provided with a specially-sharpened knife. All philologists will be boiled. Thus shall the true Millenium [sic] arrive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The British Museum

St. John Lucas (1879–1934), "Villanelle of the British Museum," Poems (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., Ltd., 1904), pp. 37-38:
O gods who crowned the Parthenon
Of Pheidias and Pericles,
How is your ancient glory gone!

Our blinkard antiquaries con
Your grand Panathenaic frieze,
O Gods who crowned the Parthenon!

The cultured maid, the painful Don,
Unblasted, mete your nose and knees.
How is your ancient glory gone!

In troops of twenty gaze thereon
Folk nasal-voiced from over-seas,
O Gods who crowned the Parthenon!

The yawning girl-school eddies on;
The lovers giggle gallantries.
How is your ancient glory gone!

Barbarians fell at Marathon;
Have you no bolts for such as these?
O Gods who crowned the Parthenon,
How is your ancient glory gone!


In the Looking-Glass

St. John Lucas (1879-1934), "The Pessimist," in The Book of the Horace Club, 1898-1901 (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1901), p. 89:
'The world's a nest of nincompoops,' he said;
  'Only a hermit can avoid the Ass,
The Pedant, and the Prig.' Straight home he fled
  And barred the door. When lo! a looking-glass.


Love of Country

Sebastian de Grazia (1917-2001), Machiavelli in Hell (1989; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1994), p. 156:
And in one of his last letters, Niccolò exclaims to his old friend Vettori: "I love my country more than my soul." Certainly this declaration can and does mean willingness to suffer anything for one's country—shame, torture, mistreatment, dishonor, exile. It can and does mean willingness to lie, cheat, and kill, to do evil for one's country, thereby forfeiting one's soul. It can and does mean dying for one's country and—if necessary—going to hell for her.
Note on p. 420:
amo la patria mia più dell'anima (L to Francesco Vettori, April 16, 1527: 5.505)

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Aids to Understanding

Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), "A prologe ... Unto the Christen reader," in Biblia. The Byble, that is, the holy Scrypture of the Olde and New Testament, faithfully translated in to Englyshe (Southwark: J. Nycolson, 1535):
Agayne, it shall greately helpe ye to understonde scripture, yf thou marke not onely what is spoken or wrytten, but of whom, & unto whom, with what wordes, at what tyme where, to what intent, with what circumstaunce, consyderynge what goeth before, and what foloweth after.


Quintessence of Dust

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2.297-312 (ed. Harold Jenkins in the Arden Shakespeare):
I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appeareth nothing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.


A Saying of St. Bernard

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), On Consideration 1.10.13 (tr. George Lewis):
Where all are filthy, the stench of one is hardly noticed.

ubi omnes sordent, unius fetor minime sentitur.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


The Romance of Business

Hector Hugh Munro, aka Saki (1870-1916), "Clovis On The Alleged Romance Of Business":
'It is the fashion nowadays,' said Clovis, 'to talk about the romance of Business. There isn't such a thing. The romance has all been the other way, with the idle apprentice, the truant, the run-away, the individual who couldn't be bothered with figures and book-keeping and left business to look after itself. I admit that a grocer's shop is one of the most romantic and thrilling things I have ever happened upon, but the romance and thrill are centred in the groceries, not the grocer. The citron and spices and nuts and dates, the barrelled anchovies and Dutch cheeses, the jars of caviar and the chests of tea, they carry the mind away to Levantine coast towns and tropic shores, to the Old World wharfs and quays of the Low Countries, to dusty Astrachan and far Cathay; if the grocer's apprentice has any romance in him it is not a business education he gets behind the grocer's counter, it is a standing invitation to dream and to wander, and to remain poor. As a child such places as South America and Asia Minor were brought painstakingly under my notice, the names of their principal rivers and the heights of their chief mountain peaks were committed to my memory. and I was earnestly enjoined to consider them as parts of the world that I lived in; it was only when I visited a large well-stocked grocer's shop that I realized that they certainly existed. Such galleries of romance and fascination are not bequeathed to us by the business man; he is only the dull custodian, who talks glibly of Spanish olives and Rangoon rice, a Spain that he has never known or wished to know, a Rangoon that he has never imagined or could imagine. It was the unledgered wanderer, the careless-hearted seafarer, the aimless outcast, who opened up new trade routes, tapped new markets, brought home samples or cargoes of new edibles and unknown condiments. It was they who brought the glamour and romance to the threshold of business life, where it was promptly reduced to pounds, shillings and pence; invoiced, double-entried, quoted, written off, and so forth; most of these terms are probably wrong, but a little inaccuracy sometimes serves tons of explanation.

'On the other side of the account there is the industrious apprentice, who grew up into the business man, married early and worked late, and lived, thousands and thousands of him, in little villas outside big towns. He is buried by the thousand in Kensal Green and other large cemeteries; any romance that was ever in him was buried prematurely in shop and warehouse and office. Whenever I feel in the least tempted to be business-like or methodical or even decently industrious I go to Kensal Green and look at the graves of those who died in business.'



Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Daybreak (Morgenröthe), III.173 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
In the glorification of 'work', in the unwearied talk of the 'blessings of work', I see the same covert ideas as in the praise of useful impersonal actions: that of fear of everything individual. Fundamentally, one now feels at the sight of work — one always means by work that hard industriousness from early till late — that such work is the best policeman, that it keeps everyone in bounds and can mightily hinder the development of reason, covetousness, desire for independence. For it uses up an extraordinary amount of nervous energy, which is thus denied to reflection, brooding, dreaming, worrying, loving, hating; it sets a small goal always in sight and guarantees easy and regular satisfactions. Thus a society in which there is continual hard work will have more security: and security is now worshipped as the supreme divinity.

