And, also domb as any stoon, Thou sittest at another book

From Chaucer’s House of Fame (647-660), a supposed biographical sketch of the poet that I’d rather be wrong in believing than right in deconstructing. The translation is borrowed from the apparently inexhaustible A.S. Kline (here)

And noght oonly fro fer contree
That ther no tydynge cometh to thee,
But of thy verray neyghebores,
That duellen almost at thy dores,
Thou herist neyther that ne this;
For when thy labour doon al ys,
And hast mad alle thy rekenynges,
In stede of reste and newe thynges
Thou goost hom to thy hous anoon,
And, also domb as any stoon,
Thou sittest at another book
Tyl fully daswed ys thy look;
And lyvest thus as an heremyte,
Although thyn abstynence ys lyte.


And not only that from far country
No tidings ever come to thee,
But of your very own neighbours
That dwell almost at your doors,
You hear neither that nor this;
For when your labours finish,
And you’ve made your reckoning,
Instead of rest and new things,
You go home to your house anon;
And, as dumb as any stone,
You sit down to another book
Till full dazed is your look,
And live thus like a hermit,
Though abstaining never a bit.

It moves my spleen to see these things in books’ clothing perched upon shelves

From Charles Lamb’s Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading:

In this catalogue of books which are no books—biblia abiblia—I reckon Court Calendars, Directories, Pocket Books, Draught Boards bound and lettered at the back, Scientific Treatises, Almanacks, Statutes at Large; the works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Beattie, Soame Jenyns, and, generally, all those volumes which “no gentleman’s library should be without:” the Histories of Flavius Josephus (that learned Jew), and Paley’s Moral Philosophy. With these exceptions, I can read almost any thing. I bless my stars for a taste so catholic, so unexcluding.

I confess that it moves my spleen to see these things in books’ clothing perched upon shelves, like false saints, usurpers of true shrines, intruders into the sanctuary, thrusting out the legitimate occupants. To reach down a well-bound semblance of a volume, and hope it is some kind-hearted play-book, then, opening what “seem its leaves,” to come bolt upon a withering Population Essay. To expect a Steele, or a Farquhar, and find—Adam Smith. To view a well-arranged assortment of blockheaded Encyclopædias (Anglicanas or Metropolitanas) set out in an array of Russia, or Morocco, when a tithe of that good leather would comfortably re-clothe my shivering folios; would renovate Paracelsus himself, and enable old Raymund Lully to look like himself again in the world. I never see these impostors, but I long to strip them, to warm my ragged veterans in their spoils.

I’ve linked to my best guess at the forgotten authors mentioned (the Penguin edition editor conveniently fails to identify them). Lamb is of course having half – or better – a joke but it’s fitting that two centuries on no one reads any of the authors mentioned except fragments of Hume and Gibbon. And for Hume no one is reading the work that context argues he’s being cited for here – his History of England.

The writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so

From the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature:

Every particular fact and story became more interesting and more pleasurable if, by being properly fitted in, it carried one’s mind back to the Model [of the universe and man’s place in it] as a whole.

If I am right, the man of genius then found himself in a situation very different from that of his modern successor. Such a man today often, perhaps usually, feels himself confronted with a reality whose significance he cannot know, or a reality that has no significance; or even a reality such that the very question whether it has a meaning is itself a meaningless question. It is for him, by his own sensibility, to discover a meaning, or, out of his own subjectivity, to give a meaning—or at least a shape—to what in itself had neither. But the Model universe of our ancestors had a built-in significance. And that in two senses; as having ‘significant form’ (it is an admirable design) and as a manifestation of the wisdom and goodness that created it. There was no question of waking it into beauty or life. Ours, most emphatically, was not the wedding garment, nor the shroud. The achieved perfection was already there. The only difficulty was to make an adequate response.

This, if accepted, will perhaps go far to explain some characteristics of medieval literature.

It may, for example, explain both its most typical vice and its most typical virtue. The typical vice, as we all know, is dulness; sheer, unabashed, prolonged dulness, where the author does not seem to be even trying to interest us. The South English Legendary or Ormulum or parts of Hoccleve are good examples. One sees how the belief in a world of built-in significance encourages this. The writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so. The story, however badly told, will still be worth telling; the truths, however badly stated, still worth stating. He expects the subject to do for him nearly everything he ought to do himself. Outside literature we can still see this state of mind at work. On the lowest intellectual level, people who find any one subject entirely engrossing are apt to think that any reference to it, of whatever quality, must have some value. Pious people on that level appear to think that the quotation of any scriptural text, or any line from a hymn, or even any noise made by a harmonium, is an edifying sermon or a cogent apologetic. Less pious people on the same level, dull clowns, seem to think that they have achieved either a voluptuous or a comic effect—I am not sure which is intended—by chalking up a single indecent word on a wall. The presence of a Model whose significance is ‘given’ is likewise no unmixed blessing.

