What nature made a ship, he makes a shelf

From The Church Porch in George Herbert’s The Temple

When thou dost purpose ought, (within thy power)
Be sure to doe it, though it be but small:
Constancie knits the bones, and makes us stowre,
When wanton pleasures becken us to thrall.
Who breaks his own bond, forfeiteth himself:
What nature made a ship, he makes a shelf.

stowre – Hutchinson glosses this as ‘stalwart, unbending’ noting it as a dialectal adjective (stour in OED) already grown so obscure by the 1674 printing that it began to be emended.

shelf – in the secondary sense, defined by the OED as ‘A sandbank in the sea or river rendering the water shallow and dangerous. Also loosely applied to a submerged ledge of rock.’

With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams

Some passages from Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.  I think vertiginous is one of the most abused back-cover descriptors but it fits de Quincey’s architectural nightmares too well not to use it.

Some of these rambles [through London] led me to great distances, for an opium-eater is too happy to observe the motion of time; and sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and head-lands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such sphynx’s riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive, baffle the audacity of porters and confound the intellects of hackney-coachmen.  I could almost have believed at times that I must be the first discoverer of some of these terræ incognitæ, and doubted whether they had yet been laid down in the modern charts of London.  For all this, however, I paid a heavy price in distant years, when the human face tyrannised over my dreams, and the perplexities of my steps in London came back and haunted my sleep, with the feeling of perplexities, moral and intellectual, that brought confusion to the reason, or anguish and remorse to the conscience

comprehend the unimaginable horror which these dreams of Oriental imagery and mythological tortures impressed upon me.  Under the connecting feeling of tropical heat and vertical sunlights I brought together all creatures, birds, beasts, reptiles, all trees and plants, usages and appearances, that are found in all tropical regions, and assembled them together in China or Indostan.  From kindred feelings, I soon brought Egypt and all her gods under the same law.  I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by parroquets, by cockatoos.  I ran into pagodas, and was fixed for centuries at the summit or in secret rooms: I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed.  I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me: Seeva laid wait for me.  I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the crocodile trembled at.  I was buried for a thousand years in stone coffins, with mummies and sphynxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids.  I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.

Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi’s, Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist, called his Dreams, and which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever. Some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge’s account) represented vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, &c. &c., expressive of enormous power put forth and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further and you perceive it come to a sudden and abrupt termination without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi, you suppose at least that his labours must in some way terminate here. But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher, on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aërial flight of stairs is beheld, and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours; and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams. In the early stage of my malady the splendours of my dreams were indeed chiefly architectural; and I beheld such pomp of cities and palaces as was never yet beheld by the waking eye unless in the clouds. From a great modern poet I cite part of a passage which describes, as an appearance actually beheld in the clouds, what in many of its circumstances I saw frequently in sleep:

The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
Was of a mighty city—boldly say
A wilderness of building, sinking far
And self-withdrawn into a wondrous depth,
Far sinking into splendour—without end!
Fabric it seem’d of diamond, and of gold,
With alabaster domes, and silver spires,
And blazing terrace upon terrace, high
Uplifted; here, serene pavilions bright
In avenues disposed; there towers begirt
With battlements that on their restless fronts
Bore stars—illumination of all gems!
By earthly nature had the effect been wrought
Upon the dark materials of the storm
Now pacified; on them, and on the coves,
And mountain-steeps and summits, whereunto
The vapours had receded,—taking there
Their station under a cerulean sky. &c. &c.

The lines are from Wordsworth’s Excursion

From my very earliest youth it has been my pride to converse familiarly, more Socratio, with all human beings

From Thomas de Quincey’s Confesions of an English Opium-Eater:

….but another person there was at that time whom I have since sought to trace with far deeper earnestness, and with far deeper sorrow at my failure.  This person was a young woman, and one of that unhappy class who subsist upon the wages of prostitution.  I feel no shame, nor have any reason to feel it, in avowing that I was then on familiar and friendly terms with many women in that unfortunate condition.  The reader needs neither smile at this avowal nor frown; for, not to remind my classical readers of the old Latin proverb, “Sine cerere,” &c., it may well be supposed that in the existing state of my purse my connection with such women could not have been an impure one.  But the truth is, that at no time of my life have I been a person to hold myself polluted by the touch or approach of any creature that wore a human shape; on the contrary, from my very earliest youth it has been my pride to converse familiarly, more Socratio, with all human beings, man, woman, and child, that chance might fling in my way; a practice which is friendly to the knowledge of human nature, to good feelings, and to that frankness of address which becomes a man who would be thought a philosopher.  For a philosopher should not see with the eyes of the poor limitary creature calling himself a man of the world, and filled with narrow and self-regarding prejudices of birth and education, but should look upon himself as a catholic creature, and as standing in equal relation to high and low, to educated and uneducated, to the guilty and the innocent.  Being myself at that time of necessity a peripatetic, or a walker of the streets, I naturally fell in more frequently with those female peripatetics who are technically called street-walkers.