Bei der Verherrlichung der "Arbeit," bei dem unermüdlichen Reden vom "Segen der Arbeit" sehe ich den selben Hintergedanken, wie bei dem Lobe der gemeinnützigen unpersönlichen Handlungen: den der Furcht vor allem Individuellen. Im Grunde fühlt man jetzt, beim Anblick der Arbeit — man meint immer dabei jene harte Arbeitsamkeit von früh bis spät —, dass eine solche Arbeit die beste Polizei ist, dass sie jeden im Zaume hält und die Entwickelung der Vernunft, der Begehrlichkeit, des Unabhängigkeitsgelüstes kräftig zu hindern versteht. Denn sie verbraucht ausserordentlich viel Nervenkraft und entzieht dieselbe dem Nachdenken, Grübeln, Träumen, Sorgen, Lieben, Hassen, sie stellt ein kleines Ziel immer in's Auge und gewährt leichte und regelmässige Befriedigungen. So wird eine Gesellschaft, in welcher fortwährend hart gearbeitet wird, mehr Sicherheit haben: und die Sicherheit betet man jetzt als die oberste Gottheit an.



Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journal E, p. 370, in The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. VII (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 483:
There are men who always seem to hold marked cards in their hand. Prices fall or rise, markets may change or not, they are always holders of the game, & winners.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Tobacco and the Bible

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), The Way of All Flesh, chapter L:
Tobacco had nowhere been forbidden in the Bible, but then it had not yet been discovered, and had probably only escaped proscription for this reason. We can conceive of St. Paul or even our Lord Himself as drinking a cup of tea, but we cannot imagine either of them as smoking a cigarette or a churchwarden. Ernest could not deny this, and admitted that Paul would almost certainly have condemned tobacco in good round terms if he had known of its existence. Was it not then taking rather a mean advantage of the Apostle to stand on his not having actually forbidden it? On the other hand, it was possible that God knew Paul would have forbidden smoking, and had purposely arranged the discovery of tobacco for a period at which Paul should be no longer living. This might seem rather hard on Paul, considering all he had done for Christianity, but it would be made up to him in other ways.
Martin Gardner (1914-2010), The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1985), p. 187:
Dr. Matrix professes to find a defense of cigarette smoking in "Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel" (Gen. 24:64).


The Encyclopaedia

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Books for the Journey," Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; rpt. 1948), pp. 63-71 (at 70-71):
A stray volume of the Encyclopaedia is like the mind of a learned madman—stored with correct ideas, between which, however, there is no other connection than the fact that there is a B in both; from orach, or mountain spinach, one passes directly to oracles. That one does not oneself go mad, or become, in the process of reading the Encyclopaedia, a mine of useless and unrelated knowledge is due to the fact that one forgets. The mind has a vast capacity for oblivion. Providentially; otherwise, in the chaos of futile memories, it would be impossible to remember anything useful or coherent. In practice, we work with generalizations, abstracted out of the turmoil of realities. If we remembered everything perfectly, we should never be able to generalize at all, for there would appear before our minds nothing but individual images, precise and different. Without ignorance we could not generalize. Let us thank Heaven for our powers of forgetting. With regard to the Encyclopaedia they are enormous. The mind only remembers that of which it has some need. Five minutes after reading about mountain spinach, the ordinary man, who is neither a botanist nor a cook, has forgotten all about it. Read for amusement, the Encyclopaedia serves only to distract for the moment; it does not instruct, it deposits nothing on the surface of the mind that will remain. It is a mere time-killer and momentary tickler of the mind.


Objections to Machinery

Arthur Waley (1889-1966), Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939; rpt. Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 69-70:
The Taoists objected to machinery. There are of course many grounds upon which labour-saving devices may be condemned. The common modern objection is that they cause unemployment; but religious leaders (Gandhi, for example) reject them on the ground that they have a degrading effect on those who use them. The Taoist objection was of the latter kind:
Tzu-kung, the disciple of Confucius, after travelling to Ch'u in the south, came back by way of Chin. When he was passing through Han-yin he saw an old man who was engaged in irrigating his vegetable plots. The way this old man did it was to let himself down into the well-pit by footholes cut in the side and emerge clasping a pitcher which he carefully emptied into a channel, thus expending a great deal of energy with very small results.

'There exists,' Tzu-kung said to him, 'a contrivance with which one can irrigate a hundred vegetable plots in a single day. Unlike what you are doing, it demands a very small expenditure of energy but produces very great results. Would you not like me to tell you about it?' The gardener raised his head and gazed at Tzu-kung. 'What is it like?' he asked. 'It is an instrument carved out of wood,' said Tzu-kung, 'heavy behind and light in front. It scoops up the water like a bale, as quickly as one drains a bath-tub. Its name is the well-sweep.' A look of indignation came into the gardener's face. He laughed scornfully, saying, 'I used to be told by my teacher that where there are cunning contrivances there will be cunning performances, and where there are cunning performances there will be cunning hearts. He in whose breast a cunning heart lies has blurred the pristine purity of his nature; he who has blurred the pristine purity of his nature has troubled the quiet of his soul, and with one who has troubled the quiet of his soul Tao will not dwell. It is not that I do not know about this invention, but that I should be ashamed to use it.'
This is from Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi), chapter 12.


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 96

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 95-98 (Creon speaking to Oedipus; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I will tell you what I heard from the god. The lord Phoebus orders us plainly to drive out from the land a pollution, one that has been nourished in this country, and not to nourish it till it cannot be cured.
The translation is from the Loeb edition of Sophocles, Ajax. Electra. Oedipus Tyrannus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 335. But look at the Greek text on the preceding page:
λέγοιμ᾽ ἂν οἷ᾽ ἤκουσα τοῦ θεοῦ πάρα.
ἄνωγεν ἡμᾶς Φοῖβος ἐμφανῶς, ἄναξ,
μίασμα χώρας, ὡς τεθραμμένον χθονὶ
ἐν τῇδ᾽, ἐλαύνειν μηδ᾽ ἀνήκεστον τρέφειν.
By separating ἄναξ from the rest of the sentence with commas, Lloyd-Jones seems to suggest that it should be parsed as a vocative, not as a nominative in apposition with Φοῖβος. If the translation is to match the text, it should read:
Phoebus, o lord, orders us plainly...
Or, if the text is to match the translation, the commas on either side of ἄναξ should be removed. Cf. 80 ὦναξ Ἄπολλον (spoken by Oedipus) and 103 ὦναξ (Creon to Oedipus).

