People here have a nearly comical understanding of how to let time flow by

Aschinger from Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories. Aschinger was an early chain of beer halls – there’s a brief English writeup of here or the German wiki article here.

A lager please! The tap man’s known me for ages. I gaze at the filled glass a moment, take it by the handle with two fingers, and casually carry it to one of the round tables supplied with forks, knives, rolls, vinegar, and oil. I place the sweating glass in an orderly fashion upon the felt coaster and consider whether or not to fetch myself something to eat. This food-thought propels me to the blue-and-white-striped cold-cuts damsel. I have this lady serve me a plate of assorted open-face sandwiches and, thus enriched, trot rather indolently back to my seat. Neither fork nor knife do I use, just the mustard spoon, with which I paint my sandwiches brown before inserting them so cozily into my mouth that it is perhaps tranquillity itself to witness this. Another lager please! At Aschinger, you quickly adopt a familiar food-and-drink tone of voice; after a certain amount of time there, a person can’t help talking just like Wassmann at the Deutsches Theater. Once you have your fist around your second or third glass of beer, you’re generally driven to engage in all manner of observations. It is imperative to note with precision how the Berliners eat. They stand up as they do so, but take their own sweet time about it. It’s a myth that in Berlin people only bustle, whizz, and trot about. People here have a nearly comical understanding of how to let time flow by; after all, they’re only human. It’s a sincere pleasure to watch people fishing for sausage-laden rolls and Italian salads. The payment is extracted mostly from vest pockets, almost always just a matter of small change. Now I’ve rolled myself a cigarette, which I light at the gas flame beneath its green glass shield. How well I know it, this glass, and the brass chain to pull on. Famished and satiated individuals are constantly swarming in and out. The dissatisfied quickly find satisfaction at the beer spring and the warm sausage tower, and the satiated dash out again into the mercantile air, each generally with a briefcase beneath his arm, a letter in his pocket, an assignment in his brain, firm plans in his skull, and in his open palm a watch that says the time has come. In the round tower at the center of the room reigns a young queen, the sovereign of the sausages and potato salad—she’s a bit bored up there in her quiver-like surrounds. An elegant lady enters and with two fingers skewers a roll spread with caviar; at once I bring myself to her notice, but in such a way as if being noticed were of no concern to me at all. Meanwhile I’ve found time to lay hands on another beer. The elegant lady is somewhat hesitant to bite into the caviar marvel; of course I immediately assume it to be on my account and none other that she is no longer fully in control of her masticatory senses. Delusions are so easy and so agreeable. Outside on the square is a racket no one really hears: a tumult of carriages, people, automobiles, newspaper hawkers, electric trams, handcarts, and bicycles that no one ever really sees either. It’s almost unseemly to think of wanting to hear and see all these things, you’re not new in town. The elegantly curved bodice that was just nibbling bread now quits the Aschinger. How much longer am I planning on sitting here anyhow? The tap boys are enjoying a calm moment, but not for long, for here they come rolling in again from out-of-doors to throw themselves thirstily upon the bubbling spring. Eaters observe others who are similarly working their jaws. While one person’s mouth is full, his eyes can simultaneously behold a neighbor occupied with popping it in. And they don’t even laugh; even I don’t. Since arriving in Berlin, I’ve lost the habit of finding humanity laughable. At this point, by the way, I myself request another edible wonder: a plank of bread bearing a sleeping sardine upon a bedsheet of butter, so enchanting a vision that I toss the whole spectacle down my open revolving stage of a gullet. Is such a thing laughable? By no means. Well, then. What isn’t laughable in me cannot be any more so in others, since it’s our duty to esteem others more highly than ourselves no matter what, a worldview splendidly in keeping with the earnestness with which I now contemplate the abrupt demise of my sardine pallet. A few of the people near me are conversing as they eat. The earnestness with which they do so is appealing. As long as you’re undertaking to do something, you might as well set about it matter-of-factly and with dignity. Dignity and self-confidence have a comforting effect, at least on me they do, and this is why I so like standing around in one of our local Aschingers where people drink, eat, talk, and think all at the same time. How many business ventures were dreamed up here? And best of all: You can remain standing here for hours on end, no one minds, and not one of all the people coming and going will give it a second thought. Anyone who takes pleasure in modesty will get on well here, he can live, no one’s stopping him. Anyone who does not insist on particularly heartfelt shows of warmth can still have a heart here, he is allowed that much.

