Saturday, November 30, 2013


A Contest over the Length of a Syllable Revisited

Dear Dr. Gilleland,

About two months ago I had the good fortune of stumbling on your blog, and I wanted to thank you for assembling such a consistently appealing set of texts. I browse at random, non servato temporis ordine, using the archives.

Today I looked at "A contest over the length of a syllable" (Nov.8). A few points in the text had me scratching my head, and I thought I'd share what I found. Line 6 of the poem isn't metrical at present: correcting semper to super is easy, and it's printed that way in at least one text I found through Google books. But I wondered what exactly the dispute between Philelphus and Timotheus was about. The following epigram by Latomus says Lis super accentus Graeci ratione: accent rather than length. This is nice because Philelphus seems to have married for the sake of having someone teach him accents: uxorem duxit, quae Graecae elocutionis magistra, quotidiano usu Atticorum accentuum, inepto sed docili coniugis ori dulcedinem instillaret.

I don't think the translation has the details of the bet right: "You won, and declaring that you could not buy a beard for the amount of the wager,..." But Timotheus didn't put up any money, and why would Philelphus buy a beard? It should be "you refused him the opportunity (posse) of redeeming his beard for the same amount, when you won": after losing, Timotheus offered a sum identical (eadem) to the one Philelphus first wagered, if only he could keep his beard.

It looks as if a new translation of Jovius's work has just appeared in the I Tatti library.

Best wishes,
David Petrain


Ancient Aromatherapy

Alexis, fragment 190 Kock, as quoted by Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2.46 a-b (tr. Charles Burton Gulick):
He anoints his nostrils with perfume; a highly important element of health is to put good odours to the brain.

ἐναλείφεται τὰς ῥῖνας· ὑγιείας μέρος
μέγιστον ὀσμὰς ἐγκεφάλῳ χρηστὰς ποιεῖν.


A Very Useful Book

Vladimir Ivanow, letter to Stella Corbin (February 22, 1966), in Correspondance Corbin-Ivanow: Lettres échangées entre Henry Corbin et Vladimir Ivanow de 1947 à 1966 (Louvain: Diffusion Peeters, 1999 = Travaux et mémoires de l'Institut d'Études Iraniennes, 4), pp. 189-191 (at 191; spelling as in original):
I have found a very useful book. You may be surprised — Larousse 1965! When I have insomia, I switch on light and read it. The caleidoscope of names and faces has a powerful distracting effect, so that all sorts of black thoughts become expelled and some kind of peace of mind descends. And then I sleep till morning. A really useful book! What a pity that neither in Russian nor in English there is something like this!
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Treatment for Angst.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Two Houses

Agathias Scholasticus, "On a House in Constantinople" (Greek Anthology 9.677, tr. W.R. Paton):
Musonius built me with great labour, this large and imposing house, exposed to the north wind's blasts. Yet did he not avoid the dark house of Fate, but abandoning me he dwells underground. In a narrow bed of earth he lies, and I, his chiefest delight, am given up to strangers.

τεῦξέ με πολλὰ καμὼν Μουσώνιος οἶκον ἀγητὸν
  τηλίκον, ἀρκτῴοις ἄσθμασι βαλλόμενον.
ἔμπης οὐκ ἀπέειπεν ἀφεγγέα δώματα Μοίρης,
  ἀλλά με καλλείψας ἐν χθονὶ ναιετάει.
καὶ ῥ᾽ ὁ μὲν εἰς ὀλίγην κεῖται κόνιν· ἡ δὲ περισσὴ
  τέρψις ἐπὶ ξείνοις ἀνδράσιν ἐκκέχυμαι.
Related post: Sepulcri Inmemor Struis Domos.


Alone With His Books

Charles MacFarlane (1799-1858), Reminiscences of a Literary Life (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917), pp. 167-168 (on Mountstuart Elphinstone and his house at Hookwood Park):
The house is nearly all over library. On the ground-floor three spacious rooms open upon one another, and these from floor to ceiling have the walls covered with excellent books; while, upstairs, in bedrooms and dressing-rooms, there is another collection. The works are in a great variety of languages. Many are Italian, as he is very fond of that language and literature. It is delightful always to have so many good books of reference at hand, and to see how constantly and with what spirit he uses them. Though very infirm, and though suffering much in his eyes, he never calls in either servant or amanuensis, but always goes himself to the shelves and takes down the book or books he wants. He knows where to lay his hand on every volume, every pamphlet, every map and chart. He takes just as much interest in all that is doing in science, literature, and art, as he did when I first knew him. I never knew so keen an interest in any man, for his time of life. He is almost sure to have read himself, or to have had read to him, the last new novel, for not even novels escape him. He sees but little society; for months at a time he lives alone with his books, thoughts, and remembrances.

Thursday, November 28, 2013



E.M. Forster (1879-1970), "Roger Fry: An Obituary Note," Abinger Harvest (1936; rpt. London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1946), pp. 39-41 (at 40):
He rejected authority absolutely. It is fairly easy for a recluse to reject it or at all events to elude it, but he was not a recluse, he was always in the world and keenly interested in its details, and it is difficult for such a man to avoid being overawed by the imposing figures who surround him and try to set the pace. He is tempted to listen not to what they say but to their names. But a name meant nothing whatever to Fry. He had, in this respect, the unworldliness of his Quaker forebears, and he could always shake an opinion out of its husk, and hold it up to the light of reason, where it often shrivelled to nothing at all. If you said to him, 'This must be right, all the experts say so, all the Trustees of the National Gallery say so, all the art-dealers say so, Hitler says so, Marx says so, Christ says so, The Times says so,' he would reply in effect, 'Well. I wonder. Let's see.' He would see and he would make you see. You would come away realizing that an opinion may be influentially backed and yet be tripe.


Life is Like an Artichoke

Oliver Wendell Holmes, letter to Frederick Pollock (January 17, 1887), in Holmes-Pollock Letters (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946), p. 30:
Life is like an artichoke; each day, week, month, year, gives you one little bit which you nibble off — but precious little compared with what you throw away.


A Real Satisfaction

Edward Thomas (1878-1917), The South Country (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1909), pp. 98-99:
I like to think how easily Nature will absorb London as she absorbed the mastodon, setting her spiders to spin the winding sheet and her worms to fill in the graves, and her grass to cover it pitifully up, adding flowers—as an unknown hand added them to the grave of Nero. I like to see the preliminaries of this toil where Nature tries her hand at mossing the factory roof, rusting the deserted railway metals, sowing grass over the deserted platforms and flowers of rose-bay on ruinous hearths and walls. It is a real satisfaction to see the long narrowing wedge of irises that run alongside and between the rails of the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway almost into the heart of London.


A Mental Waste-Paper Basket

Samuel Butler (1835-1902), Notebooks: Selections, edd. Geoffrey Keynes and Brian Hill (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1951), p. 305:
                                A MENTAL WASTE-PAPER BASKET
Every one should keep one and the older he grows the more things will he the more promptly consign to it — torn up to irrecoverable tatters.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


The Fixed, Reprieveless Hour

Eric Blair, aka George Orwell (1903-1950), poem published in Adelphi (March, 1933), also in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters, Vol. 1: An Age Like This, 1920-1940 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), p. 118:
Sometimes in the middle autumn days,
The windless days when the swallows have flown,
And the sere elms brood in the mist,
Each tree a being, rapt, alone,

I know, not as in barren thought,
But wordlessly, as the bones know,
What quenching of my brain, what numbness,
Wait in the dark grave where I go.

And I see the people thronging the street,
The death-marked people, they and I
Goalless, rootless, like leaves drifting,
Blind to the earth and to the sky;

Nothing believing, nothing loving,
Not in joy nor in pain, not heeding the stream
Of precious life that flows within us,
But fighting, toiling as in a dream.

O you who pass, halt and remember
What tyrant holds your life in bond;
Remember the fixed, reprieveless hour,
The crushing stroke, the dark beyond.

And let us now, as men condemned,
In peace and thrift of time stand still
To learn our world while yet we may,
And shape our souls, however ill;

And we will live, hand, eye and brain,
Piously, outwardly, ever-aware,
Till all our hours burn clear and brave
Like candle flames in windless air;

So shall we in the rout of life
Some thought, some faith, some meaning save,
And speak it once before we go
In silence to the silent grave.


How to Get to Sleep

Robert Burton (1577-1640), The Anatomy of Melancholy (Oxford: Henry Cripps, 1638), Part. 2. Sect. 2. Memb. 5 (p. 284):
He that will intend to take his rest must goe to bed animo securo, quieto & libero, with a ysecure and composed minde, in a quiet place: omnia noctis erunt placidâ composta quiete; and if that will not serve, or may not be obtained, to seeke then such means as are requisite. To lye in clean linnen and sweet; before he goes to bed, or in bed, to hear zsweet Musick, which Ficinus commends lib. I. cap. 24. or as Jobertus med. pract. lib. 3. cap. 10. ato read some pleasant Author till he be asleep, to have a bason of water still dropping by his bed side, or to lie near that pleasant murmure, lene sonantis aquae, Some floud-gates, arches, falls of water, like London Bridge, or some continuate noise which may benum the senses, lenis motus, silentium & tenebrae, tum & ipsa voluntas somnos faciunt; as a gentle noyse to some procures sleepe, so, which Bernardinus Tilesius lib. de somno well observes, silence, in a darke roome, and the will it selfe, is most available to others. Piso commends frications, Andrew Borde a good draught of strong drinke before one goes to bed; I say, a nutmeg and ale, or a good draught of muscadine, with a tost and nutmeg, or a posset of the same, which many use in a morning, but me thinks, for such as have drie braines, are much more proper at night; some prescribe a bsup of vineger as they go to bed, a spoonefull, saith Aetius Tetrabib. lib. 2. ser. 2. cap. 10. lib. 6. cap. 10. Aegineta lib. 3. cap. 14. Piso, a little after meat, cbecause it rarefies melancholy, and procures an appetite to sleep.

y Sepositis curis omnibus quantum fieri potest, una cum vestibus, &c. Kirkst.
z Ad horam somni aures suavibus cantibus & sonis delinire.
a Lectio jucunda, aut sermo, ad quem attentior animus convertitur, aut aqua ab alto in subjectum pelvim delabatur, &c. Ovid.
b Aceti sorbitio
c Attenuat melancholiam, et ad conciliandum somnum juvat.
In note a, read subjectam for subjectum, as in other editions.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The New Omar

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), "The New Omar," Collected Works, Vol. X: Collected Poetry, Part I (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994), p. 504:
A book of verses underneath the bough,
  Provided that the verses do not scan,
A loaf of bread a jug of wine and Thou,
  Short-haired, all angles, looking like a man.

