Sunday, June 21, 2015


Character of a Taciturn Person

Richard Flecknoe, "Of a Taciturnos Person," in Seventy Eight Characters of So many Vertuous and Vitious Persons. Written by one well acquainted with most of them (London: Printed for Publick use, 1677), p. 16 (following "Of a Talkative Lady"):
He is the contrary Extream, and knows as little to talk as the other, to hold her Peace. Fryer Bacons Head was a talkative one to his, and betwixt what he says and nothing, is little difference. The Wheels of his Tongue, like those of a Rusty Jack, want oyling, and are perpetually at a stand: He is like Pharacesius's Picture, all Curtain; and those who think there is anything under it, like Zeuxes, are deceived; yet we have a certain sort of Spiritual Pichagorians, with whom Silence is in Precept, and such Mutes in veneration, who count dulness Wisdom, and whose Wisdom is good cheap, if it onely consists in being silent: For how can we distinguish between Fools and their Wisemen, if either hold their peace? But since they will needs have it so, to do them a courtesie, I will believe this once, That he hath some what in him, since I could never yet see any thing come out of him.
Some notes:

Taciturnos: Taciturnous, for which the only example in the Oxford English Dictionary is Nathan Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1727). Flecknoe's use is at least fifty years earlier. I haven't checked earlier editions of Flecknoe's Characters.

Fryer Bacons Head: see Robert Greene, The Honorable Historie of frier Bacon, and frier Bongay (London: Edward White, 1594), Act IV, Scene 1, in which the brass head constructed by Friar Bacon only says "Time is," "Time was," and "Time is past."

Rusty Jack: on a jack with a wheel see Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. Jack, n.1, sense 10.a: "A machine, usually portable, for lifting heavy weights by force acting from below; in the commonest form, having a rack and a pinion wheel or screw and a handle turned by hand."

Pharacesius: Parrhasius. See Pliny, Natural History 35.65 (on the painter Zeuxis; tr. H. Rackham): "His contemporaries and rivals were Timanthes, Androcydes, Eupompus and Parrhasius. This last, it is recorded, entered into a competition with Zeuxis, who produced a picture of grapes so successfully represented that birds flew up to the stage-buildings; whereupon Parrhasius himself produced such a realistic picture of a curtain that Zeuxis, proud of the verdict of the birds, requested that the curtain should now be drawn and the picture displayed; and when he realized his mistake, with a modesty that did him honour he yielded up the prize, saying that whereas he had deceived birds Parrhasius had deceived him, an artist."

Pichagorians: Pythagoreans. Pythagoras enoined a five-year period of silence on his students.

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