And yet, I believe, it is also connected with the characteristic virtue of good medieval work. What this is, anyone can feel if he turns from the narrative verse of, say, Chapman or Keats to the best parts of Marie de France or Gower. What will strike him at once is the absence of strain. In the Elizabethan or Romantic examples we feel that the poet has done a great deal of work; in the medieval, we are at first hardly aware of a poet at all. The writing is so limpid and effortless that the story seems to be telling itself. You would think, till you tried, that anyone could do the like. But in reality no story tells itself. Art is at work. But it is the art of people who, no less than the bad medieval authors, have a complete confidence in the intrinsic value of their matter. The telling is for the sake of the tale; in Chapman or Keats we feel that the tale is valued only as an opportunity for the lavish and highly individual treatment. We feel the same difference on turning from Sidney’s Arcadia to Malory’s Morte, or from a battle in Drayton to one in LaƷamon. I am not suggesting a preference, for both ways of writing can be good; I am only underlining a difference.

The liar platonic

From Henry James’ short story The Liar – I often forget the straight comic vein that runs through early-to-mid Jamesian character sketches.

The observation of these three days showed him that if Capadose was an abundant he was not a malignant liar and that his fine faculty exercised itself mainly on subjects of small direct importance. ‘He is the liar platonic,’ he said to himself; ‘he is disinterested, he doesn’t operate with a hope of gain or with a desire to injure. It is art for art and he is prompted by the love of beauty. He has an inner vision of what might have been, of what ought to be, and he helps on the good cause by the simple substitution of a nuance. He paints, as it were, and so do I!’ His manifestations had a considerable variety, but a family likeness ran through them, which consisted mainly of their singular futility. It was this that made them offensive; they encumbered the field of conversation, took up valuable space, converted it into a sort of brilliant sun-shot fog. For a fib told under pressure a convenient place can usually be found, as for a person who presents himself with an author’s order at the first night of a play. But the supererogatory lie is the gentleman without a voucher or a ticket who accommodates himself with a stool in the passage.

In one particular Lyon acquitted his successful rival; it had puzzled him that irrepressible as he was he had not got into a mess in the service. But he perceived that he respected the service—that august institution was sacred from his depredations. Moreover though there was a great deal of swagger in his talk it was, oddly enough, rarely swagger about his military exploits. He had a passion for the chase, he had followed it in far countries and some of his finest flowers were reminiscences of lonely danger and escape. The more solitary the scene the bigger of course the flower. A new acquaintance, with the Colonel, always received the tribute of a bouquet: that generalisation Lyon very promptly made. And this extraordinary man had inconsistencies and unexpected lapses—lapses into flat veracity. Lyon recognised what Sir David had told him, that his aberrations came in fits or periods—that he would sometimes keep the truce of God for a month at a time. The muse breathed upon him at her pleasure; she often left him alone. He would neglect the finest openings and then set sail in the teeth of the breeze. As a general thing he affirmed the false rather than denied the true; yet this proportion was sometimes strikingly reversed. Very often he joined in the laugh against himself—he admitted that he was trying it on and that a good many of his anecdotes had an experimental character. Still he never completely retracted nor retreated—he dived and came up in another place.

Fontenelle’s Gold Tooth

Fontenelle‘s tale of the golden tooth, originally from his 1687 Histoire des Oracles (English with some formatting issues here) but quoted here (in italics) as found in Paul Hazard’s Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715 (La Crise de la conscience europeen) and book-ended with Hazard’s (non-italics) commentary:

Everybody knows about the story of the Gold Tooth, a diverting tale, well conceived and full of significance. Let us read it once more, for its lesson never grows stale, and as we read let us recall the sensation it made when it first came out. Fontenelle, while seemingly indulging in a little harmless amusement, touches in reality on three matters of profound human concern: Science, History, and Religion.

In the year 1593, the report got about that, somewhere in Silesia, a child of seven had lost all its teeth, but that one of the missing.molars had been replaced by another, all of gold. In 1595, one, Horstius, Professor of Medicine at the University of Helmstad, wrote an account of this tooth, giving it as his opinion that it was partly natural, partly miraculous, declaring that God had bestowed it on the child in order to console the Christians for the sufferings they had undergone at the hands of the Turks. Truly, a strange sort of consolation! And of what possible concern could this tooth have been to the Christians, or the Turks? That same year, so that the Golden Tooth should not be lacking in historians, Rullandus wrote another account of it. Two years later, Ingolsteterus, another man of learning, wrote a work in which he contested Rullandus’ views on the Golden Tooth, whereupon Rullandus came out with an elaborate and erudite rejoinder. Yet another eminent person, named Libavius, collected and collated all the statements that had been put forward in regard to the tooth, to which he appended a theory of his own. These works were all very impressive; only one thing was lacking and that was any clear evidence that the tooth was a gold one at all. On its being handed to a goldsmith for examination, he discovered that a piece of gold leaf had with amazing dexterity been superimposed on the tooth. First came the books about it; afterwards, the expert examination by the goldsmith.