And since he no longer knew exactly what he already owed, he bet two thousand again

From Arthur Schnitzler’s Spiel im Morgengrauen – rendered in my edition as Night Games (Night Games and Other Stories and Novellas, trans. Margret Schaefer) but see bottom for comments on that choice. The extract is very long but Schnitzler is so very readable and then this – plus maybe Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, though it’s been too long to remember clearly is the only story I know of that convincingly hits what must be the feel of a gambling frenzied brown out:


Willi was of two minds. If they stopped now, nothing more could happen to him, and that was good. At the same time he felt an uncontrollable, truly fiendish urge to continue playing, to conjure a few more, no, all of the remaining crisp thousand-gulden bills out of the consul’s wallet into his own. That would be a hoard with which he could make his fortune! It didn’t always have to be baccarat-there were also the horse races at Freudenau and the Trabrennplatz, and there were also fine casinos such as the one at Monte Carlo on the seacoast-with beautiful women from Paris…
…..

“The whole bank!” Willi suddenly proposed, and was frightened at his own words-at the very tone of his voice. Have I lost my mind? he wondered. The consul uncovered a nine, and Willi was fifteen hundred gulden the poorer. Remembering Flegmann’s system, Willi now put down a ridiculously small sum, fifty gulden-and won. How stupid! he thought. I could have won the whole amount back at once! Why was I so cowardly’?

“The bank, again!”

He lost.

“The bank, once more!”

The consul appeared to hesitate.

“What has come over you, Kasda!” cried the regiment doctor.

Willi laughed and felt an intoxication rise into his head. Was it the cognac that was dulling his reason? Evidently. Of course he had made a mistake, not in his wildest dreams had he intended to risk a thousand or two thousand on a single bet.

“Excuse me, Consul, I really meant-“

The consul did not let him finish. In an amiable tone he said, “If you didn’t know how much money was in the bank, of course I will take your retraction into consideration.”

“What do you mean, retraction into consideration, Consul?” Willi found himself saying. “A bet is a bet.”

Was it really he who was speaking? His words? His voice? If he were to lose, it would be all over with the new military cape, the new sword belt, the dinners in attractive female company. He would have left only the thousand earmarked for that swindler Bogner-and he himself would be the same poor devil that he had been two hours ago.

Wordlessly, the consul uncovered his card. Nine. No one uttered the number out loud, yet it resounded loudly throughout the room like the echo of a ghost. Willi felt a strange moisture on his brow. Damn, that was quick! Well, at any rate, he still had a thousand gulden lying in front of him, maybe a few more. He didn’t want to count them-that would bring bad luck. In any case, he was still considerably richer than he had been when he had stepped off the train today at noon. Today at noon? And, after all, nothing was forcing him to risk the whole thousand at once. He could begin again with a hundred or two hundred, using Flegmann’s system. Only there was so little time left-hardly twenty minutes. There was silence all around.

“Lieutenant?” the consul began inquiringly.

“Ah-yes,” Willi laughed, and folded the thousand-gulden bill together.

“Half, Consul,” he said.

“Five hundred?”

Willi nodded. The others also placed bets, but merely out of formality. An end-of-the-game atmosphere was already settling over them. First Lieutenant Wimmer was standing up with his coat over his shoulders. Tugut was leaning over the billiard table. The consul uncovered his card.

“Eight.” And half of Willi’s thousand was gone. He shook his head as though something were amiss.

“The rest,” he said, and thought to himself: I’m really quite calm. He uncovered his cards slowly. Eight. The consul had to buy a card. Nine. And the five hundred was gone, the thousand was gone. Everything was gone! Everything? No. He still had the hundred and twenty gulden with which he had come, more or less. Funny, suddenly he was once more the same poor devil he had been before. And outdoors the birds sang … as they had before … when he could have gone to Monte Carlo. Well, it was a pity, but now he really had to stop. He certainly couldn’t risk the few gulden that he still had … he had to stop, though there was still a quarter of an hour left to play. What bad luck! In a quarter of an hour he could win five thousand gulden as easily as he had just lost them!
…..

But the consul casually thrust a few bills to him across the table, seemingly without counting them. “Please help yourself,” he said. Tugut cleared his throat audibly. Wimmer warned, “I’d stop if I were you, Kasda.”

Willi hesitated.

“I don’t wish to persuade you in any way, Lieutenant,” said Schnabel. He still held his hand spread lightly over the money.