But let the wine be unfermented, pale,
  Of chemicals compounded, God knows how—
This were indeed the Prophet's Paradise,
  O Paradise were Wilderness enow.
Related posts:


The Soul of Parties is Hatred

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), pp. 741-742 (Z 1606):
The soul of parties is hatred. Religion, political, academic, literary parties; patriotism, orders; everything collapses, everything languishes, lacks activity, love and care for oneself; everything in the end dissolves and is destroyed, or survives only in name, if it is not animated by hatred, or if the latter for whatever reason deserts it. The lack of enemies destroys parties, and by parties I also mean nations, etc. etc.
In Italian:
L'anima de' partiti è l'odio. Religione, partiti politici, scolastici, letterarii, patriotismo, ordini, tutto cade, tutto langue, manca di attività, e di amore e cura di se stesso, tutto alla fine si scioglie e distrugge, o non sopravvive se non di nome, quando non è animato dall'odio, o quando questo per qualunque ragione l’abbandona. La mancanza di nemici distrugge i partiti, e per partiti intendo pur le nazioni ec. ec.


A Sunshiny Creed

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), "An Old Scotch Gardener," Memories & Portraits (London: Chatto and Windus, 1887), pp. 77-89 (at 87-88):
One thing was noticeable about Robert's religion: it was neither dogmatic nor sectarian. He never expatiated (at least, in my hearing) on the doctrines of his creed, and he never condemned anybody else. I have no doubt that he held all Roman Catholics, Atheists, and Mahometans as considerably out of it; I don't believe he had any sympathy for Prelacy; and the natural feelings of man must have made him a little sore about Free-Churchism; but at least, he never talked about these views, never grew controversially noisy, and never openly aspersed the belief or practice of anybody. Now all this is not generally characteristic of Scotch piety; Scotch sects being churches militant with a vengeance, and Scotch believers perpetual crusaders the one against the other, and missionaries the one to the other. Perhaps Robert's originally tender heart was what made the difference; or, perhaps, his solitary and pleasant labor among fruits and flowers had taught him a more sunshiny creed than those whose work is among the tares of fallen humanity; and the soft influences of the garden had entered deep into his spirit,
"Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade."

Monday, November 25, 2013


Fear of Books

The Oxford English Dictionary defines bibliophobia as "Dread of, or aversion to, books." The only citation in the OED is to Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Bibliophobia. Remarks on the Present Languid and Depressed State of Literature and the Book Trade (London: Henry Bonn, 1832). An earlier example of the word appears in an anonymous article "On the Affectation of the Graces," in The Gentleman's and London Magazine (February, 1778) 92-93:
The two famous universities of this land are over-run with the infection. It is attended with a Bibliophobia, which not only prevents the diseased persons from attending to the porter-like language of Homer's Gods, but compels them to convert their libraries into dressing-rooms, to be consulting the looking-glass when they should be consulting the lexicon, and learning the art of pleasing some pretty married woman, when they should be reading the art of logic with their tutors.
Two rare words denoting fear of books, librophobia and neolibrophobia, are hybrid derivatives, of mixed Greek and Latin origin. So far as I can tell, they don't appear in any dictionaries.

For librophobia see "Inexhaustibleness of Literature," Waldie's Select Circulating Library (August 7, 1838):
If a literal-minded man, who took for granted everything he heard, were to listen to or read the lamentations of some good gentlemen and ladies concerning the deluge of new publications that are issuing from the press, he would expect to find the streets, roads, hedges, and ditches, as infested with books as the court and palace of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, was once infested with frogs. He would expect to find all sober people labouring under a species of librophobia, and in constant apprehension of being smothered with waste paper or squeezed to death between bulky quartos.
For neolibrophobia see Edward North, "Remembered Teachers," in S.N.D. North, Old Greek: An Old-Time Professor in an Old-Fashioned College. A Memoir of Edward North, with Selections from his Lectures (New York: McClure, Philips & Co., 1905), pp. 7-14 (at 13-14):
The same study was taught by him as it always had been, with the same nut-brown textbook, the same illustrations, the same well-worn traditional Joe Millerisms. He had a kind of neolibrophobia. A new text-book was his special abhorrence.
Related post: Contempt for Books and Letters.



No More Than Weeds or Chaff

Poem by Fu Xuan (217-278), tr. by Arthur Waley in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), p. 93:
A gentle wind fans the calm night:
A bright moon shines on the high tower.
A voice whispers, but no one answers when I call:
A shadow stirs, but no one comes when I beckon,
The kitchen-man brings in a dish of lentils:
Wine is there, but I do not fill my cup.
Contentment with poverty is Fortune's best gift:
Riches and Honour are the handmaids of Disaster.
Though gold and gems by the world are sought and prized,
To me they seem no more than weeds or chaff.



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), pp. 397-398 (Z 830):
The comforts in use today seem so necessary that without them human existence is believed to be almost impossible, or certainly more wretched, and the discovery of each comfort is regarded as another step toward the perfection and happiness of our species, and some comforts in particular, though very distant from nature, are regarded as essential and indispensable to mankind. Now, I am not going to ask the people who hold these views how men managed to live for so long despite being deprived of the indispensable; how so many savage peoples manage today; and how a fair number of our own people manage before our very eyes, day after day (also, in fact, people more than accustomed to these supposedly indispensable things who, for any number of reasons, happen to be without them, sometimes even voluntarily).
In Italian:
Paiono oggi così necessari quelli che sono in uso, che si crede quasi impossibile la vita umana senza di questi, o certo molto più misera, e si stimano i ritrovamenti di tali comodità tanti passi verso la perfezione e la felicità della nostra specie, massime di certe comodità che, sebbene lontanissime dalla natura, contuttociò si stimano essenziali e indispensabili all'uomo. Ora, io non domanderò a costoro come abbian fatto gli uomini a viver tanto tempo privi di cose indispensabili; come facciano oggi tanti popoli di selvaggi; parecchi ancora de' nostrali e sotto a' nostri occhi, tutto giorno (anzi ancora quegli stessi più che mai assuefatti a tali cose pretese indispensabili, quando per mille diversità di accidenti si trovano in circostanza di mancarne, alle volte anche volontariamente).

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Small Mercies

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), "Experience," in Essays: Second Series (Boston: James Munro and Company, 1844), p. 65:
To fill the hour,—that is happiness; to fill the hour, and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval.
Id., pp. 65-66:
Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes of today are worth as much to me. as five minutes in the next millennium.
Id., p. 67:
I am thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe, and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods.



I subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary's Word of the Day. Today's word is smellfungus:
Etymology: The name by which Sterne designated Smollett on account of the captious tone of the latter's Travels through France and Italy (1766).

A discontented person; a grumbler, faultfinder. Also attrib.

[1768 L. Sterne Sentimental Journey I.86 The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris,..but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass'd by was discoloured or distorted.]
1807 Salmagundi 24 Jan. 18 Let the grumbling smellfungi..rail at the extravagance of the age.
1842 F. Trollope Visit to Italy II. xxiii. 380 Smellfungus people, who love to torment themselves.
For the aficionado of odd and rare words, the passage from Frances Trollope also contains an unusual coinage derived from smellfungus, apparently a hapax legomenon, viz. anti-smellfungusite (ellipses in original):
Smellfungus people, who love to torment themselves, will be sure to stand very long before this front; and carefully avoiding to remark the marble richness of its detail, come away at last with the satisfactory conviction that it would be pretty nearly impossible to employ the materials way of finishing one of the most superb Gothic cathedrals in the world. But the more amiable anti-smellfungusites will turn away, as we did, as soon as they have taken a look at it, and either walk round the church, or into the church, or over the church, whichever way they may choose first, taking good care to do it all in turn....and they will be rewarded for their amiability; for they will behold much that is beautiful, and some points that are really glorious....Any thing, indeed, more noble than a well-chosen view of this dazzling marble structure, it is difficult to conceive.


Saturday, November 23, 2013


A Plea for the Redistribution of Wealth

Ian Jackson, Cedules from a Berkeley Bookshop, No. 23 (Medieval Manuscripts A-D), excerpt from description of item 4 ("A banker's box filled to the brim with 50 auction and bookseller catalogues of medieval manuscripts ... from the library of Bernard Rosenthal ..."):
There are also 18 Christie's catalogues (1960-2001) with price-lists and a plastic bidder's paddle that was supposed to have been returned. The William Foyle Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts catalogue (11th July 2000) is extensively annotated by Rosenthal who, in sending his [under]bids to Margaret Ford, adds 'I know these bids have little chance of success ... I think all medieval MSS should be given away free to people like me who appreciate them and love them but don't have much money ...'



Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journal VO, pp. [51-52] (1857):
Because our education is defective, because we are superficial & ill-read, we were forced to make the most of that position, of ignorance; to idealize ignorance. Hence America is a vast Know-Nothing Party, & we disparage books, & cry up intuition. With a few clever men we have made a reputable thing of that, & denouncing libraries & severe culture, & magnifying the motherwit swagger of bright boys from the country colleges, we have even come so far as to deceive every body, except ourselves, into an admiration of un-learning and inspiration forsooth.


Your Own Eyes

Euripides, Helen 580 (tr. David Kovacs):
Who but your eyes should be your teacher?

τίς οὖν διδάξει σ᾽ ἄλλος ἢ τὰ σ᾽ ὄμματα;

Friday, November 22, 2013


Fish Chowder

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), Cross Creek (1942; rpt. New York: Collier Books, 1987), p. 229:
It was Ed too who taught me to make a fish chowder that makes a poor thing of any New England chowder. Ed's was a virginal chowder, uncorrupted by such alien elements as peas, corn and tomatoes. I weaken now and then and serve large baked sea-bass or red snapper with a Spanish sauce, but for fish chowder of a pristine quality, I follow Ed's recipe. The fish of course may be bought, but is immensely better when you have caught it yourself. Any fish will do that is large enough to be boned and filleted. Ed and I always preferred the big-mouthed bass of local waters. In a Dutch oven by preference, or a deep iron skillet by second choice, place a layer of finely cut white bacon or breakfast bacon. On top of that lay gently a layer of boned fish. Place above that a layer of thinly sliced raw peeled Irish potatoes and a layer of thinly sliced raw white onion, and lastly, a layer of soda crackers. Dot with butter and salt and pepper. Repeat the layers in the same order until the cooking pot is filled. Add water halfway to the height of the vessel, cover, and simmer slowly until fish, onions and potatoes are tender. The liquid must cook entirely away, so that the bottom layer of bacon bits and fish is well browned. Add cream to cover, heat to boiling, and serve immediately. You are not quite certain of what the dish consists, for fish, onion and buttered cream are lost in a cosmic delicacy. You know only that something almost too good for common man is before you.
Kenneth Roberts (1885-1957), Trending into Maine (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran, 1944), pp. 154-156:
Mystery has risen like a fog around Maine fish chowder. Some cooks argue that it can’t be made properly without soiling eight or ten stew-pans, dishes and cauldrons. A few pontifically announce that salt pork should never be used; but many contend that pork not only should be used, but should be tried out separately, the liquid fat thrown away, and only the pork scraps added to the stew. There is also a large school of thought which insists that the head and backbone must be boiled separately, and the juice from them used as a basis for the chowder.

All those methods, probably, are excellent; but I have never had a better fish chowder than my grandmother's, and nothing could have been simpler. She believed in leaving fish-heads and backbones where they belonged — in the refuse barrel at the fish market — and in soiling the fewest possible number of kitchen utensils. She had reduced the soilage to one kettle, one knife and one spoon — which is, I believe, the absolute minimum.

Cunners, freshly taken, strike me as being the best basis for a fish chowder, but cunners are unpleasant to clean, because of the extreme slipperiness and excessive toughness of their skins, and the agonizing sharpness of their back spines. If, however, two dozen medium-to-large cunners are delivered to any Maine fish-market, the marketman, with professional skill, skins them and separates the usable portions from the backbones in two shakes of a lamb's tail — and the meat from two dozen cunners is about right for a small fish chowder.

Lacking cunners, my grandmother used a good-sized haddock or cod. The fish was skinned, boned and cut into slices an inch wide and two inches long, or any other convenient size, and at the same time several dozen of the large round crackers sometimes known to New Englanders as common crackers or water biscuit were deposited in the milk pan in which remained the least amount of milk.

A half-dozen medium-sized potatoes and a half-dozen medium-sized onions were cut in slices, a pound of salt pork carved into small cubes, and the pork, fish, onions and potatoes were placed in layers in a kettle. From the milk pan in which the crackers were soaking, enough milk was poured into the kettle to cover liberally the fish, pork, onions and potatoes; and the whole was allowed to simmer for an hour. The moistened crackers, meanwhile, were placed in the bottom of a soup tureen; and at the end of the hour the completed chowder was decanted from the kettle into the tureen. That was all there was to it.


A Cathedral of Trees

John Fryer (d. 1733), A New Account of East-India and Persia, in Eight Letters. Being Nine Years Travels, Begun 1672. And Finished 1681 (London: Ri. Chiswell, 1698), p. 40 (from Letter I, Chapter V):
These Plants set in a Row, make a Grove that might delude the Fanatick Multitude into an Opinion of their being sacred; and were not the Mouth of that Grand Impostor Hermetically sealed up, where Christianity is spread, these would still continue, as it is my Fancy they were of old, and may still be the Laboratories of his Fallacious Oracles: For they masquing the face of Day, beget a solemn reverence, and melancholy habit in them that resort to them; by representing the more inticing Place of Zeal, a Cathedral, with all its Pillars and Pilasters, Walks and Choirs; and so contrived, that whatever way you turn, you have an even Prospect.
Cf. Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 41.3 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity.

si tibi occurrerit vetustis arboribus et solitam altitudinem egressis frequens lucus et conspectum caeli densitate ramorum aliorum alios protegentium summovens, illa proceritas silvae et secretum loci et admiratio umbrae in aperto tam densae atque continuae fidem tibi numinis faciet.
Related post: American Gothic Forests.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


A Life of Retirement

Poem by T'ao Ch'ien (365-427), tr. by Arthur Waley in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), p. 103:
Shady, shady the wood in front of the Hall:
At midsummer full of calm shadows.
The south wind follows summer's train:
With its eddying puffs it blows open my coat.
I am free from ties and can live a life of retirement.
When I rise from sleep, I play with books and harp.
The lettuce in the garden still grows moist:
Of last year's grain there is always plenty left.
Self-support should maintain strict limits:
More than enough is not what I want.
I grind millet and make good wine:
When the wine is heated, I pour it out for myself.
My little children are playing at my side,
Learning to talk, they babble unformed sounds.
These things have made me happy again
And I forget my lost cap of office.
Distant, distant I gaze at the white clouds:
With deep yearning I think of the Sages of Antiquity.


Bad Manners

Freya Stark (1893-1993), quoted in John Julius Norwich, A Christmas Cracker, being a commonplace selection (Huntingdon: Hambleden Press, 1982), [p. 5]:
I suspect anyone self-satisfied enough to refuse lawful pleasure: we are not sufficiently rich in our separate resources to reject the graces of the universe when offered; it is bad manners, like refusing to eat when invited to dinner.


De Horologio Portabili

Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Epigrams 1.151 (De Horologio Portabili), tr. "H.V." (probably Henry Vaughan) in Thomas Powell, Humane Industry : Or, A History Of most Manual Arts, Deducing the Original, Progress, and Improvement of them. Furnished with variety of Instances and Examples, shewing forth the excellency of Humane Wit (London: Henry Herringman, 1661), p. 12:
Times-Teller wrought into a little round,
Which count'st the days and nights with watchful sound;
How (when once fixt) with busie Wheels dost thou
The twice twelve useful hours drive on and show.
And where I go, go'st with me without strife,
The Monitor and Ease of fleeting life.
The same, tr. Dana F. Sutton:
Time’s interpreter, packed in a tiny globe, who day and night recalls the hour with a chime, how cheerfully, when once wound up, you tirelessly transverse twenty-four hours with your little moving wheels. Nor do you complain that I carry you as my comrade wherever I go, counting out the loss of my life, but also lightening its burden.
The Latin, from Percival Vivian, ed., Campion's Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909), p. 257:
Temporis interpres, paruum congestus in orbem,
  Qui memores repetis nocte dieque sonos:
Vt semel instructus iucunde sex quater horas
  Mobilibus rotulis irrequietus agis:
Nec mecum quocunque feror comes ire grauaris,
  Annumerans vitae damna, leuansque meae.
Watch set in an emerald crystal, dated 1576-1600, found in the Cheapside Hoard (Museum of London, accession number A14162):

Hat tip: Karl Maurer, who remarks that Campion's poem "seems hugely untranslatable — each word and phrase is so apt and many-sided. In line 3 'Vt' goes with 'iucunde' — 'How delightfully' etc., and 'semel instructus' means roughly 'once you are wound up'."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Make Your Boys Good Grammarians

Excerpts from Samuel Parr's letter to Charles Berry (December 19, 1819), in The Works of Samuel Parr, LL.D. Prebendary of St. Pauls, Curate of Hatton, &c. With Memoirs of His Life and Writings, and a Selection from his Correspondence, by John Johnstone, M.D., Vol. VIII (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1828), pp. 481-486:
I shall give you some advice upon the questions you propose to me about the instruction of your children. I tell you explicitly that, in your present way of reading, nubes et inania captas. But I will endeavour to put you and your boys in a strait path, and upon strong ground. But I must plainly premise that you are not to turn to the right or to the left; that you are not to raise petty or puerile cavils; you are to admit what I state, and to execute what, for your sake, I recommend....If they are reading Greek prose, take four or five lines, and bid them explain the accentuation of every word, in every line. If they are reading Greek verse, bid them account for the quantity of every word in four or five lines, and fail not to call forth the very words of the rule. Mind this injunction, for it has an importance quite invisible to the teachers of your academies. Now you must pursue the business thus....You will teach yourself while you are teaching them. Away with your coxcomical prattle, and your sectarian impatience about Greek choruses...