That is what happens in all manner of cases. It is just human nature. What in my view brings home the extent of our ignorance is not so much the facts which really are facts, but which we cannot explain, as the explanations we produce of the facts which are not facts at all; which is as much as to say that while we have no principles that should lead us to the truth, we have plenty of others well calculated to lead us away from it.

Learned men of science clearly demonstrated how it was that underground places were warm in winter and cool in summer; then other scientists still more learned, came along with the discovery that the whole thing was a mistake and that the original statement was entirely incorrect; underground places were not warm in winter and cool in summer.

Historical questions are still more liable to this sort of error. We discuss and argue about what the historians have told us. But these historians—what manner of men were they? Had they not their own passionate predilections? Were they not credulous, or ill-informed, or inaccurate? Find me a single one who examined his subject, whatever it may have been, with a completely unprejudiced and attentive eye.

All this is especially pertinent when your particular subject-matter happens to be concerned with religion. In such cases, according to the side you are on, it is no easy matter to avoid ascribing to a false religion virtues which it cannot claim, or to a true one, virtues which it does not need. However, we ought clearly to understand that, just as we can never add truth to what is true already, so we can never impart truth to what is intrinsically false.


At first, he seems to be indulging in a little playful banter; but gradually, as he proceeds, his tone becomes graver and graver. Through all these airs and graces, the underlying idea, profound though it be, is clear enough and it obviously tallies with what Bayle had said in the matter of comets; the likeness is unmistakable. There is the same appeal to a wider audience than that of the professional philosophers and theologians, the same pitiless denunciation, first, of human frailty, the primary cause of all error, next of tradition, which blindly takes error to its bosom, fortifies it and renders it all but invincible. Some absurd idea or other crops up; the Ancients take it seriously and give it their imprimatur; then we, the later generations, accept it with our eyes shut, on the authority of the Ancients. The process never varies. Get half a dozen people to believe that the sun is not the source of daylight, and the thing is done. In time, whole nations will come to believe it.

Starry walks with C.S. Lewis

Tips on experiencing the medieval universe, from C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (from pages 98, 112, and 118).

These facts are in themselves curiosities of mediocre interest. They become valuable only in so far as they enable us to enter more fully into the consciousness of our ancestors by realising how such a universe must have affected those who believed in it. The recipe for such realisation is not the study of books. You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology. Remember that you now have an absolute Up and Down. The Earth is really the centre, really the lowest place; movement to it from whatever direction is downward movement. As a modern, you located the stars at a great distance. For distance you must now substitute that very special, and far less abstract, sort of distance which we call height; height, which speaks immediately to our muscles and nerves. The Medieval Model is vertiginous. And the fact that the height of the stars in the medieval astronomy is very small compared with their distance in the modern, will turn out not to have the kind of importance you anticipated. For thought and imagination, ten million miles and a thousand million are much the same. Both can be conceived (that is, we can do sums with both) and neither can be imagined; and the more imagination we have the better we shall know this. The really important difference is that the medieval universe, while unimaginably large, was also unambiguously finite. And one unexpected result of this is to make the smallness of Earth more vividly felt. In our universe she is small, no doubt; but so are the galaxies, so is everything—and so what? But in theirs there was an absolute standard of comparison. The furthest sphere, Dante’s maggior corpo is, quite simply and finally, the largest object in existence. The word ‘small’ as applied to Earth thus takes on a far more absolute significance. Again, because the medieval universe is finite, it has a shape, the perfect spherical shape, containing within itself an ordered variety. Hence to look out on the night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about one in a trackless forest—trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building. The ‘space’ of modern astronomy may arouse terror, or bewilderment or vague reverie; the spheres of the old present us with an object in which the mind can rest, overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony. That is the sense in which our universe is romantic, and theirs was classical.


Nothing is more deeply impressed on the cosmic imaginings of a modern than the idea that the heavenly bodies move in a pitch-black and dead-cold vacuity. It was not so in the Medieval Model. Already in our passage from Lucan, we have seen that (on the most probable interpretation) the ascending spirit passes into a region compared with which our terrestrial day is only a sort of night; and nowhere in medieval literature have I found any suggestion that, if we could enter the translunary world, we should find ourselves in an abyss of darkness. For their system is in one sense more heliocentric than ours. The sun illuminates the whole universe. All the stars, says Isidore (III, lxi) are said to have no light of their own but, like the Moon, to be illuminated by Sol. Dante in the Convivio agrees (II, xiii, 15). And as they had, I think, no conception of the part which the air plays in turning physical light into the circumambient colour-realm that we call Day, we must picture all the countless cubic miles within the vast concavity as illuminated. Night is merely the conical shadow cast by our Earth. It extends, according to Dante (Paradiso, IX, 118) as far as to the sphere of Venus. Since the Sun moves and the Earth is stationary, we must picture this long, black finger perpetually revolving like the hand of a clock; that is why Milton calls it ‘the circling canopie of Night’s extended shade’ (Paradise Lost, III, 556). Beyond that there is no night; only ‘happie climes that lie where day never shuts his eye’ (Comus, 978). When we look up at the night sky we are looking through darkness but not at darkness.

