Thursday, May 19, 2022


Scholarship and Stamp-Collecting

Leslie Mitchell, Maurice Bowra: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 80, with notes on p. 329:
As Maurice, self-mockingly, described his working methods, it was all a matter of perspiration and akin to stamp collecting: 'My long and boring book goes on and on. There is a lot of nonsense about learning. It is really a substitute for stamp-collecting, but instead of coloured bits of paper one collects comic little facts in the faint, far hope that one day they will fall into a pattern. But of course they don't.'57 He used nearly the same words to a goddaughter:
I have begun work on a subject so obscure that I can't tell anyone about it. It is quite mad, and I have no qualifications for it. Not that that has ever hindered me. I collect bits of useless information and put them together. It is just as if, after fifty years, I had gone back to stamp-collecting. It provides what Tennyson calls 'the sad mechanic exercise', words most appropriate to what we dignify by the name of learning.58
57. C.M. Bowra to A. James, 3 Dec. [1950]; Harvard, Houghton Lib., BMS AM 1938 (152).

58. Idem to C. Clark, 28 Dec. [1960], C. Clark MSS.
Arthur Stanley Pease, quoted in J.P. Elder et al., "Arthur Stanley Pease 1881-1964," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965) ix:
I will confess that I am by nature a collector, that I began with marbles and horse-chestnuts, advanced to postage stamps, continued with botany and books, and at all times have gathered facts and occasionally ideas.

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

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