Moreover, to increase the stock of phraseology, let them read a good deal of Lucian, and make them consult their Vigerus. You may then go on to Demosthenes in Mounteney's edition of the four speeches, and then to Allen's edition of the twelve speeches, and then to the speeches de Corona, and de Falsa Legatione. And I must now suppose your boys to be far advanced; and while they are reading Demosthenes, let them read no other author, and be sure to let them go over every speech of Demosthenes twice. You may then read the Cyropaedia, and the Anabasis of Xenophon, and read them in Hutchinson's edition, with Vigerus at your elbow. You may then proceed to the Dialogues of Plato, edited by Forster and Etwall, then resume Xenophon, and then read Plato's Dialogues the second time. After these things your boys will find easy work in Lysias and Isocrates; but reserve them, I beseech you, and when you have finished them with the knowledge I have pointed out, they may proceed, if they please, to Herodotus and Thucydides. But do not meddle with them for many years. I shall now give you my opinion about Latin. Don't meddle with Sallust yet, nor with Livy. Read the select Orations of Cicero in the common Delphin edition, and his book de Senectute and de Amicitia; then read Cornelius Nepos; then read, and carefully read, Caesar; then exercise your boys well in some Conciones et Orationes from Sallust, Tacitus, Livy, &c. &c. &c. and then they will be strong enough, without your aid, to read the Histories of Tacitus, Livy, &c...

Now I must tell you how to instruct your boys in writing Latin. Do not vex them with original composition, nor papers in the Spectator. No, no...


I can forgive your heresy and your schism. But I think that you ought to be tormented in tortures seven years, if you do not follow my advice explicitly, explicitly, explicitly. I am looking to use, not to display, and I speak with the authority which experience justifies me in assuming.


Mr. Berry, I have shunned mystery, refinement, and ostentation quite as carefully as they ought to be shunned in theology. Away with the trumpery gaudy stuff which has crept into your mind about choruses, &c. Leave these things to professed critics. Make your boys substantially good scholars, and don't take for guides Reviews, &c.

I have only to speak upon one more subject, and I speak feelingly. If you wish your boys to be good theologians, make them good biblical grammarians....My view is to make them good scholars, and I am sure that I have recommended nothing but what is substantially useful. As I seldom see you, I have written also very earnestly....Parson Berry, make your boys good grammarians.


With an Old Friend I Talk of Our Youth

A poem by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883), published in The Athenaeum (July 9, 1831), under the pseudonym Epsilon, from Letters and Literary Remains of Edward FitzGerald, ed. William Aldis Wright, Vol. I (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889), pp. 6-7:
'Tis a dull sight
  To see the year dying,
When winter winds
  Set the yellow wood sighing:
    Sighing, oh! sighing!

When such a time cometh
  I do retire
Into an old room
  Beside a bright fire:
    Oh, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit
  Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels,
  While the wind sings—
    Oh, drearily sings!

I never look out
  Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
  Is the leaves falling fast:
    Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth,
  Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer
  And chivalry—
    Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend
  I talk of our youth—
How 'twas gladsome, but often
  Foolish, forsooth:
    But gladsome, gladsome!

Or to get merry
  We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again
  In summer time—
    Sweet summer time!

Then go we to smoking,
  Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us,
  Save a brown jug—

And sometimes a tear
  Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends
  So merrily—
    So merrily!

And ere to bed
  Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
  We kneel on the knee,
    Praying together!

Thus, then, live I,
  Till, 'mid all the gloom,
By heaven! the bold sun
  Is with me in the room,
    Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part,
  Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
  And the meadows are green!

I jump up, like mad,
  Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows,
  The meadows again!


On Gaurus, Blogger and Tweeter

Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Epigrams 1.183:
Perpetuo loqueris, nec desinis; idque molestum
  omnibus est, et scis; sed tibi, Gaure, places.
My translation:
You talk constantly, and you don't stop. That bugs
everyone, and you know it. But you're a legend in your own mind, Gaurus.
Greek γαῦρος means haughty, disdainful (cf. γαύρηξ = braggart and γαυριάω = prance like a horse).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Subjects for Poetry

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), Mr. Hogarth's Will (1865), Vol. I, Chap. X:
If poetesses went on as they were doing now-a-days, and only extracted a wail from life, the sooner they gave up their lays the better. The public wanted healthy, cheerful, breezy poetry, with a touch of humour here and there, and a varied human interest running through it—a fit companion to the spirited novels of Charles Kingsley, then at the height of his fame. If poets were to teach the world, as they boasted that they were, they should not shut themselves up, and practise variations on the one poor tune, "I am miserable; I am not appreciated; the world is not worthy of me;" but go forth to the world and learn that there are nobler subjects for poetry than themselves.


A Shock to the Nerves

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (Matthew Bramble to Dr. Lewis; Bath, May 8):
I know not how other people's nerves are constructed; but one would imagine they must be made of very coarse materials to stand the shock of such a horrid assault. It was, indeed, a compound of villanous smells, in which the most violent stinks, and the most powerful perfumes, contended for the mastery. Imagine to yourself a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank arm-pits, sweating feet, running sores and issues; plasters, ointments, and embrocations, hungary-water, spirit of lavender, assa foetida drops, musk, hartshorn, and sal volatile; besides a thousand frowzy steams, which I could not analyse. Such, O Dick! is the fragrant aether we breathe in the polite assemblies of Bath—Such is the atmosphere I have exchanged for the pure, elastic, animating air of the Welsh mountains—O Rus, quando te aspiciam!—I wonder what the devil possessed me—

Monday, November 18, 2013


A Tissue of Horrors

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Journaux intimes, LXVIII, tr. Joseph T. Shipley in Baudelaire, His Prose and Poetry, ed. T.R. Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), p. 243:
It is impossible to glance through any newspaper at all, no matter of what day, what month, what year, without finding in every line the most frightful signs of human perversity, together with the most astonishing boasts of probity, of goodness, of charity, and the most shameless affirmations in regard to the progress of civilization.

Every paper, from the first line to the last, is but a tissue of horrors. War, crime, theft, lewdness, crimes of princes, crimes of nations, crimes of individuals, a universal intoxication of atrocity.

And it is with this disgusting appetizer that civilized man accompanies his every morning meal. Everything in this world sweats crime: the magazine, the wall, the face of man. I cannot see how a pure hand can touch a paper without a convulsion of disgust.
The French:
Il est impossible de parcourir une gazette quelconque, de n'importe quel jour ou quel mois ou quelle année, sans y trouver à chaque ligne les signes de la perversité humaine la plus épouvantable, en même temps que les vanteries les plus surprenantes de probité, de bonté, de charité, et les affirmations les plus effrontées relatives au progrès et à la civilisation.

Tout journal, de la première ligne à la dernière, n'est qu'un tissu d'horreurs. Guerres, crimes, vols, impudicités, tortures, crimes des princes, crimes des nations, crimes des particuliers, une ivresse d'atrocité universelle.

Et c'est de ce dégoûtant apéritif que l'homme civilisé accompagne son repas de chaque matin. Tout, en ce monde, sue le crime: le journal, la muraille et le visage de l'homme. Je ne comprends pas qu'une main puisse toucher un journal sans une convulsion de dégoût.


What Would You Like to Do?

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), Mr. Hogarth's Will (1865), Vol. I, Chap. I:
"A shop!" said Elsie, shuddering.

"Why not? One is more independent keeping a shop than in a governess's situation, and there my business knowledge would be of use. It is wrong and absurd to have a terror of a shop."

"I cannot help feeling a great repugnance to shopkeeping."

"Then would you rather be a governess, supposing you were capable?"

"Oh, Jane, that is such a hard life. I should be separated from you; and then one is worried by the children, and snubbed by the parents, sneered at by servants, and ignored by visitors."

"Then dressmaking? You work beautifully."

"The late hours, and the close rooms; do you think I could stand it?"

"I am a little afraid for you," said Jane, thoughtfully. "What would you like to do?"

"Why, I have never thought of doing anything but being with you, working a little, reading a little, going out a little, and having nobody over me but you, my own darling sister. It stuns me to be told that I must go to work for a livelihood."

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Poetry and Prosopography

Eduard Fraenkel (1888-1970), "Two Poems of Catullus," Journal of Roman Studies 51 (1961) 46-53 (at 49), rpt. in his Kleine Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie, Bd. II (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1964), pp. 115-129 (at 120-121):
Students of ancient literature who are inclined to regard most of their work as an auxiliary branch of prosopography and who, moreover, have a passion for solving puzzles thought up for the purpose have long been busy asking the question 'who is the lady (if that is the right word to use) in Catullus' poem XLII?'. I cannot join them, for I never try to ask a question when I see that the poet is determined not to answer it. Things which a poet worth the name does not mention are always wholly irrelevant to the understanding of his poem.



John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Regained 3.47-51:
For what is glory but the blaze of fame,
The people's praise, if always praise unmix'd?
And what the people but a herd confused,
A miscellaneous rabble, who extol
Things vulgar, and, well weigh'd, scarce worth the praise?


Leave Those Gates of Pearl Ajar

Thomas Thornley (1855-1949), "The Last Prayer," in The Mercury Book of Verse. Being a Selection of Poems published in The London Mercury, 1919-1930 (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), pp. 254-255:
(Suggested by Revelation, Chapter XXI.)