And secondly, as that vast (though finite) space is not dark, so neither is it silent. If our ears were opened we should perceive, as Henryson puts it,

every planet in his proper sphere
In moving makand harmony and sound (Fables, 1659)

as Dante heard it (Paradiso, I, 78) and Troilus (V, 1812).

If the reader cares to repeat the experiment, already suggested, of a nocturnal walk with the medieval astronomy in mind, he will easily feel the effect of these two last details. The ‘silence’ which frightened Pascal was, according to the Model, wholly illusory; and the sky looks black only because we are seeing it through the dark glass of our own shadow. You must conceive yourself looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music.


I can hardly hope that I shall persuade the reader to yet a third experimental walk by starlight. But perhaps, without actually taking the walk, he can now improve his picture of that old universe by adding such finishing touches as this section has suggested. Whatever else a modern feels when he looks at the night sky, he certainly feels that he is looking out—like one looking out from the saloon entrance on to the dark Atlantic or from the lighted porch upon dark and lonely moors. But if you accepted the Medieval Model you would feel like one looking in. The Earth is ‘outside the city wall’. When the sun is up he dazzles us and we cannot see inside. Darkness, our own darkness, draws the veil and we catch a glimpse of the high pomps within; the vast, lighted concavity filled with music and life. And, looking in, we do not see, like Meredith’s Lucifer, ‘the army of unalterable law’, but rather the revelry of insatiable love. We are watching the activity of creatures whose experience we can only lamely compare to that of one in the act of drinking, his thirst delighted yet not quenched. For in them the highest of faculties is always exercised without impediment on the noblest object; without satiety, since they can never completely make His perfection their own, yet never frustrated, since at every moment they approximate to Him in the fullest measure of which their nature is capable. You need not wonder that one old picture represents the Intelligence of the Primum Mobile as a girl dancing and playing with her sphere as with a ball. Then, laying aside whatever Theology or Atheology you held before, run your mind up heaven by heaven to Him who is really the centre, to your senses the circumference, of all; the quarry whom all these untiring huntsmen pursue, the candle to whom all these moths move yet are not burned.

There is a triple sight in blindness keen

John Keats’ To Homer

Standing aloof in giant ignorance,
Of thee I hear and of the Cyclades,
As one who sits ashore and longs perchance
To visit dolphin-coral in deep seas.
So thou wast blind;—but then the veil was rent,
For Jove uncurtain’d Heaven to let thee live,
And Neptune made for thee a spumy tent,
And Pan made sing for thee his forest-hive;
Aye on the shores of darkness there is light,
And precipices show untrodden green,
There is a budding morrow in midnight,
There is a triple sight in blindness keen;
Such seeing hadst thou, as it once befel
To Dian, Queen of Earth, and Heaven, and Hell.

He turned it, churned it, upturned it; spattered it, battered it, bent it, bonked it, dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it …

From Rabelais’ Prologe to the Third Book, a tale of Diogenes borrowed from Lucian’s How to Write History and thoroughly Rabelais-ized.

When Philip, King of Macedonia, undertook to besiege Corinth and reduce it to rubble, the Corinthians, warned by their spies that he was marching against them with a mighty army and vast array, were all rightly alarmed, overlooking nothing, all taking up their posts and doing their duty to resist his hostile advance and defend their city. Some brought everything movable out of the fields and into the fortresses, with their cattle, grain, wine, fruit, victuals and all necessary provisions.

Others repaired the walls, erected bastions, squared off outworks, dug trenches, excavated countermines, reinforced gabions, prepared emplacements, cleared clutter from the casemates, refixed bars on to advanced parapets, built high platforms for cannons, repaired the outer slopes of ditches, plastered the courtines between the bastions, built advanced pill-boxes, banked up earth parapets, keyed stones into barbicans, lined the chutes for molten lead, renewed cables on [Saracen-style] portcullises (or ‘cataracts’), stationed sentinels and sent out patrols.

Everyone was on the alert; everyone was carrying his hod. Some were burnishing breastplates, cleaning corselets and polishing the metal bands and head-armour of their horses, and their own plated jackets, light armour, helmets, [beavers, iron skull-caps, gisarmes,] headpieces, morions, coats of mail, [jaze-rants, wrist-guards, tasses,] gussets, limb-armour, breast-plates, joint-armour, hauberks, body-shields, bucklers, foot-armour, leg-plates, ankle-plates and spurs. Others were readying their bows, slings, crossbows, lead-shot, catapults, [fire-arrows,] fire-grenades, fire-pots, fire-wheels and fire-darts, ballistas, stone-hurling scorpions and other weapons for repelling and destroying siege-towers.