For vocatives with or without , see the summary by Eleanor Dickey in Egbert J. Bakker, ed., A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 335. See also the entries for ἄναξ in Wilhelm Dindorf, Lexicon Sophocleum (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1870), pp. 35-36, and Friedrich Ellendt, Lexicon Sophocleum, rev. Hermann Genthe (Berlin: Borntraeger, 1872), p. 55.


Ever Green

George Peele (1556-1596), "A Sonet," lines 1-6, Polyhymnia (London: Richard Ihones, 1590), last page:
His Golden lockes, Time hath to Siluer turn'd,
  O Time too swift, ô Swiftnesse neuer ceasing:
His Youth gainst Time and Age hath euer spurn'd
But spurn'd in vain, Youth waineth by increasing.
  Beauty Strength, Youth, are flowers, but fading seen,
  Dutie, Faith, Loue are roots, and euer greene.


Students of Words

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), "New England Reformers," Essays: Second Series (Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1844), pp. 275-313 (at 282):
We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an edible root in the woods, we cannot tell our course by the stars, nor the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We are afraid of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The Roman rule was to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing. The old English rule was, 'All summer in the field, and all winter in the study.' And it seems as if a man should learn to plant, or to fish, or to hunt, that he might secure his subsistence at all events, and not be painful to his friends and fellow men.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


La Rochefoucauld

Michael Hendry, "La Rochefoucauld at 400," introduces a Sortes Rochefoucauldianae feature on his interesting new web site Qvot Lectores Tot Propertii.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) has this to say about La Rochefoucauld in his essay "Books for the Journey," Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; rpt. 1948), pp. 63-71 (at 65-67):
Equally well adapted, with poetry, to the traveller's need, are collections of aphorisms or maxims. If they are good—and they must be very good indeed; for there is nothing more dismal than a Great Thought enunciated by an author who has not himself the elements of greatness—maxims make the best of all reading. They take a minute to read and provide matter upon which thought can ruminate for hours. None are to be preferred to La Rochefoucauld's. Myself, I always reserve my upper left-hand waist-coat pocket for a small sexto-decimo reprint of the Maximes. It is a book to which there is no bottom or end. For with every month that one lives, with every accession to one's knowledge, both of oneself and of others, it means something more. For La Rochefoucauld knew almost everything about the human soul, so that practically every discovery one can make oneself, as one advances through life, has been anticipated by him and formulated in the briefest and most elegant phrases. I say advisedly that La Rochefoucauld knew almost everything about the human soul; for it is obvious that he did not know all. He knew everything about the souls of human beings in so far as they are social animals.

Of the soul of man in solitude—of man when he is no more interested in the social pleasures and successes which were, to La Rochefoucauld, so all-important—he knows little or nothing. If we desire to know something about the human soul in solitude—in its relations, not to man, but to God—we must go elsewhere: to the Gospels, to the novels of Dostoievsky, for example. But man in his social relationships has never been more accurately described, and his motives never more delicately analysed than by La Rochefoucauld. The aphorisms vary considerably in value; but the best of them—and their number is surprisingly large—are astonishingly profound and pregnant. They resume a vast experience. In a sentence La Rochefoucauld compresses as much material as would serve a novelist for a long story, Conversely, it would not surprise me to learn that many novelists turn to the Maximes for suggestions for plots and characters. It is impossible, for example, to read Proust without being reminded of the Maximes, or the Maximes without being reminded of Proust. 'Le plaisir de l'amour est d'aimer, et l'on est plus heureux par la passion que l'on a que par celle que l'on donne.' 'Il y a des gens si remplis d'eux-mêmes, que, lorsqu'ils sont amoureux, ils trouvent moyen d'être occupés de leur passion sans l'être de la personne qu'ils aiment.' What are all the love stories in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu but enormous amplifications of these aphorisms? Proust is La Rochefoucauld magnified ten thousand times.
I don't have access to Huxley's Along the Road. Thanks to Eric Thomson for sending me a transcription of the essay "Books for the Journey."


Knowledge of Several Languages

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 88 (Z 94-95; footnote omitted):
Knowing several languages affords some greater facility and clarity in the way we formulate our thoughts, for it is through language that we [95] think. Now, perhaps no language has enough words and phrases to correspond to and express all the infinite subtleties of thought. The knowledge of several languages and the ability, therefore, to express in one language what cannot be said in another, or cannot at least be expressed so succinctly or concisely, or which we cannot find as quickly in another language, makes it easier for us to articulate our thoughts and to understand ourselves, and to apply the word to the idea, which, without that application, would remain confused in our mind. Having found the word in whatever language, since we understand its meaning, which is clear and already known through other people's usage, our idea becomes clear and settled and consistent and remains fixed and well-defined in our mind, and firmly determined and circumscribed. I have experienced this on many occasions, and it can be seen in these same thoughts, written with the flow of the pen, where I have fixed my ideas with Greek, French, Latin words, according to how for me they responded more precisely to the thing, and came most quickly to mind. For an idea without a word or a way to express it is lost to us, or roams about undefined in our thoughts, and is imperfectly understood by we who have conceived it. With the word, it takes on body and almost visible, tangible, and distinct form.