O were it mine to win unchallenged way
(Presumptuous thought!) where Zion's braveries are;
Where Saints, more bright than summer-lightning's play,
Send their loud adorations pealing far
Through jewelled courts of day,
Still one last prayer it would be mine to pray—
"Leave, sometimes leave, those gates of pearl ajar!"
That I may steal from too ebullient bliss,
And on a less delirious beauty feed,
In some cool dell where lights and shadows kiss,
         And (Take it not amiss,
Far-sounding Seraphs!) not a note is heard
Of harp or viol, only the piping reed
Of woodland rill and unbedizened bird.


Country Comforts and Town Grievances

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (Matthew Bramble to Dr. Lewis; London, June 8):
What temptation can a man of my turn and temperament have, to live in a place where every corner teems with fresh objects of detestation and disgust? What kind of taste and organs must those people have, who really prefer the adulterated enjoyments of the town to the genuine pleasures of a country retreat? Most people, I know, are originally seduced by vanity, ambition, and childish curiosity; which cannot be gratified, but in the busy haunts of men: but, in the course of this gratification, their very organs of sense are perverted, and they become habitually lost to every relish of what is genuine and excellent in it's own nature.

Shall I state the difference between my town grievances, and my country comforts? At Brambleton-hall, I have elbow-room within doors, and breathe a clear, elastic, salutary air—I enjoy refreshing sleep, which is never disturbed by horrid noise, nor interrupted, but in a morning, by the sweet titter of the martlet at my window—I drink the virgin lymph, pure and crystalline as it gushes from the rock, or the sparkling beveridge, home-brewed from malt of my own making; or I indulge with cyder, which my own orchard affords; or with claret of the best growth, imported for my own use, by a correspondent on whose integrity I can depend; my bread is sweet and nourishing, made from my own wheat, ground in my own mill, and baked in my own oven; my table is, in a great measure, furnished from my own ground; my five-year old mutton, fed on the fragrant herbage of the mountains, that might vie with venison in juice and flavour; my delicious veal, fattened with nothing but the mother's milk, that fills the dish with gravy; my poultry from the barn-door, that never knew confinement, but when they were at roost; my rabbits panting from the warren; my game fresh from the moors; my trout and salmon struggling from the stream; oysters from their native banks; and herrings, with other sea-fish, I can eat in four hours after they are taken—My sallads, roots, and pot-herbs my own garden yields in plenty and perfection; the produce of the natural soil, prepared by moderate cultivation. The same soil affords all the different fruits which England may call her own, so that my desert is every day fresh-gathered from the tree; my dairy flows with nectarious tides of milk and cream, from whence we derive abundance of excellent butter, curds, and cheese; and the refuse fattens my pigs, that are destined for hams and bacon—I go to bed betimes, and rise with the sun— I make shift to pass the hours without weariness or regret, and am not destitute of amusements within doors, when the weather will not permit me to go abroad—I read, and chat, and play at billiards, cards, or back-gammon—Without doors, I superintend my farm, and execute plans of improvement, the effects of which I enjoy with unspeakable delight—Nor do I take less pleasure in seeing my tenants thrive under my auspices, and the poor live comfortably by the employment which I provide—You know I have one or two sensible friends, to whom I can open all my heart; a blessing which, perhaps, I might have sought in vain among the crowded scenes of life: there are a few others of more humble parts, whom I esteem for their integrity; and their conversation I find inoffensive, though not very entertaining. Finally, I live in the midst of honest men and trusty dependants, who, I flatter myself, have a disinterested attachment to my person—You yourself, my dear doctor, can vouch for the truth of these assertions.

Now, mark the contrast at London—I am pent up in frowzy lodgings, where there is not room enough to swing a cat; and I breathe the steams of endless putrefaction; and these would, undoubtedly, produce a pestilence, if they were not qualified by the gross acid of sea-coal, which is itself a pernicious nuisance to lungs of any delicacy of texture: but even this boasted corrector cannot prevent those languid, sallow looks, that distinguish the inhabitants of London from those ruddy swains that lead a country-life—I go to bed after mid-night, jaded and restless from the dissipations of the day—I start every hour from my sleep, at the horrid noise of the watchmen bawling the hour through every street, and thundering at every door; a set of useless fellows, who serve no other purpose but that of disturbing the repose of the inhabitants; and, by five o'clock I start out of bed, in consequence of the still more dreadful alarm made by the country carts, and noisy rustics bellowing green pease under my window. If I would drink water, I must quaff the maukish contents of an open aqueduct, exposed to all manner of defilement; or swallow that which comes from the river Thames, impregnated with all the filth of London and Westminster—Human excrement is the least offensive part of the concrete, which is composed of all the drugs, minerals, and poisons, used in mechanics and manufactures, enriched with the putrefying carcases of beasts and men, and mixed with the scourings of all the wash tubs, kennels, and common sewers, within the bills of mortality.

This is the agreeable potation, extolled by the Londoners, as the finest water in the universe—As to the intoxicating potion, sold for wine, it is a vile, unpalatable, and pernicious sophistication, balderdashed with cyder, corn spirit, and the juice of sloes. In an action at law, laid against a carman for having staved a cask of port, it appeared, from the evidence of the cooper, that there were not above five gallons of real wine in the whole pipe, which held above a hundred, and even that had been brewed and adulterated by the merchant at Oporto. The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum, and bone-ashes; insipid to the taste, and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread, because it is whiter than the meal of corn: thus they sacrifice their taste and their health, and the lives of their tender infants, to a most absurd gratification of a mis-judging eye; and the miller, or the baker, is obliged to poison them and their families, in order to live by his profession. The same monstrous depravity appears in their veal, which is bleached, by repeated bleedings, and other villanous arts, till there is not a drop of juice left in the body, and the poor animal is paralytic before it dies; so void of all taste, nourishment, and savour, that a man might dine as comfortably on a white fricassee of kid-skin gloves, or chip hats from Leghorn.

As they have discharged the natural colour from their bread, their butchers-meat, and poultry, their cutlets, ragouts, fricassees, and sauces of all kinds; so they insist upon having the complexion of their pot-herbs mended, even at the hazard of their lives. Perhaps, you will hardly believe that they can be so mad as to boil their greens with brass half-pence, in order to improve their colour; and yet nothing is more true—Indeed, without this improvement in the colour, they have no personal merit. They are produced in an artificial soil, and taste of nothing but the dunghills, from whence they spring. My cabbage, cauliflower, and 'sparagus in the country, are as much superior in flavour to those that are sold in Covent-garden, as my heath-mutton is to that of St. James's-market; which, in fact, is neither lamb nor mutton, but something betwixt the two, gorged in the rank fens of Lincoln and Essex, pale, coarse, and frowzy—As for the pork, it is an abominable carnivorous animal, fed with horse-flesh and distillers grains; and the poultry is all rotten, in consequence of a fever, occasioned by the infamous practice of sewing up the gut, that they may be the sooner fattened in coops, in consequence of this cruel retention.

Of the fish, I need say nothing in this hot weather, but that it comes sixty, seventy, fourscore, and a hundred miles by land-carriage; a circumstance sufficient, without any comment, to turn a Dutchman's stomach, even if his nose was not saluted in every alley with the sweet flavour of fresh mackerel, selling by retail—This is not the season for oysters; nevertheless, it may not be amiss to mention, that the right Colchester are kept in slime-pits, occasionally overflowed by the sea; and that the green colour, so much admired by the voluptuaries of this metropolis, is occasioned by the vitriolic scum, which rises on the surface of the stagnant and stinking water—Our rabbits are bred and fed in the poulterer's cellar, where they have neither air nor exercise, consequently they must be firm in flesh, and delicious in flavour; and there is no game to be had for love or money.

It must be owned, that Covent-garden affords some good fruit; which, however, is always engrossed by a few individuals of over grown fortune, at an exorbitant price; so that little else than the refuse of the market falls to the share of the community; and that is distributed by such filthy hands, as I cannot look at without loathing. It was but yesterday that I saw a dirty barrow-bunter in the street, cleaning her dusty fruit with her own spittle; and, who knows but some fine lady of St. James's parish might admit into her delicate mouth those very cherries, which had been rolled and moistened between the filthy, and, perhaps, ulcerated chops of a St. Giles's huckster—I need not dwell upon the pallid, contaminated mash, which they call strawberries; soiled and tossed by greasy paws through twenty baskets crusted with dirt; and then presented with the worst milk, thickened with the worst flour, into a bad likeness of cream: but the milk itself should not pass unanalysed, the produce of faded cabbage-leaves and sour draff, lowered with hot water, frothed with bruised snails, carried through the streets in open pails, exposed to foul rinsings, discharged from doors and windows, spittle, snot, and tobacco-quids from foot-passengers, over-flowings from mud-carts, spatterings from coach-wheels, dirt and trash chucked into it by roguish boys for the joke's sake, the spewings of infants, who have slabbered in the tin-measure, which is thrown back in that condition among the milk, for the benefit of the next customer; and, finally, the vermin that drops from the rags of the nasty drab that vends this precious mixture, under the respectable denomination of milk-maid.

I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion; the tallowy rancid mass, called butter, manufactured with candle-grease and kitchen-stuff; and their fresh eggs, imported from France and Scotland—Now, all these enormities might be remedied with a very little attention to the article of police, or civil regulation; but the wise patriots of London have taken it into their heads, that all regulation is inconsistent with liberty; and that every man ought to live in his own way, without restraint—Nay, as there is not sense enough left among them, to be discomposed by the nuisances I have mentioned, they may, for aught I care, wallow in the mire of their own pollution.