They sharpened spears, pikes, falchions, halberds, hooked spears, [sickles,] lances, zagayes, pitchforks, partisans, bladed maces, battle-axes, darts, javelins, light javelins, long stakes and leisters. They whetted swords, scimitars, broadblades, badlars, [scythes,] short-swords, rapiers, poniards, hangers, spiral-ferruled daggers, pricks, tucks, knives, blades, cutting-edges and dirks. Every man was exercising his prick: every man derusting his dagger. No woman was there, however old or matronly, who did not manage to furbish up her fanion, since you are aware that, of old, the ladies of Corinth would put up a good fight!

Diogenes, seeing all this fervent coming-and-going yet not being employed by the magistrates on anything whatsoever, spent a few days contemplating their behaviour without uttering a word. Then, moved by the martial spirit, he cast his cloke about him like a scarf, rolled his sleeves right up to his elbows, tucked in his robe like a peasant picking apples, entrusted to an ancient companion his shoulder-wallet, his books and his writing-tablets, went forth from the city in the direction of the Cranion (a hill and promontory hard by Corinth) on to the fair esplanade, and there trundled the earthenware barrel which served him as a shelter from inclement weather, and then, flexing his arms with great mental ardour, he turned it, churned it, upturned it; [spattered it,] battered it, bent it, bonked it, [dubbed it, scrubbed it, rubbed it, flattered it,] banged it, beat it; bumped it, topsy’d it, turvy’d it, dribbled it, tapped it, ting-ed it; stoppered it, unstoppered it, paced it, ambled it, shambled it, haggled it; tossed it, stopped it, [prodded it,] shot it; lifted it, laved it, louvered it; hampered it, aimed it, blamed it, blocked it; troubled it, huddled it, splattered it; fashioned it, fastened it; [walloped it, dolloped it, tickled it, tarred it, smutched it, touched it, hawked it, mawked it, hooked it, crooked it, twiddled it, twaddled it,] charmed it, armed it, alarmed it, saddled it, straddled it, caparisoned it, and – volleying it down from mount to vale – tumbled it along the Cranion, and then (as Sisyphus did with his stone) pushed it back up from vale to mount so that he all but holed it.

On seeing which, one of his friends asked him what had possessed him to make him so afflict his mind, body and barrel. Our philosopher replied that, not being employed by the State in any other task, he was storming about with his barrel so as not to be seen as the only one idle and dilatory amidst folk so ardent and busy.


Quand Philippe roy de Macedonie entreprint assieger & ruiner Corinthe, les Corinthiens par leurs espions aduertiz, que contre eulx il venoit en grand arroy & exercite numereux, tous feurent non à tort espouentez, & ne feurent negligens soy soigneusement mettre chascun en office & debuoir, pour à son hostile venue, resister, & leur ville defendre. Les vns des champs es forteresses retiroient meubles, bestail, grains, vins, fruictz, victuailles, & munitions necessaires. Les autres remparoient murailles, dressoient bastions, esquarroient rauelins, cauoient fossez, escuroient contremines, gabionnoient defenses, ordonnoient plates formes, vuidoient chasmates, rembarroient faulses brayes, erigeoient caualliers, ressapoient contrescarpes, enduisoient courtines, taluoient parapetes, enclauoient barbacanes, asseroient machicoulis, renouoient herses Sarrazinesques, & Cataractes, assoyoient sentinelles, forissoient patrouilles. Chascun estoit au guet, chascun portoit la hotte. Les vns polissoient corseletz, vernissoient alecretz, nettoyoient bardes, chanfrains, aubergeons, briguandines, salades, bauieres, cappelines, guisarmes, armetz, mourions, mailles, iazerans, brassalz, tassettes, goussetz, guorgeriz, hoguines, plastrons, lamines, aubers, pauoys, boucliers, caliges, greues, soleretz, esprons. Les autres apprestoient arcs, fondes, arbalestes, glands, catapultes, phalarices, micraines, potz, cercles, & lances à feu : balistes, scorpions, & autres machines bellicques repugnatoires & destructiues des Helepolides. Esguisoient vouges, picques, rancons, halebardes, hanicroches, volains, lancers, azes guayes, fourches fières, parthisanes, massues, hasches, dards, dardelles, iauelines, iauelotz, espieux. Affiloient cimeterres, brands d’assier, badelaires, paffuz, espées, verduns, estocz, pistoletz, viroletz, dagues, mandousianes, poignars, cousteaulx, allumelles, raillons. Chascun exerceoit son penard : chascun desrouilloit son braquemard. Femme n’estoit, tant preude ou vieille feust, qui ne feist fourbir son harnoys : comme vous sçauez que les antiques Corinthiennes estoient au combat couraigeuses.