Il posseder più lingue dona una certa maggior facilità e chiarezza di pensare seco stesso, perchè noi [95] pensiamo parlando. Ora nessuna lingua ha forse tante parole e modi da corrispondere ed esprimere tutti gl'infiniti particolari del pensiero. Il posseder più lingue e il potere perciò esprimere in una quello che non si può in un'altra, o almeno così acconciamente, o brevemente, o che non ci viene così tosto trovato da esprimere in un'altra lingua, ci dà una maggior facilità di spiegarci seco noi e d’intenderci noi medesimi, applicando la parola all’idea che senza questa applicazione rimarrebbe molto confusa nella nostra mente. Trovata la parola in qualunque lingua, siccome ne sappiamo il significato chiaro e già noto per l'uso altrui, così la nostra idea ne prende chiarezza e stabilità e consistenza e ci rimane ben definita e fissa nella mente, e ben determinata e circoscritta. Cosa ch'io ho provato molte volte, e si vede in questi stessi pensieri scritti a penna corrente, dove ho fissato le mie idee con parole greche francesi latine, secondo che mi rispondevano più precisamente alla cosa, e mi venivano più presto trovate. Perchè un'idea senza parola o modo di esprimerla, ci sfugge, o ci erra nel pensiero come indefinita e mal nota a noi medesimi che l'abbiamo concepita. Colla parola prende corpo, e quasi forma visibile, e sensibile, e circoscritta.


Thick Tomes

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Books for the Journey," Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; rpt. 1948), pp. 63-71 (at 63-64):
All tourists cherish an illusion, of which no amount of experience can ever completely cure them; they imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading. They see themselves, at the end of a day's sight-seeing or motoring, or while they are sitting in the train, studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, they never find time to read. They start for a fortnight's tour in France, taking with them The Critique of Pure Reason, Appearance and Reality, the complete works of Dante and the Golden Bough. They come home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter of the Golden Bough and the first fifty-two lines of the Inferno. But that does not prevent them from taking just as many books the next time they set out on their travels.

Long experience has taught me to reduce in some slight measure the dimensions of my travelling library. But even now I am far too optimistic about my powers of reading while on a journey. Along with the books which I know it is possible to read, I still continue to put in a few impossible volumes in the pious hope that some day, somehow, they will get read. Thick tomes have travelled with me for thousands of kilometres across the face of Europe and have returned with their secrets unviolated. But whereas in the past I took nothing but thick tomes, and a great quantity of them at that, I now take only one or two and for the rest pack only the sort of books which I know by experience can be read in a hotel bedroom after a day's sight-seeing.

Vittorio Matteo Corcos (1859-1933), La lettura sul mare

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 64 (Z 58):
From Homer onward everything got better, except poetry.

Tutto si è perfezionato da Omero in poi, ma non la poesia.
I'm very grateful to the generous friend who gave me the new English translation of Leopardi's Zibaldone, all lxxxvi + 2502 pages, beautifully printed on India paper. It's a gift I will always cherish.


Burial Wishes of Samuel Butler

Henry Festing Jones (1851-1928), "Sketch of the Life of Samuel Butler" in Samuel Butler, Selected Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927), pp. 13-58 (at 58):
Epitaphs always fascinated him, and formerly he used to say he should like to be buried at Langar and to have on his tombstone the subject of Handel's Six Great Fugues. He called this 'The Old Man's Fugue,' and said it was like an epitaph composed for himself by one who was very old and tired and sorry for things; and he made young Ernest Pontifex in The Way of All Flesh offer it to Edward Overton as an epitaph for his Aunt Alethea. Butler, however, left off wanting any tombstone. In accordance with his wish his body was cremated, and a week later Alfred and I returned to Woking and buried his ashes under the shrubs in the garden of the crematorium, with nothing to mark the spot.
Cf. Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter XXXVI:
Entering the churchyard and standing in the twilight of a gusty cloudy evening on the spot close beside old Mrs. Pontifex's grave which I had chosen for Alethea's, I thought of the many times that she, who would lie there henceforth, and I, who must surely lie one day in some such another place though when and where I knew not, had romped over this very spot as childish lovers together.

Next morning I followed her to the grave, and in due course set up a plain upright slab to her memory as like as might be to those over the graves of her grandmother and grandfather. I gave the dates and places of her birth and death, but added nothing except that this stone was set up by one who had known and loved her. Knowing how fond she had been of music I had been half inclined at one time to inscribe a few bars of music, if I could find any which seemed suitable to her character, but I knew how much she would have disliked anything singular in connection with her tombstone and did not do it.

Before, however, I had come to this conclusion, I had thought that Ernest might be able to help me to the right thing, and had written to him upon the subject. The following is the answer I received:

"DEAR GODPAPA, I send you the best bit I can think of; it is the subject of the last of Handel's six grand fugues and goes thus:
It would do better for a man, especially for an old man who was very sorry for things, than for a woman, but I cannot think of anything better; if you do not like it for Aunt Alethea I shall keep it for myself. Your affectionate Godson,
                                                                                      ERNEST PONTIFEX."
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts:


Death's Sad Memento

Philip Ayres (1638-1712), "A Sonnet. Out of Spanish, from Don Luis de Gongora. On a Death's-Head, covered with Cobwebs, kept in a Library, and said to be the Scull of a King," in his Lyric Poems, Made in Imitation of the Italians. Of which, many are Translations From other Languages (London: Printed by J.M. for Jos. Knight and F. Saunders, 1687), p. 126:
This Mortal Spoil which so neglected lies,
  Death's sad Memento, now where Spiders weave
  Their Subtil Webs, which Innocence deceive,
Whose Strength to break their Toyls cannot suffice:

Saw it self Crown’d, it self Triumphant saw,
  With Mighty Deeds proclaiming its Renown;
  Its Smiles were Favours, Terrour was its Frown,
The World of its Displeasure stood in Awe.