A companionable man will, undoubtedly, put up with many inconveniences, for the sake of enjoying agreeable society. A facetious friend of mine used to say, the wine could not be bad where the company was agreeable; a maxim which, however, ought to be taken cum grano salis: but what is the society of London, that I should be tempted, for its sake, to mortify my senses, and compound with such uncleanness as my soul abhors? All the people I see, are too much engrossed by schemes of interest or ambition, to have any room left for sentiment or friendship—Even in some of my old acquaintance, those schemes and pursuits have obliterated all traces of our former connexion—Conversation is reduced to party disputes and illiberal altercation—Social commerce, to formal visits and card-playing—If you pick up a diverting original by accident, it may be dangerous to amuse yourself with his oddities. He is generally a tartar at bottom; a sharper, a spy, or a lunatic. Every person you deal with endeavours to over-reach you in the way of business; you are preyed upon by idle mendicants, who beg in the phrase of borrowing, and live upon the spoils of the stranger—Your tradesmen are without conscience, your friends without affection, and your dependants without fidelity.—

My letter would swell into a treatise, were I to particularise every cause of offence that fills up the measure of my aversion to this, and every other crowded city—Thank Heaven! I am not so far sucked into the vortex, but that I can disengage myself without any great effort of philosophy—From this wild uproar of knavery, folly, and impertinence, I shall fly with double relish to the serenity of retirement, the cordial effusions of unreserved friendship, the hospitality and protection of the rural gods; in a word, the jucunda oblivia vitae, which Horace himself had not taste enough to enjoy.
In the third paragraph, "the concrete" means the compound made up of the various elements or ingredients listed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013



Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), On the Art of Writing (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1916), pp. 34-35:
I was waiting, the other day, in a doctor's anteroom, and picked up one of those books—it was a work on pathology—so thoughtfully left lying in such places; to persuade us, no doubt, to bear the ills we have rather than fly to others capable of being illustrated. I found myself engaged in following the antics of certain bacilli generically described as 'Antibodies.' I do not accuse the author (who seemed to be a learned man) of having invented this abominable term: apparently it passed current among physiologists and he had accepted it for honest coin. I found it, later on, in Webster's invaluable dictionary: Etymology, 'body' (yours or mine), 'anti,' up against it: compound, 'antibody,' a noxious microbe.

Now I do not doubt the creature thus named to be a poisonous little wretch. Those who know him may even agree that no word is too bad for him. But I am not thinking of him. I am thinking of us: and I say that for our own self-respect, whilst we retain any sense of intellectual pedigree, 'antibody' is no word to throw even at a bacillus. The man who eats peas with his knife can at least claim a historical throwback to the days when forks had but two prongs and the spoons had been removed with the soup. But 'antibody' has no such respectable derivation. It is, in fact, a barbarism, and a mongrel at that. The man who uses it debases the currency of learning: and I suggest to you that it is one of the many functions of a great University to maintain the standard of that currency, to guard the jus et norma loquendi, to protect us from such hasty fellows or, rather, to suppeditate them in their haste.
The earliest example of this word cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is
1901 L. HEKTOEN & D. RIESMAN Text-bk. Pathol. 231 Substances which appear during spontaneous or artificial infection or intoxication are known as antibodies (Antikörper) and antitoxins.
Slightly earlier examples can be found, e.g. Medical Review 35.2 (January 9, 1897) 26:
The experiences with the "antibodies" of cholera and typhoid fever also demonstrate the advisability of caution with reference to this matter.
But most of the supposed 19th century examples in Google Books turn out to be bogus on closer examination.

Quiller-Couch misunderstood the meaning of antibody, in calling it "a noxious microbe" and "a poisonous little wretch." Webster's 1913 Dictionary makes it clear that antibodies are generally beneficial and "act in antagonism to harmful foreign bodies."



Rhyme for a Phonetician

Frances Cornford (1886-1960), "Rhyme for a Phonetician," in The Mercury Book of Verse. Being a Selection of Poems published in The London Mercury, 1919-1930 (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), p. 86:
Brave English language, you are strong as trees,
Yet intricate and stately. Thus one sees
Through branches clear-embroidered stars. You please
Our sense as damask roses on the breeze,
And barns that smell of hay, and bread-and-cheese.
Rustic yet Roman, yours are dignities
Sonorous as the seas sound. On my knees
I would give thanks for all your words. Yet these—
Our legacy and our delight—he'd squeeze
And nip and dock and drill, to write with ease
Komershul memoz faw the Pawchoogeese.


I Read Nothing but Greek

T.J. Hogg (1792-1862), Life of Shelley, chapter XXVIII:
On the intervening days of rest I read Chaucer's ponderous, black-letter tome. It occupied much of my time, yet I did not altogether neglect the Greek Classics. On the contrary, I found leisure to read carefully, and with unspeakable delight, nine of the eleven comedies of Aristophanes; the other two plays I had read before. For that purpose I borrowed a nice, readable edition in octavo of a friend, who had devoted himself exclusively to Greek literature.


The very obliging lender of Brunck's Aristophanes was formerly a member, not without distinction, of a college of high repute in Oxford.

'I rise early; I always did; and I take one mouthful of air before breakfast—no more. I begin to read immediately after breakfast, that I may get a walk and appetite before dinner, which is essential.'

He spoke modestly of his dinner, but we will hope that he invariably made such a meal, as, in a wealthy establishment, a clerk in holy orders ought to make.

'I have my tea pretty soon after dinner; it freshens me up. I cannot read again until I have had my tea. When I have finished my book, in the summer—in the winter it would be ridiculous—I take a turn round the garden, when I am at home; when I am by the sea-side, on the sands close to the sea. I am not much of a supper-man; I never was; but I love just to play with a crab before going to bed; or with something of the kind, and to swallow a spoonful or two of warm negus.

'I read nothing but Greek. I have a three-years' course of Greek authors, which I go over every three years'.

He promised to give me a list of the authors, with dates showing the time which he gave to each. I reproach myself for letting the opportunity slip; for never having procured what I might then have obtained at any time.

'I read a few pages of Virgil and of Cicero two or three times in the year, just to satisfy myself that although they are very clever, very good in their way certainly, they are not to be compared with the Greek writers, but are immeasurably inferior in all respects; that it is a waste of time for a man who can read Greek to read their writings. 'On Sunday it is different. I do not read the classical authors; it would not be proper. I look over the newspaper very lightly; once a-week is enough. I read the Septuagint, the New Testament, and perhaps a homily or two of Chrysostom; in the original, of course.

'A newspaper once a-week, and very little of it, is sufficient surely. I will not say absolutely, that since the age of Pericles nothing has happened in the world, that a man of sense ought to care about. But since the publication of the last Greek author of acknowledged merit—I will not say the last classic, for I would not be illiberal or too restrictive—there has been no event that we need trouble ourselves much about. Of course, I except our blessed religion—that is a thing quite apart; I say nothing about that now; I speak only of profane matters—of secular affairs. When two or three scholars get together, we talk, you know, like heathens.

'Homer is an exception to my three-years' course—the only one. I read him every year.

'I reside in a country town; and I go every year to the sea-side in the summer, during the long days, for a month. I read a book of the Iliad every day before dinner, and a book of the Odyssey daily after dinner. In a month there are twenty-four week-days; there being twenty-four books in each poem, it just does it.

'The sea-side is the proper place to read Homer; he speaks so much of the sea. I throw in the Hymns—there are commonly two or three rainy days in the four weeks, when I cannot take a walk; so I always contrive to throw in the Hymns and the Frogs and Mice.

'I always use the Oxford Homer, as it is called. The Greek text, in four volumes octavo; without the Latin interpretation, but with the Greek scholia of Didymus, or whoever he was. I make use of common editions,' he showed me several of them, 'without many notes; for if I had to read many notes I should never get through. I use no other lexicon than Scapula; I find it quite sufficient'.

He produced a folio edition of Scapula, in which by long use he had worn a hole that would have contained a pair of stockings. He continued his triennial course of reading without interruption for thirty years, and consequently read Homer through thirty times; the other Greek classics ten times.

'I have looked into the translations of Homer; they are very poor affairs. I have heard much of a German translation, by Voss, but I do not understand German; I am quite content with the original. I have looked into Cowper's: I like his translation of Homer as little as I like his religion! I never published anything; I never wrote a line for publication. I have always been most unwilling to increase the sum of human errors: it is large enough already, to say the least'.

To have written a good book on the Tranquillity of Life, as the Scotchman, Volusenus Wilson, did, is something, but it is far more to have actually and so admirably practised it. I repeat my regret that I did not get from him his Itinerary of three years' journey and progress through the principal Greek authors; it would have been a literary curiosity, and interesting to many students, as the regular orbit of an ordinary mind, although of a very high order, to whom the erratic course of a transcendent genius—of a comet that blazes across the zenith once in a century, would be perplexing and incomprehensible.

This excellent scholar and clergyman had no family; his clerical duties were none, or trifling; he was not a man to neglect any duty, of superior, or inferior, obligation; and he had a competent, a moderate income derived from private sources, and independent of ecclesiastical stipends and benefices.

Friday, November 15, 2013


In the British Museum Reading Room

Owen Barfield (1898-1997), "On Reading an Elizabethan Lyric in the British Museum Reading Room," in The Mercury Book of Verse. Being a Selection of Poems published in The London Mercury, 1919-1930 (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), p. 31:
This is the fifty millionth year—
   The world is old—how old it seems!
Young literary gents flock here
   To feed on piles of dead men's dreams:

Bulging with dead men's thoughts, the air
   Hangs underneath the dome how still!
And girls with long and lovely hair
   Around them read John Stuart Mill.