Diogenes les voyant en telle ferueur mesnaige remuer, & n’estant par les magistratz enployé à chose aulcune faire, contempla par quelques iours leur contenence sans mot dire : puys comme excité d’esprit Martial, ceignit son palle en escharpe, recoursa ses manches iusques es coubtes, se troussa en cueilleur de pommes, bailla à un sien compaignon vieulx sa bezasse, ses livres, & opistographes, feit hors la ville tirant vers la Cranie (qui est une colline & promontoire lez Corinthe) une belle esplanade : y roulla le tonneau fictil, qui pour maison luy estoit contre les iniures du ciel, & en grande vehemence d’esprit desployant ses braz le tournoit, viroit, brouilloit, barbouilloit, hersoit, versoit, renversoit, grattoit, flattoit, barattoit, bastoit, boutoit, butoit, tabustoit, cullebutoit, trepoit, trempoit, tapoit, timpoit, estouppoit, destouppoit, detraquoit, triquotoit, chapotoit, croulloit, elançoit, chamailloit, bransloit, esbranloit, levoit, lavoit, clavoit, entravoit, bracquoit, bricquoit, blocquoit, tracassoit, ramassoit, clabossoit, afestoit, baffouoit, enclouoit, amadouoit, goildronnoit, mittonnoit, tastonnoit, bimbelotoit, clabossoit, terrassoit, bistorioit, vreloppoit, chaluppoit, charmoit, armoit, gizarmoit, enharnachoit, empennachoit, carapassonnoit, le devalloit de mont à val, & præcipitoit par le Cranie : puys de val en mont le rapportoit, comme Sisyphus faict sa pierre : tant que peu s’en faillit, qu’il ne le defonçast. Ce voyant quelqu’un de ses amis, luy demanda, quelle cause le mouvoit, à son corps, son esprit, son tonneau ainsi tormenter ? Auquel respondit le philosophe, qu’à autre office n’estant pour la republicque employé, il en ceste façon son tonneau tempestoit, pour entre ce peuple tant fervent & occupé, n’este veu seul cessateur & ocieux.

Lucian’s more restrained original (section 3):

When Philip was said to be already on the march, all the Corinthians were astir and busy, preparing weapons, bringing up stones, underpinning the wall, shoring up a battlement and doing various other useful jobs. Diogenes saw this, and as he had nothing to do—nobody made any use of him—he belted up his philosopher’s cloak and very busily by himself rolled the crock in which, as it happens, he was living up and down Cornel Hill. When one of his friends asked: “Why are you doing that, Diogenes?” he replied: “I’m rolling the crock so as not to be thought the one idle man in the midst of all these workers.”


ὁπότε γὰρ ὁ Φίλιππος ἐλέγετο ἤδη ἐπελαύνειν, οἱ Κορίνθιοι πάντες ἐταράττοντο καὶ ἐν ἔργῳ ἦσαν, ὁ μὲν ὅπλα ἐπισκευάζων, ὁ δὲ λίθους παραφέρων, ὁ δὲ ὑποικοδομῶν τοῦ τείχους, ὁ δὲ ἔπαλξιν ὑποστηρίζων, ὁ δὲ ἄλλος ἄλλο τι τῶν χρησίμων ὑπουργῶν. ὁ δὴ Διογένης ὁρῶν ταῦτα, ἐπεὶ μηδὲν εἶχεν ὅ τι καὶ πράττοι—οὐδεὶς γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐς οὐδὲν ἐχρῆτο—διαζωσάμενος τὸ τριβώνιον σπουδῇ μάλα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκύλιε τὸν πίθον, ἐν ᾧ ἐτύγχανεν οἰκῶν, ἄνω καὶ κάτω τοῦ Κρανείου. καί τινος τῶν συνήθων ἐρομένου, Τί ταῦτα ποιεῖς, ὦ Διόγενες; Κυλίω, ἔφη, κἀγὼ τὸν πίθον, ὡς μὴ μόνος ἀργεῖν δοκοίην ἐν τοσούτοις ἐργαζομένοις.

He who loves wine, by God’s body let him follow me!

From ch. 25 (or 27, depending on edition) of Rabelais’ Gargantua, Frere Jean’s inimitable entry to literature defending his monastery from the pillaging of their grape harvest. This is M.A. Screech’s translation and the bracketed bits are the author’s changes to his second edition. The French text he uses is his own 1970 edition published by Droz but I can’t tell – at least in spotty glancing back and forth at notes – much difference against the more easily available Mireille Huchon Pleiade edition.