Where Pride ordaining Laws did once preside,
Which Land should Peace enjoy, which Wars abide,
  There boldly now these little Insects nest;

Then raise not, Kings, your Haughty Plumes so high,
For in Death’s cold Embraces when you lye,
  Your Bones with those of common Subjects rest.
The Spanish is not by Gongora but by Diego de Saavedra Fajardo (1584-1648), "Ludibria Mortis," in his Idea de un Principe Politico Christiano (Milan, 1642), p. 753:
Este mortal despojo, ò Caminante,
  Triste horror de la Muerte, en quien la Araña
  Hilos anuda, i la Inocencia engaña,
  Que à romper lo sutil, no fuè bastante.

Coronado se viò, se viò triunfante
  Con los trofeos de vna, i otra hazaña,
  Fabor su risa fuè, terror su saña,
  Atento el Orbe à su Real semblante.

Donde antes la Sobervia, dando leyes
  A la Paz, i à la Guerra, presidía,
  Se prenden oi los viles animales.

Que os arrogáis ò Príncipes, ò Reyes?
  Si en los vltrajes de la Muerte fria
  Conmunes sois con los demas Mortales.

Monday, September 16, 2013


An Uncompanionable, Disagreeable Person

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), The Way of All Flesh, chapter XIX:
Homer tells us about some one who made it his business αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων—always to excel and to stand higher than other people. What an uncompanionable, disagreeable person he must have been! Homer's heroes generally came to a bad end, and I doubt not that this gentleman, whoever he was, did so sooner or later.
I'm re-reading The Way of All Flesh in the Perennial Classic paperback edition (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965), which I bought long ago new for 50 cents. In this edition, the Greek αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν is misprinted as αἴεν ἀρωτεύειν (p. 82). The line occurs twice in the Iliad, at 6.208 and 11.784.



Sweet Content

Brian Fairfax (1633-1711), "Ego Sorte Mea Contentus," in The Fairfax Correspondence. Memoirs of the Reign of Charles the First, ed. George W. Johnson, Vol. I (London: Richard Bentley, 1848), pp. cxxi-cxxii (line numbers added):
Sweet Content, where dost thou dwell?
In prince's court, or hermit's cell?
In the country, or the town?
Dost thou wear a sword or gown?
Art thou rich, or art thou poor?        5
This I know, thou need'st no more.
Stands a porter at thy gate,
Where the men of business wait?
Who from thy levee date the day,
Not from Aurora's golden ray.        10

I have sought thee far and near;
Thou like my shadow dost appear:
Why so cruel, so unkind,
Still before me or behind?

Sweet Content, O dwell with me,        15
A virtuous wife shall welcome thee;
Not in a palace or a cell,
Where neither wealth nor want doth dwell.
Three olive plants, from Heaven sent,
(As guardian angels innocent)        20
Support our cruse; 'tis open ever,
Though seldom full, tis empty never.
A conscience pure's our constant guest,
This is our continual feast.
19-24: cf. 1 Kings 17.10-16:
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.

12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.

14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.

15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.

16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.


Our Most Obvious Business

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), The Way of All Flesh, chapter XIX:
Being in this world is it not our most obvious business to make the most of it—to observe what things do bona fide tend to long life and comfort, and to act accordingly? All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it—and they do enjoy it as much as man and other circumstances will allow. He has spent his life best who has enjoyed it most; God will take care that we do not enjoy it any more than is good for us.


The One Percent

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), "The Gutting of Couffignal" (1925):
The higher these roads get, the farther apart and larger are the houses they lead to. The occupants of these higher houses are the owners and rulers of the island. Most of them are well-fed old gentlemen who, the profits they took from the world with both hands in their younger days now stowed away at safe percentages, have bought into the island colony so they may spend what's left of their lives nursing their livers and improving their golf among their kind. They admit to the island only as many storekeepers, working-people, and similar riffraff as are needed to keep them comfortably served.
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Youth versus Old Age

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), The Way of All Flesh, chapter VI:
Some satirists have complained of life inasmuch as all the pleasures belong to the fore part of it and we must see them dwindle till we are left, it may be, with the miseries of a decrepit old age.

To me it seems that youth is like spring, an overpraised season—delightful if it happen to be a favoured one, but in practice very rarely favoured and more remarkable, as a general rule, for biting east winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. Fontenelle at the age of ninety, being asked what was the happiest time of his life, said he did not know that he had ever been much happier than he then was, but that perhaps his best years had been those when he was between fifty-five and seventy-five, and Dr. Johnson placed the pleasures of old age far higher than those of youth. True, in old age we live under the shadow of Death, which, like a sword of Damocles, may descend at any moment, but we have so long found life to be an affair of being rather frightened than hurt that we have become like the people who live under Vesuvius, and chance it without much misgiving.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), Oeuvres complètes, T. II (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1853), p. 238:
Quelqu'un demandait au philosophe Fontenelle, âgé de quatre-vingt quinze ans, quelles étaient les vingt annees de sa vie qu'il regrettait le plus; répondit qu'il regrettait peu de chose, que neanmoins l'âge où il avait été le plus heureux était de cinquante-cinq à soixante-quinze ans; il fit cet aveu de bonne foi, et il prouva son dire par des vérités sensibles et consolantes. A cinquante-cinq ans la fortune est établie, la reputation faite, la consideration obtenue, l'état de la vie fixe, les prétentions évanouies ou remplies, les projets avortés ou mûris, la plupart des passions calmées ou du moins refroidies, la carrière à peu près remplie pour les travaux que chaque homme doit à la société, moins d'ennemis ou plutôt moins d'envieux nuisibles, parce que le contre-poids du mérite est connu par la voix du public; tout concourt dans le moral à l'avantage de l'âge, jusqu'au temps où les infirmités et les autres maux physiques viennent à troubler la jouissance tranquille et douce de ces biens acquis par la sagesse, qui seuls peuvent faire notre bonheur.
Related posts:


We are Born Inside a Language

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), "Real People in a Real Place," Towards the Human: Selected Essays (Edinburgh: Macdonald Publishers, 1986), pp. 13-70 (at 20):
For if there is no Gaelic left, will not the islander live in a disappearing landscape, as an Englishman would if his language were slowly to die?....If the islander were to speak English and still inhabit the island which he does in fact inhabit, what would he be then but an unreal person in an unreal place? If he were to wake one morning and look around him and see "hill" and not "cnoc", would he not be an expatriate of his own land? What if an Englishman were to waken one morning and see that "tree" had been transformed to "arbre"? He would have the psychology of the exile who on landing in Nova Scotia were to see a Red Indian and hear his strange language which he would be unable to understand. For we are born inside a language and see everything from within its parameters: it is not we who make language, it is language that makes us.