God, for a doublet and a swishing cloak,
A pretty bodkin, and a lightning stroke,
A green bank, and some ladies not too wise
To listen while I raved about their eyes!


Who Worketh Most, to Their Share Least Doth Fall

Edward de Vere (1550-1604), "The Earle of Oxenforde to the Reader," in Cardanus Comforte, translated into Englishe. And Published by commaundement of the righte Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde. Newly perused, corrected, and augmented (London: Thomas Marsh, 1576), no page numbers (line numbers added):
The labouring man, that tilles the fertile soyle,
And reapes the harvest fruict, hath not in deede
The gaine but payne, and if for al hys toyle
He gets the strawe, the Lord will have the seede.
The Manchet fyne, falles not unto his share        5
On coursest cheat, his hungrye stomacke feedes
The Landlord doth, possesse the fynest fare,
He pulles the flowers, the other pluckes but weedes.
The Mason poore that buildes the Lordly halles
Dwelles not in them, they are for hye degree,        10
His Cottage is, compact in paper walles
And not with bricke, or stone as others be.
The idle Drone, that labours not at all
Suckes up the sweete, of honny from the Bee
Who worketh most, to their share least doth fall,        15
With due desert, reward will never be.
The swiftest Hare, unto the Mastive slowe
Oft times doth fall, to him as for a praye:
The Greyhounde thereby, doth misse his game we know
For which he made, such speedy hast away.        20
So he that takes, the payne to penne the booke
Reapes not the giftes, of goodly golden Muse
But those gayne that, who on the worke shal looke,
And from the soure, the sweete by skill doth chuse.
  For he that beates the bushe the byrde not gets,        25
  But who sittes still, and holdeth fast the nets.
4 Manchet: "Wheaten bread of the finest quality" (Oxford English Dictionary)
6 coursest: coarsest
6 cheat: "Wheaten bread of the second quality, made of flour more coarsely sifted than that used for MANCHET n., the finest quality" (Oxford English Dictionary)
11 compact: composed, framed
17 Mastive: mastiff

Also in The Poems of Edward DeVere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford and of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, ed. Steven W. May = Studies in Philology, Volume LXXVII (Early Winter, 1980), Number 5, Texts and Studies, p. 25, with commentary on p. 67.

From Karl Maurer:
I find very curious the commas that appear after the 4th syllable in almost every line, i.e. in all but 2, 9, 19 and 25. What do you think they are for? They often have no grammatical purpose; for example, "So hee that takes, the payne to penne the booke". Do you think they are put just to mark the caesurae? For there is a caesura after every 4th syllable, except in lines 2 and 19.

But to me 19 seems corrupt: "The Greyhounde thereby, doth misse his game we know". Since every other line in the poem is impeccably metrical, the extra syllable seems impossible; and if I were editor, I’d conjecture "The Hound thereby, doth" etc.
Cf. The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare's Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 289 (discussing George Puttenham, Art of English Poesie):
This indicates Puttenham's perception of the end of a verse as a break equivalent to a full stop, and the caesura, or mid-line break, as equivalent to a comma.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Fate of Trees Planted by Tao-hsuan

Bill Porter, Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993), p. 101:
Halfway up, I stopped at Chingyeh Temple. Over the temple's main door I saw the words that greeted me the first time I came here: "Use the Dharma to protect the Dharma." The temple dog barked. One of the monks came out and led me inside. He told me the dog was making up for one rainy night several months earlier when he had slept while someone sneaked in over the walls. The intruder had stripped the bark from two tu-chung trees (Eucommia ulmoides) to sell for its medicinal value. The trees were now dead. They had been planted in the temple's small courtyard more than thirteen hundred years ago by Tao-hsuan.
Hat tip: Tommy Richey.



An Autumn Serenade

John Leicester Warren (1835-1895), "An Autumn Serenade," The Collected Poems of Lord De Tabley (London: Chapman & Hall Limited, 1903), p. 85 (line numbers added):
Before the tears of autumn shed
  All leaves away at winter's door,
My queen, across the foliage tread
  Of yellow gusty woodland floor;
And watch the squirrel overhead        5
  In stories of her pine-trees hoar.

When only redbreast chirps thee on,
  And fingered chestnut leaves are cast;
And gaudy greenwood gathers wan
  On lime and beech, and sickens fast;        10
And acorns thicken paths upon,
  And shrew-mice treasure winter mast.

When plovers tremble up to cloud,
  And starling legions whirl apace;
And redwing nations restless-loud        15
  Are over every fallow's face;
And barren branches like a shroud
  Blacken the sun-way's interspace.

The winds, all summer idly dead,
  Give prelude to their winter tune.        20
Grey hoar-frost hears them, from his bed
  Lays out white hands, and wakens soon.
He laughs as soughing elm-trees shed
  Old homes of breeding rooks in June.
Notes to myself:

3 My queen: parse as vocative
3, 5 parse as imperatives
6 stories: plural of storey, not story
7 chirps thee on: the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes that chirp may be transitive (sense 2.b "To greet or incite by chirping") but gives no examples
8 gather: none of the intransitive meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary really seem to fit, except perhaps "To contract, to grow narrower" (sense 20.a) or "To form folds or wrinkles" (sense 20.b)
11 upon: postponed preposition, whose object is paths
16 fallow: parse as a noun

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


A Male Puberty Rite

Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), p. 26:
Everyone understood that Latin learning was inseparable from whipping. One educational theorist of the time speculated that the buttocks were created in order to facilitate the learning of Latin. A good teacher was by definition a strict teacher; pedagogical reputations were made by the vigor of the beatings administered. The practice was time-honored and entrenched: as part of his final examination at Cambridge, a graduate in grammar in the late Middle Ages was required to demonstrate his pedagogical fitness by flogging a dull or recalcitrant boy. Learning Latin in this period was, as a modern scholar has put it, a male puberty rite. Even for an exceptionally apt student, that puberty rite could not have been pleasant.
Related posts:

Sunday, November 10, 2013



Paul Ponder, Noctes Atticae, or Reveries in a Garret; Containing Short, and Chiefly Original, Observations on Men and Books (Bath: Richard Cruttwell, 1825), p. 105:
                                           Great Quoters.
These borrowings from the wit and learning of other men are entertaining to a company, if the quoters do not too much presume on their memories; or else their scraps proclaim them mere parrots in literature, and instead of men rich in learned ore, shew themselves to be mendicants. The line which Dr. Young so wittily applied to proud and degenerate nobles, may be applied to these usurpers of learning, who are not scholars in their own right, and who
Bring in their bills, instead of their discharge.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (May 1849):
I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.


An Old Man's Consolation

John Leicester Warren (1835-1895), "An Old Man's Consolation," The Collected Poems of Lord De Tabley (London: Chapman & Hall Limited, 1903), pp. 450-452:
Failure I know is poison to the young.
My lad, I share your sorrows; in my day
I've suffered much, and mastered more like these.
You see that I am old, but I am wise
In that peculiar wisdom, cheaply held,
To take the common incidents of life
At proper estimate, not overmuch
Exalted with the good, nor dashed with ill.
My days have borne no fruit as men account
The good of life, success, emoluments,
Respect in public print, and to be noised
In feeble mouths, the bubble god of the hour.
I have not even gather'd store of coin
To make these few declining years of mine
Repay the watching of my hungry heirs,
Or justify the generous hopes of those
That knew me at my best: poor have I been
Always, but never quite at starving point.
I have not blinded nature from my heart,
Refusing to the common fields and clouds
Their excellence of glory. Not in vain
For me the process of the months resumed
The cyclic renovation of their powers;
And every flower that feeds on English air
In wilding pomp is my familiar friend;
Familiar, too, the voice of every bird,
In summer's guarded greens and sounding dales.
I know not these things as prim science knows:
I never read a pompous monograph
To drowsy benches, and my naked name
Provokes not half the jumbled alphabet
To jostle in its wake upon the page
Of scientific records. I have learned
To praise the simple things before my feet.
The birds and trees and herbs and animals
Are incidents enough, and each a world
Of large experience; I have lived with these.
Oft with a townward thought on summer morns,
When all the birds are round and misted lengths
Of branchy undulation, zone on zone,
I leave in spirit the divine excess
Of nature for the discord and the steam
Of yonder seething city, picture there
Its visible nature bounded to a strip
Of zenith sky, some lean and wisping cloud.
Thence shuddering back I find the scent of fields,
And comprehend my full prosperity.
Ambition stings us in the narrow streets
To push and envy for the public prize.
Upon the mountain we forget ourselves
To greatness where no meaner thoughts intrude.

You are a boy to me. When I was young
I too had dreams, as we must all have dreams
Of making notable this microcosm
Of self above the level of our peers:
Such self-opinion chiefly fault and bane
Of school-day reputation, where I slaved
When abler men were fallow till their time,
And where the trick of memory reaped me praise,
That very essence of a school success,
In after life a mere accessory
To power of combination and the rare
And ruling gift, originality.

I found my level soon. Be witness, Heaven,
How bitter this reaction, when the boy
Beheld his crumbled idols and awoke
To scorn himself as much below his powers
As he was puffed erewhile. This was not long.
There is a strong and natural health bestowed
On youth, prevailing over shocks and falls,
Beyond the reach of morbid taint or touch
Of vicious system, still a healthful core.
I righted swiftly, chose my life with heed
And lived it with contentment and delight,
Measuring still my wishes by the power
To make them deed, contented to resign
The fruit beyond my reaching. I have found
As sweet a flavour where before my feet
Some modest berry hardly clears the soil.