The more he yelled out curses against sausage, beef tongue, and ham, the more relief he felt.

From Montaigne Essais 1.4 – Comme l’Ame Descharge ses Passions sur des Objects Faux, Quand les Vrais Luy Defaillent (How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones).

Un gentil-homme des nostres merveilleusement subject à la goutte, estant pressé par les medecins de laisser du tout l’usage des viandes salées, avoit accoustumé de respondre fort plaisamment, que sur les efforts et tourments du mal, il vouloit avoir à qui s’en prendre, et que s’escriant et maudissant tantost le cervelat, tantost la langue de boeuf et le jambon, il s’en sentoit d’autant allegé.

A gentleman of ours who is terribly subject to gout would answer his doctors quite amusingly when asked to give up salted meats entirely. He would say that he liked to have something to blame when tortured by the onslaughts of that illness: the more he yelled out curses against sausage, beef tongue, and ham, the more relief he felt.

Ut tui ipsius quasi arbitrarius honorariusque plastes et fictor

From Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (5.22).

Nec te celestem neque terrenum, neque mortalem neque immortalem fecimus, ut tui ipsius quasi arbitrarius honorariusque plastes et fictor, in quam malueris tute formam effingas…

And I have made you neither celestial nor terriestrial, neither mortal nor immortal, so that, like a free and able sculptor and painter of yourself, you may mold yourself wholly in the form of your choice.

A scan of the first, 1496 edition is available here

And hurled into the city asses with mitres on their heads

From Giovanni Villani’s Chronicle – in 1289 after their victory at Campaldino the Florentines move to invest Arezzo proper, whose forces had been lead by their bishop.  Medieval banter ensues.

And the said Florentine host being at Arezzo, in the old palace of the bishops, for twenty days, they laid waste all round about them, and they ran their races there on the feast of S. Giovanni, and erected there many engines, and hurled into the city asses with mitres on their heads, in contempt and reproach of their bishop, and raised many wooden towers and other works to attack the city

So free from danger, free from fear

From Coleridge’s Christabel – for the creeping tension as Christabel leads Geraldine into her father’s castle.

They crossed the moat, and Christabel
Took the key that fitted well;
A little door she opened straight,
All in the middle of the gate;
The gate that was ironed within and without
Where an army in battle array had marched out.
The lady sank, belike through pain,
And Christabel with might and main
Lifted her up, a weary weight,
Over the threshold of the gate:
Then the lady rose again,
And moved, as she were not in pain.

So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.
And Christabel devoutly cried
To the lady by her side,
Praise we the Virgin all divine
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!
Alas! alas! said Geraldine,
I cannot speak for weariness.
So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.

Outside her kennel, the mastiff old
Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold.
The mastiff old did not awake,
Yet she an angry moan did make!
And what can ail the mastiff bitch?
Never till now she uttered yell
Beneath the eye of Christabel.
Perhaps it is the owlet’s scritch:
For what can ail the mastiff bitch?

They passed the hall, that echoes still,
Pass as lightly as you will!
The brands were flat, the brands were dying,
Amid their own white ashes lying;
But when the lady passed, there came
A tongue of light, a fit of flame
And Christabel saw the lady’s eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby,
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.

He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances

From Jack London’s To Build A Fire in the collection Lost Face

But all this—the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all—made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a new-comer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.

I did not know where I could spit so as to annoy you less

From Machiavelli’s Life of Castruccio Castracani – from v.2 of the 3v. Allan Gilbert edition.

Once [Castruccio] was invited to supper by Taddeo Barnardi of Lucca, a man very rich and greatly given to display.  After her arrived at the house, Taddeo showed him a room all decorated with tapestries and having a floor made of fine stones which with their different colors, differently combined, represented flower, branches, and similar verdure.  Then Castruccio, having gathered much saliva in his mouth, spat it all in Taddeo’s face; when Taddeo showed offence, Castruccio said: “I did not know where I could spit so as to annoy you less.”