O That School Where We Were Young

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), "Mr M.," New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd., 2011), p. 105:
O how Mr M.'s Latin gown
frothed after him like a boat in water.

Raised on grammar, he flushed from these woods
not pheasants but Aeneas and the rest

dressed in the supine and infinitive
ghosts of words, ghosts of innocence, language
beautiful, tough, persistent.

Caesar and the ablative absolute together
harrying barbarous tribes.
The Roman roads undeviating as
an arrow or a sword.

And the wooden desks cut with knives.
Names of children deep in knotted fields
buried like Roman legions.

These fought their own battles
in the lavatories of weeping stone.
Under the taps, inverted heads
sucked at their cold fountains.

And today the holiday planes
ferry them to Italy
on cheap excursions to effeminate
wine and flowering music.

O that school where we were young,
the order's broken. We visit its old stones,
dishonoured consuls visiting Hades
(green field and ponderous doors)

but there are only ghosts there now.
We clutch your ghostly gown like Orpheus
clutching at Eurydice while Pluto
giggles on iron coins.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Leisure versus Toil

Ovid, Epistulae Ex Ponto 1.4.21-22 (tr. Arthur Leslie Wheeler):
Leisure nourishes the body, the mind too feeds upon it, but excessive toil impairs both.

otia corpus alunt, animus quoque pascitur illis:
  inmodicus contra carpit utrumque labor.
See Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #1327, pp. 986-987.

Cf. Ovid, Epistulae Ex Ponto 1.5.5-6 (tr. Wheeler):
You see how inactivity spoils an idle body, how water acquires a taint unless it is in motion.

cernis ut ignavum corrumpant otia corpus,
  ut capiant vitium, ni moveantur, aquae.

Luke Fildes (1844-1927), Hours of Idleness

Related post: O Dulce Otium!


A Famous Good Thing for Us All

Jane Austen (1775-1819), Northanger Abbey, chapter IX (John Thorpe and Catherine Morland speaking):
"Lord help you! You women are always thinking of men's being in liquor. Why, you do not suppose a man is overset by a bottle? I am sure of this—that if everybody was to drink their bottle a day, there would not be half the disorders in the world there are now. It would be a famous good thing for us all."

"I cannot believe it."

"Oh! Lord, it would be the saving of thousands. There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom that there ought to be. Our foggy climate wants help."
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator, who has been reading Northanger Abbey aloud to me.


Considerations Against Dogmatizing, VI

Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680), Scepsis Scientifica: or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; in an Essay of the Vanity of Dogmatizing and Confident Opinion, ed. John Owen (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co, 1885), pp. 201-202 (from Chap. XXVII):
(6.) It betrays a poverty and narrowness of spirit, in the Dogmatical assertors. There are a set of Pedants that are born to slavery. But the more generous spirit preserves the liberty of his judgement, and will not pen it up in an Opinionative Dungeon; with an equal respect he examines all things, and judgeth as impartially as Rhadamanth: When as the Pedant can hear nothing but in favour of the conceits he is amorous of; and cannot see, but out of the grates of his prison; the determinations of the nobler Mind, are but temporary, and he holds them, but till better evidence repeal his former apprehensions. He won't defile his assent by prostituting it to every conjecture, or stuff his belief, with the luggage of uncertainties. The modesty of his expression renders him infallible; and while he only saith, he Thinks so, he cannot be deceiv'd, or ever assert a falshood. But the wise Monseur Charron hath fully discourst of this Universal liberty, and sav'd me the labour of enlarging. Upon the Review of my former considerations, I cannot quarrel with his Motto: in a sense Je ne scay, is a justifiable Scepticism, and not mis-becoming a Candidate of wisdom. Socrates in the judgement of the Oracle knew more than All men, who in his own knew the least of any.
Rhadamanth, i.e. Rhadamanthus: judge of the dead (Plato, Gorgias 524 A)
Je ne scay, i.e. Je ne sçay: I know not. Pierre Charron (1541-1603), De la Sagesse II.2: "J'ay fait graver sur la porte de ma petite maison que j'ay fait bastir à Condom, l'an 1600, ce mot, je ne sçay" (I had inscribed on the door of the little house which I had built at Condom in the year 1600 this motto: I know not).

Friday, September 13, 2013


Treatment for Angst

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), letter to Robert Wokler (July 10, 1972), in Building: Letters 1960-1975, edd. Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle (London: Chatto & Windus, 2013), pp. 498-499 (at 499):
You really are more eaten with angst than almost anyone I know, and usually — though there are plenty of reasons for this, no doubt — without serious cause; just a mass of basic apprehension seeking to settle upon some appropriate subject for worry. For such a state I take a small valium pill — or half a one — and read articles in some encyclopedia, one by one in alphabetical order, until my sense of reality is restored. This was a treatment recommended to me by Aldous Huxley, and in my case it works beautifully. I hope it will in yours.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Considerations Against Dogmatizing, V

Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680), Scepsis Scientifica: or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; in an Essay of the Vanity of Dogmatizing and Confident Opinion, ed. John Owen (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co, 1885), p. 201 (from Chap. XXVII):
(5.) Obstinacy in Opinions holds the Dogmatist in the chains of Error, without hope of emancipation. While we are confident of all things, we are fatally deceiv'd in most. He that assures himself he never erres, will always erre; and his presumptions will render all attempts to inform him, ineffective. We use not to seek further for what we think we are possesst of; and when falshood is without suspicion embrac't in the stead of truth, and with confidence retained: Verity will be rejected as a supposed Error, and irreconcilably be hated, because it opposeth what is truly so.