There was at that time in that abbey a cloistered monk called Frère Jean des Entommeures, young, gallant, lively, lusty, adroit, bold, daring, resolute, tall, slim, loud-mouthed, endowed with an ample nose, a galloper through of mattins, an unbridler of masses [and a polisher-off of vigils]: in short, a true monk if ever there was one since the [monking] world first monked-about [with monkery; and for the rest a cleric up to his teeth where breviary-stuff is concerned].

Upon hearing the din made by the enemy throughout the close of their vineyard, he sallied forth to see what they were up to. Realizing that they were harvesting the grapes on which the entire year’s drinking was based, he returned to the quire of the church where the other monks were assembled, as dazed as bell-founders. On seeing them chanting ‘Im, im, im, pe, e, e, e, e, e, tum, um, in, ni, i, mi, co, o, o, o, o, o, rum, um’, he said, ‘What a good little shitty-dog shanty! God Almighty! Why don’t you chant

Grape-baskets farewell: our vintage is o’er?

The devil take me if they are not inside our close, so thoroughly lopping off fruit and branch that, by the Body of God, there will be nothing but gleanings for four years to come. By the guts of Saint James, what shall we poor devils be drinking in the meantime? Lord God, Give me a drink.’

At which the claustral prior said:

‘What is that hintoxicated fellow here going to do! Let him be led off to the prison. Troubling Divine Service!’

‘The Wine Service!’ said the Monk. ‘Let’s see that it be not troubled! You too, my Lord Prior, love to drink of the best. So do all good men and true. Never hath noble man loathed good wine. [That’s a monastical apophthegm!] But those responses you are chanting here are, by God, out of season. Why are our services short during the harvesting of grain and grape yet so long during Advent and winter? The late Frère Macé Pelosse of blessèd memory (a true zealot for our Order or the devil take me) told me – I remember it well – that the reason is so that we may press and ferment our wine in that season and then quaff it in winter. Harken to me, Gentlemen: He who loves wine, by God’s body let him follow me! For bluntly, may Saint Anthony’s fire burn me if any of those taste the wine who never succoured the vine. Guts of God! It’s church property! Ah! No, no! The devil! Saint Thomas of England was willing enough to die for it. If I died here wouldn’t I be a saint too?

‘But I’m not going to die: I’ll make others do that!’

So saying, he cast off his great habit and grabbed the shaft of the Cross; it was from the heart of a cornel-tree, as long as a lance, rounded for the fist and scattered with a few fleurs-de-lys all but effaced. He sallied forth in a handsome cassock, his frock thrown over like a scarf, and with the shaft of his Cross he lashed out so violently at the enemy who without order, standard, trumpet or drum were harvesting the grapes in the close (for those who bore banner or standard had left them alongside the walls, while the drummers had knocked in one side of their drums so as to fill them with grapes, and the trumpeters were burdened by grape-laden vine-branches: all had broken ranks) he fell so suddenly on them without crying Cave, that he knocked them over like porkers, slashing this way and that as one fenced of old.

In some cases he battered their brains out; in others, he fractured their arms and legs; in others, he dislocated the vertebrae of the neck; and in others, he ruptured the kidneys, bashed in their noses, blacked their eyes, smashed their mandibles, knocked their teeth down their throats, stove in their shoulder-blades, gangrened their legs, dislocated their thighs and splintered their fore-arms.

If any one sought to hide amongst the thickest vines, he bashed in his back-bone and walloped him like a dog.

If any one sought safety in flight, he shattered his head along the lamdoidal suture.

If any one clambered into a tree and thought he was safe up there he impaled him through the fundament.

If one of his old acquaintances cried, ‘Ha! Frère Jean, my friend, Frère Jean, I surrender!’

‘You have to,’ he would say; ‘and surrender your soul to the devils too!’ And he would swiftly give him a few bonks.

If any person was so overcome with temerity as to wish to face up to him, he showed him the strength of his muscles, for he would skewer his chest through the heart and the middle septum.

In other cases he would strike them below the rib-cage, upsetting their tummies. And they would suddenly die.

In other cases he would run them so fiercely through the navel that he made their innards pour out.

In others, he would pierce the arse-gut between their bollocks.

It was, believe me, the most dreadful spectacle man ever saw.

Some evoked Saint Barbara;

others, Saint George;

others, Saint Touch-me-not;

others, Our Lady of Cunault, of Lorette-en-Bretagne, of Good Tidings, of La Lenou and of Rivière.

Some made vows to Saint James;

others, to the Holy Shroud at Chambéry, but it got so well burnt three months later that they could never save one thread of it;

others to the one at Cadouin;

others, to Saint-Jean-d’Angély, to Saint Mesmes of Chinon, to Saint Martin of Candes, to Saint Clouaud of Cinais, to the relics at Javrezay and to thousands of other good little saints.