Books We Think We Have Read

None of the first four books written by renowned grammarian and lexicographer H.W. Fowler (1858-1933) seems to be available on the World Wide Web. The following list, which doesn't include works written in collaboration with his brother, comes from Jenny McMorris, The Warden of English: The Life of H.W. Fowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 229:
Fowler's first article, "Books We Think We Have Read," The Spectator, Vol. 84, No. 3,734 (January 20, 1900) 83-84, appeared anonymously and is reproduced below.
There are essentials of respectability which we all assume about our neighbours (and ourselves), as, that they (and we) do not lie, "unless they be so disposed or it stands them in good stead," are no cowards, except for reasons that Falstaff might approve, do not pay less than a weekly minimum to the laundress, feel no temptation to put their table-knives where Germans are supposed to put them, and are not ignorant of certain books. Not without indignation we often detect a neighbour coming short in one or other requirement; more in sorrow than in anger we now and then have to confess the same of and to ourselves. Shortcomings of the literary kind differ somewhat from the rest; they are oftener realised, but the pang is less acute; custom stales it; we get to know the flash of self-reproach followed by the swift relieving thunder of good resolution, which so habitually rumbles away into ineffectual silence that anything but vanum fulmen is something of a portent. Still, it is with a genuine shock of vexed surprise that we surrender again and again the comfortable conviction that we have read all that decency requires of an educated man, and plead guilty to Mr. Frederic Harrison's indictment, "the incorrigible habit of reading the little books." Gigadibs, the literary man, may be presumed safe against such shocks; the great books are very much his stock-in-trade; if he neglects them, he soon finds himself hampered at every turn, dare not hazard some telling allusion for fear of a blunder; but alas for the rest of us I the little books, and the illiterate pains and joys of living, are too engrossing. Some sociable athlete of five-and-twenty remarks that it is a queer thing, but up to fifteen he was so devoted a reader that he could never be got out of the house. His literature now is the Sporting Life; it is queer: credimus quia impossibile; yet a doubt will lurk whether the pages of "Robinson Crusoe," if he should turn them, would not prove for him fuller of novelty than reminiscence. Hear Mr. Froude on Bunyan, and you conclude that nearly as many people have read the "Pilgrim's Progress" as have read Genesis and the Gospels; but we suspect Mr. Froude of having credited his own reading to a multitude as fictitious as Macaulay's schoolboy. A Sunday afternoon paternal reading of the fight with Apollyon, dimly recalled, and assisted by the familiar sound of the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair, suffices to give a sort of vicarious title good enough for us, till one day, stranded bookless in an inn, we learn under compulsion that the Interpreter's House and the Delectable Mountains and the Valley of Humiliation are in truth unknown regions to us; the man who hailed a new book's advent by taking down an old had reason, we reflect; at least this larger air, this naive simplicity, may be as healthy a change from magazines and problem plays as the holiday jaunt, which has brought us acquainted with it, from the Stock Exchange. You cannot remember a time when the tilt against the windmills was not part of your consciousness, and have lived perhaps with an engraving of the Knight and the shepherds, or Sancho and the Duchess; it surely is absurd to suppose that you have not read the book,—when you have so often excused yourself, too, for ignorance of some pedantic allusion by saying that it is so long since you did so; and yet—?

It is easiest for these assumptions to be made about the books which are luckless enough to appeal to youth as well as to maturity; luckless, for nothing can save them, once stamped juvenile, from being taken as read. What, read what we may have read before? Forbid it, spirit of the century! If Homer is cognisant of our England, how must he hug himself for his happy thought of writing Greek, not English; else had his been among the boys' books, and his "fit audience, though few," among the elders had been fewer. Mention of green spectacles, a popular ditty about Olivia, a hazy memory of "fudge," do for the "Vicar" what a breakfast-table discussion of egg-cracking, and a newspaper reference to Laputa or the Struldbrugs, do for Gulliver,—make us believe we have had out of them what is to be had; and "Tom Jones" belongs to the same category.

But the books which children can enjoy are not the only ones to which the delusion attaches. We are angry if any one doubts our intimacy with Shakespeare. But what proportion of the "educated" know the sonnets or the less read plays? To have turned half-a-dozen sonnets into elegiacs and skimmed a pamphlet on Mr. W.H. and Thorpe is not to have read the sonnets; the plot and the names of Valentine and Proteus, retained from Mary Lamb, are sorry spoils from the Two Gentlemen of Verona. And boyhood's wholesome indifference to artistic canons about a whole with beginning and middle and end may have left us in the practical belief that the two books of the "Paradise Lost" under which we suffered at school comprised, in a philosophic sense, the entire work; we have never looked on "Milton's Adam when he awoke, child and man at once," but we have been in company with Satan and Beelzebub, and to disclaim having read Milton would be mere punctilio.

Well, perhaps the authors have no ground of complaint; the testimony to their greatness is the very fact that they have drawn their characters in lines firm and broad enough to be so well known that we scarce need to go to the originals. The authors on their Parnassus may well be content; but we below are fools if we are content for our part to give them our empty worship without enjoying the good gifts they proffer. Among these gifts are treasures new and old: much that is new to us we shall not fail to find: literary fame that has stood the test of time does not lie. Such new wealth needs not to be recommended; but a special charm clings to the old, to the incidents and characters that we knew before in some sort of reproduction. What more delightful than to find yourself face to face in Berlin, say, with the Van Eyck "man with a pink" whose black and white counterfeit has been upon your wall for years? So it is when Fag's transference of kicks is known again in Sancho's pronunciation lesson, Mrs. Malaprop in Dogberry, and Acres' courage in Sir Andrew's. But if we like to find the original, even when the copy is from a master-hand—and Sheridan is no vulgar plagiarist—how much more when all we have else is the poor thin outline of common talk?

And now a word upon the way to enjoy the books that we affect to have read, or have read with the half-reading of childhood. They are not of the kind that cry aloud to be swallowed, they "are to be chewed and digested"; finish them at a sitting, and you feel that you have been a spendthrift and a glutton. Happy is the man who can take them as relish with breakfast bread and butter, or noonday bread and cheese; those bovine products seem to fill the blood with a bovine, browsing humour, apt for chewing the cud.

Don Quixote shall last you on such terms for a month or two. The elastic scheme, that might have shrunk to one volume, or stretched to twenty, you know before; excitement is not in question; no tossing off of ardent spirits, but the connoisseur's deliberate rolling in the mouth of some old vintage; the most poignant emotion a mild regret that Sancho's gift of Solomon-judgment should meet such poor requital, the cream of knighthood be worsted at last in fair encounter, and Dulcinea keep her mysterious nonentity to the end. We had designed to say more than space will allow us of this greatest of the unread. It is churlish to end a feast of delight and say no grace, to close a book whose every page is luminous without an effort to spread the light; "something may be said or written—a word be spoken—that may help, in some infinitesimal proportion," not the fame of the famous, but the knowledge of the half-known.

It may be something for the timid undertaker of stories long and old to be assured that here is no fine scheme tailing off in the sequel into monotony and weariness. The material of all sorts is as inexhaustible as the amazing flood of Sancho's proverbs, which are more apposite than the fastidious Don (who "must sweat, as if he were delving, to speak but one and apply it properly") will allow. Master and man develop as we read: the Knight from unconscious to conscious humourist, from his simple self to Cervantes and himself in one, the squire from butt to buffoon and from buffoon to Solomon; yet neither so that the earlier elements evaporate. And the bond between them is ever stronger and easier; the double workings of self-delusion are its core, and the juxtaposition has all the effect of the twin-plots of Shakespeare: Gloster is but another spelling of Lear; and if the knight-errant can admit that Dulcinea's qualities and existence may be imaginary, yet all the time hold her sacred, the squire on his lower plane can accept as very truth the juggling metamorphosis to a skipping wench of which he knows himself the author. Charming is the mingled pride and tenderness with which each comes to regard the other's strength and weakness. Yet, O flower of chivalry, was it well done to permit, nay, to entreat, that another's back should bear the lashes of disenchantment? And, thou that didst so revere thy lord's wisdom, was it fit that thou shouldst lay him on his back to save thine own? Like master like man once more. To conclude is hopeless: we must break off, and trust our problematic converts to complete the eulogium for themselves.

Saturday, November 09, 2013


The Scholar's Felicity

Paul Ponder, Noctes Atticae, or Reveries in a Garret; Containing Short, and Chiefly Original, Observations on Men and Books (Bath: Richard Cruttwell, 1825), p. 85:
                                           The Scholar's Felicity.
Dr. Young,* speaking of "Composition," remarks, "to men of letters it is not only a noble amusement, but a sweet refuge; it improves their parts, and promotes their peace; it opens a backdoor out of the bustle of this busy and idle world into a delicious garden of moral and intellectual fruits and flowers, the key of which is denied to the rest of mankind. When stung with idle anxieties, or teased with fruitless impertinence, or yawning over insipid diversions, then we see the blessings of a lettered recess." So sings an elegant poet—
Such of the Muses are the able powers,
That since with them I spent the vacant hours,
I find nor hawk, nor hound, nor other thing,
Tournays nor revels, (pleasures for a king,)
Yield more delight.

                 Britannia's Pastorals, by W. Brown.
* See his Conjectures on Original Composition.

Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), A Scholar in his Study

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