Thursday, September 12, 2013



F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), p. 21:
Thracians were indeed barbarians; they ate butter, which showed they were.
I.e. instead of olive oil, food of civilized men.

Waverley Root, The Food of France (1958; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p. 11:
The mention of fats brings us to another of the great dividing lines of cookery. We have noted that one boundary is drawn between the realms of two types of cereal—that of flour and that of rice. Rice is dominant, in general, in Asia and North Africa; flour is dominant in Europe. Within this cereal boundary, Europe (disregarding an Oriental infiltration in the southeastern corner) boasts three main schools of cooking, and this time the boundaries are marked in term of fats. The Continent is divided among the domains of butter, of lard, and of olive oil.
Related post: Barbarians, Butter, and Trousers.


I Too Am Called a Felled Tree

George Herbert (1593-1633), Memoriae Matris Sacrum. To the Memory of my Mother: A Consecrated Gift. A Critical Text, Translation, and Commentary. Edited by Catherine Freis, Richard Freis, and Greg Miller (Fairfield: George Herbert Journal, 2012), pp. 34-35 (Poem 11):
Dvm librata suis haeret radicibus ilex
    Nescia vulturnis cedere, firma manet.
Post vbi crudelem sentit diuisa securem,
    Quò placet oblato, mortua fertur, hero:
Arbor & ipse inuersa vocor: dúmque insitus almae        5
    Assideo Matri, robore vinco cedros.
Nunc sorti pateo, expositus sine matre procellis,
    Lubricus, & superans mobilitate salum,
Tu radix, tu petra mihi firmissima, Mater,
    Ceu Polypus, chelis saxa prehendo tenax:        10
Non tibi nunc soli filum abrupere sorores,
    Dissutus videor funere & ipse tuo.
Vnde vagans passim rectè vocer alter Vlysses,
    Alteráque haec tua mors Ilias esto mihi.

As long as, balanced, the live oak clings with its own roots
    Not knowing how to yield to the southeast winds, it stands firm.
When, later, it's split, it experiences the cruel ax, dead, it's borne
    Away to please the lord for whom it happens to be given:
As for me, I too am called a felled tree: as long as, grafted,
    I sit by my sustaining mother, I best the cedars in strength.
Now I lie open to my lot, exposed to blasts and sheers
    Without my mother, as unsteady and driven as the wide sea.
You, Mother, are the root, the firmest rock to me,
    Like a Polypus, I hold fast to the rocks with my claws:
You are not the only one whose thread the sisters have cut,
    I seem to have been unstitched myself by your death. Whence
Wandering from point to point let me be called another Ulysses,
    And let this, your death, be a second Iliad for me.
When I first read this poem, I understood Ilias in the last line as the proverbial Ilias malorum, an Iliad of troubles (Erasmus, Adagia I iii 26). The editors in their commentary, without mentioning the proverb, reject this interpretation (p. 134):
Herbert does not ask that his mother's death be another set of "sufferings at Ilium," but another "Iliad," the great poem about those grievous sufferings.
For passages in the Iliad in which Homer compares the death of men in battle with the felling of trees, see Some Homeric Similes.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.



Considerations Against Dogmatizing, IV

Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680), Scepsis Scientifica: or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; in an Essay of the Vanity of Dogmatizing and Confident Opinion, ed. John Owen (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co, 1885), pp. 200-201 (from Chap. XXVII):
(4.) To be confident in Opinions is ill manners and immodesty; and while we are peremptory in our perswasions, we accuse all of Ignorance and Error, that subscribe not our assertions. The Dogmatist gives the lye to all dissenting apprehenders, and proclaims his judgement fittest, to be the Intellectual Standard. This is that spirit of immorality, that saith unto dissenters, Stand off, I am more Orthodox then thou art: a vanity more capital than Error. And he that affirms that things must needs be as he apprehends them, implies that none can be right till they submit to his opinions, and take him for their director.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Behind the Times

B.L. Gildersleeve (1831-1924), "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 29 (1908) 368-380 (at 368), rpt. in Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1930), p. 166:
To be hopelessly behind the times means nothing more to me than the hopelessness of living until the pendulum swings back, until the whirligig comes round.


Like Baboons Let Loose in a Garden

H.J. Massingham (1888-1952), "Tongues in Trees", The Faith of a Fieldsman (London: Museum Press, 1951), pp. 250-252:
I wonder to what extent the country at large is aware of what is happening down in Somerset. Centralization has proceded so far and rapaciously in our time that local affairs rouse little or no interest outside their own boundaries, even (which is rare) when they are known. At any rate, a real hullabaloo is taking place in Somerset, and for this reason. Pursuing its customary methods, the Forestry Commission turned up on the Quantocks and, exactly like a foreign invading army, set about felling the hanging woodlands, so exceptionally fine in oak, which drape the flanks of this little range between Bridgewater and Exmoor. It must be one of the smallest in England. But it makes up for its diminutiveness by a wild prolificacy and fertility that stamps it, together with its delicate contours and bold headlands, as one of the most individual and interesting ranges among the hill-lands of western Europe. The Quantocks also, of course, were the scene of the earliest partnership between Wordsworth and Coleridge, of Dorothy Wordsworth's earliest Journals and it was from their association and the inspiration of the Quantock glens and tops and woodlands that the Lyrical Ballads of 1798 was begotten.