Some died without speaking: [others spoke without dying; some died speaking; others spoke dying.] Others loudly cried, ‘Confession! Confession! I confess! Have mercy upon us! Into thy hands I commend…’

That other aspect of the wilderness

From Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo. I only discovered this story – and its author – a couple of years ago and now find myself continually coming back to it. More than a single mood it captures, I think it’s the rhythm of multiple moods and their intertwinement. Anyone who has done much back-country hiking will likely find the thought flow of the italicized paragraphs familiar.

In a very few minutes, under those skilful hands that never made a movement too much or a movement too little, the silk tent stood taut and cozy, the beds of balsam boughs ready laid, and a brisk cooking fire burned with the minimum of smoke. While the young Scotchman cleaned the fish they had caught trolling behind the canoe, Défago “guessed” he would “jest as soon” take a turn through the Bush for indications of moose. “May come across a trunk where they bin and rubbed horns,” he said, as he moved off, “or feedin’ on the last of the maple leaves”—and he was gone.

His small figure melted away like a shadow in the dusk, while Simpson noted with a kind of admiration how easily the forest absorbed him into herself. A few steps, it seemed, and he was no longer visible.

Yet there was little underbrush hereabouts; the trees stood somewhat apart, well spaced; and in the clearings grew silver birch and maple, spearlike and slender, against the immense stems of spruce and hemlock. But for occasional prostrate monsters, and the boulders of grey rock that thrust uncouth shoulders here and there out of the ground, it might well have been a bit of park in the Old Country. Almost, one might have seen in it the hand of man. A little to the right, however, began the great burnt section, miles in extent, proclaiming its real character—brulé, as it is called, where the fires of the previous year had raged for weeks, and the blackened stumps now rose gaunt and ugly, bereft of branches, like gigantic match heads stuck into the ground, savage and desolate beyond words. The perfume of charcoal and rain-soaked ashes still hung faintly about it.

The dusk rapidly deepened; the glades grew dark; the crackling of the fire and the wash of little waves along the rocky lake shore were the only sounds audible. The wind had dropped with the sun, and in all that vast world of branches nothing stirred. Any moment, it seemed, the woodland gods, who are to be worshipped in silence and loneliness, might stretch their mighty and terrific outlines among the trees. In front, through doorways pillared by huge straight stems, lay the stretch of Fifty Island Water, a crescent-shaped lake some fifteen miles from tip to tip, and perhaps five miles across where they were camped. A sky of rose and saffron, more clear than any atmosphere Simpson had ever known, still dropped its pale streaming fires across the waves, where the islands—a hundred, surely, rather than fifty—floated like the fairy barques of some enchanted fleet. Fringed with pines, whose crests fingered most delicately the sky, they almost seemed to move upwards as the light faded—about to weigh anchor and navigate the pathways of the heavens instead of the currents of their native and desolate lake.

And strips of colored cloud, like flaunting pennons, signaled their departure to the stars….

The beauty of the scene was strangely uplifting. Simpson smoked the fish and burnt his fingers into the bargain in his efforts to enjoy it and at the same time tend the frying pan and the fire. Yet, ever at the back of his thoughts, lay that other aspect of the wilderness: the indifference to human life, the merciless spirit of desolation which took no note of man. The sense of his utter loneliness, now that even Défago had gone, came close as he looked about him and listened for the sound of his companion’s returning footsteps.

There was pleasure in the sensation, yet with it a perfectly comprehensible alarm. And instinctively the thought stirred in him: “What should I—could I, do—if anything happened and he did not come back—?”

They enjoyed their well-earned supper, eating untold quantities of fish, and drinking unmilked tea strong enough to kill men who had not covered thirty miles of hard “going,” eating little on the way. And when it was over, they smoked and told stories round the blazing fire, laughing, stretching weary limbs, and discussing plans for the morrow. Défago was in excellent spirits, though disappointed at having no signs of moose to report. But it was dark and he had not gone far. The brulé, too, was bad. His clothes and hands were smeared with charcoal. Simpson, watching him, realized with renewed vividness their position—alone together in the wilderness.

“Défago,” he said presently, “these woods, you know, are a bit too big to feel quite at home in—to feel comfortable in, I mean!… Eh?” He merely gave expression to the mood of the moment; he was hardly prepared for the earnestness, the solemnity even, with which the guide took him up.

“You’ve hit it right, Simpson, boss,” he replied, fixing his searching brown eyes on his face, “and that’s the truth, sure. There’s no end to ’em—no end at all.” Then he added in a lowered tone as if to himself, “There’s lots found out that, and gone plumb to pieces!”

But the man’s gravity of manner was not quite to the other’s liking; it was a little too suggestive for this scenery and setting; he was sorry he had broached the subject. He remembered suddenly how his uncle had told him that men were sometimes stricken with a strange fever of the wilderness, when the seduction of the uninhabited wastes caught them so fiercely that they went forth, half fascinated, half deluded, to their death. And he had a shrewd idea that his companion held something in sympathy with that queer type.