You can imagine with what derision this cultural reminder would be greeted by such a body as the Forest Commission, if indeed it has ever heard of Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, the issue has gone far beyond that of trying to defend places of historical or aesthetic memory in our land from the grasp of the barbarian despoiler. The people of Somerset themselves are up in arms. I have beside me a petition of the Whortleberry Pickers, who, "accustomed to pick and sell whortleberries as a regular part of our livelihood, protest against the attack on their hills, which "cannot fail to bring serious harm, and possibly ruin, to the 'worts' industry". I have another petition from the residents of Holford and District, who protest against the destruction of Hodders Combe. "This will destroy the whortleberries, prevent grazing, and the present wild animals, birds and flowers will vanish. Camping, rambling and walking will go." I think of Hodders Combe as I knew it only two years ago, its deer, its pied flycatchers, its sun-drenched glades, its senatorial oaks and beeches, their branches full of bright wings and voices. I have by me yet another petition with a list of signatories which includes the Bishop of Bath and Wells. To crown all, the Somerset County Council has submitted to the Ministry a Tree Preservation Order and through its efforts the devastation has been halted for a couple of months. But 2,000 acres have already been sacrificed to the conifer. The eroded wilderness will step into the place of the wild garden, like Macbeth into the royal seat of Duncan.

One of the most astonishing features of England's war against her own country is the reason given for waging it. Shortage of timber! When Nero butchered his mother and set Rome on fire, he was presumably acting on behalf of the Mothers' Union and the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. If a visitor to the Quantocks, ignorant of their fate, should suddenly come upon what he expected to be a woodland walk and actually was a hillside strewn with trunks like a battlefield, bulldozers tearing up the green paths and new roads in the making, what would be his reaction to the information that it was all because of the shortage of timber? I imagine that he would not "stay upon the order of his going but go at once". There is a passage in Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra—"when we in our viciousness grow hard, the wise gods seal our eyes". Yes, we commit these atrocities against our own country, we lay waste our heritage, we act like baboons let loose in a garden, because understanding has left us. We act like beasts of prey, because the godlike reason has deserted us.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Considerations Against Dogmatizing, III

Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680), Scepsis Scientifica: or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; in an Essay of the Vanity of Dogmatizing and Confident Opinion, ed. John Owen (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co, 1885), pp. 195-200 (from Chap. XXVII):
(3.) Dogmatizing is the great disturber both of our selves and the world without us: for while we wed an opinion, we resolvedly engage against every one that opposeth it. Thus every man, being in some of his opinionative apprehensions singular, must be at variance with all men. Now every opposition of our espous'd opinions furrows the sea within us, and discomposeth the minds serenity. And what happiness is there in a storm of passions? On this account the Skepticks affected an indifferent aequipondious neutrality as the only means to their Ataraxia, and freedom from passionate disturbances. Nor were they altogether mistaken in the way, to their design'd felicity, but came short on't, by going beyond it: for if there be a repose naturally attainable this side the Stars, there is no way we can more hopefully seek it in. We can never be at rest, while our quiet can be taken from us by every thwarting our opinions: nor is that content an happiness, which every one can rob us of. There is no felicity, but in a fixed stability. Nor can genuine constancy be built upon rowling foundations. 'Tis true staidness of mind, to look with an equal regard on all things; and this unmoved apathy in opinionative uncertainties, is a warrantable piece of Stoicism. Besides, this immodest obstinacy in opinions, hath made the world a Babel; and given birth to disorders, like those of the Chaos. The primitive fight of Elements doth fitly embleme that of Opinions, and those proverbial contrarieties may be reconcil'd, as soon as peremptory contenders. That hence grow Schisms, Heresies, and anomalies beyond Arithmetick, I could wish were more difficult to be proved. 'Twere happy for a distemper'd Church, if evidence were not so near us. 'Tis zeal for opinions that hath filled our Hemisphear with smoke and darkness, and by a dear experience we know the fury of those flames it hath kindled. 'Tis lamentable that homo homini Daemon, should be a Proverb among the Professors of the Cross; and yet I fear it is as verifiable among them, as of those without the pale of visible Christianity. I doubt we have lost S. John's sign of regeneration: By this we know that we are past from death to life, that we love one another, is I fear, to few a sign of their spiritual resurrection. If our Returning Lord, shall scarce find faith on earth, where will he look for Charity? It is a stranger this side the Region of love, and blessedness; bitter zeal for opinions hath consum'd it. Mutual agreement and indearments was the badge of Primitive Believers, but we may be known by the contrary criterion. The union of a Sect within it self, is a pitiful charity: it's no concord of Christians, but a conspiracy against Christ; and they that love one another, for their opinionative concurrencies, love for their own sakes, not their Lords: not because they have his image, but because they bear one anothers. What a stir is there for Mint, Anise, and Cummin controversies, while the great practical fundamentals are unstudyed, unobserved? What eagerness in the prosecution of disciplinarian uncertainties, when the love of God and our neighbour, those Evangelical unquestionables, are neglected? 'Tis this hath consum'd the nutriment of the great and more necessary Verities, and bred differences that are past any accommodation, but that of the last dayes decisions. The sight of that day will resolve us, and make us asham'd of our petty quarrels.

Thus Opinions have rent the world asunder, and divided it almost into indivisibles. Had Heraclitus liv'd now, he had wept himself into marble, and Democritus would have broke his spleen. Who can speak of such fooleries without a Satyr, to see aged Infants so quarrel at putpin, and the doating world grown child again? How fond are men of a bundle of opinions, which are no better than a bagge of Cherry-stones? How do they scramble for their Nuts, and Apples, and how zealous for their petty Victories? Methinks those grave contenders about opinionative trifles, look like aged Socrates upon his boyes Hobby-horse, or like something more ludicrous: since they make things their seria, which are scarce tolerable in their sportful intervals.
rowling: rolling, swaying
The primitive fight of Elements: Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.5-20
anomalies beyond Arithmetick: anomalies beyond number
homo homini Daemon: man is to man a devil, also in Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 10, a variant of Plautus, Asinaria 495 (lupus est homo homini = man is to man a wolf)
S. John's sign of regeneration: 1 John 3:14
putpin: pushpin, "A children's game in which each player pushes or propels a pin with the object of crossing that of another player" (Oxford English Dictionary)

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