At that Willi hastily grasped the bills, then acted as if he wanted to count them.

“It’s fifteen hundred,” said the consul. “You can depend upon it, Lieutenant. Do you want a card?”

Willi laughed: “What else?”

“Your bet, Lieutenant?”

“Oh, not all of it!” cried Willi, his head clearing. “The poor have to be economical. One thousand to begin with.”

He uncovered, imitating the consul’s customary exaggerated slowness. Willi had to buy a card, and added a three of spades to his four of diamonds. The consul also uncovered; he, too, held a seven.

“I’d stop,” warned First Lieutenant Wimmer again, and now his words sounded almost like a command. And the regiment doctor added, “Now, when you are just about even.”

Just about even! Willi thought. He calls that “just about even!” A quarter of an hour ago I was a well-to-do young man; now I’m a beggar, and he calls that “even”! Should I tell them the story of Bogner? Maybe then they would understand.

New cards lay in front of him. Seven. No, he didn’t want to buy a card. But the consul didn’t even ask him; he simply uncovered an eight. A thousand lost! buzzed in Willi’s brain. But I’ll win it back! And if I don’t, it won’t make any difference. I can no more pay back a thousand than I can pay back two thousand. It’s all the same now! Ten minutes is still time enough. I could even win back the four or five thousand I had before.

“Lieutenant?” asked the consul.

The words echoed through the room, for everyone was quiet, absolutely quiet. Will no one now say, “I’d stop if I were you?” No, thought Willi, no one has the audacity. They know it would be stupid for me to stop now. But what should he bet now? He had only a few hundred gulden lying in front of him. Suddenly there were more. The consul had pushed two thousand more his way.

“Help yourself, Lieutenant.”

Indeed, he helped himself. He put down fifteen hundred and won. Now he could pay back his debt and still have something left over. He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Kasda,” said First Lieutenant Wimmer behind him. “No more!” His voice sounded hard, almost severe. But I’m not on duty now, thought Willi, and I can do what I want with my money and my life! And he bet again, bet only a modest thousand gulden and uncovered the card he had been dealt. Schnabel took his time, playing with deadly slowness, as though they had all the time in the world. There was still time, indeed; no one was going to force them to stop playing at 2:3o a.m. The last time they had played until 5:30. The last time … that beautiful, distant time. Why were they all standing around him? It was as if in a dream. Ah, they were all more agitated than he was. Even Fraulein Rihoscheck, who was standing across from him, a straw hat with a red band on her well-waved hair, had curiously shining eyes. He smiled at her. She had a face like a tragic queen, though she was little better than a chorus girl. The consul uncovered his cards. A queen. Ha, Queen Rihoscheck and a nine of spades! That damned spade!-it always brought him bad luck. And the thousand wandered over to the consul. But what did it matter? He still had something left. Or was he already completely ruined? He hadn’t the slightest … Suddenly there were a few more thousand in front of him. A noble man, that consul. To be sure, he was certain he would get them back. An officer, after all, had to pay his gambling debts. Someone like Elrief remained an Elrief in any case, but an officer, unless he was named Bogner …

“Two thousand, Herr Consul!”

“Two thousand?”

“Indeed, Consul!”

He didn’t buy a card; he held with his seven. The consul had to buy. This time he didn’t bother with ceremony; he was in a hurry, and he added an eight-an eight of spades-to his one, and that made nine. No doubt about it. The eight would have been enough by itself. And the two thousand wandered back to the consul-and then immediately back to Willi. Or was it more? Three or four thousand? Better not to look at all, that would bring bad luck. The consul wouldn’t cheat him, and in any case the others were all standing around and watching closely. And since he no longer knew exactly what he already owed, he bet two thousand again. The four of spades. Yes, he was forced to buy at that. Six. The six of spades. So that made one too many! The consul didn’t even have to make an effort, and he had only a three … and the two thousand wandered over to the consul again-and then immediately back. It was ridiculous! Forward and back, forward and back. The church tower clock struck again-the half-hour. But evidently no one had heard. The consul dealt the cards calmly. Everyone was standing around, all the men; only the regiment doctor had left. Yes, Willi had noticed how, a little while ago, he had shaken his head angrily and had mumbled something between his teeth. Evidently he couldn’t bear to see how Lieutenant Kasda was playing for his life. How could a doctor have such weak nerves!

And again new cards lay in front of him. He bet-how much exactly he didn’t know. A handful of bills. This was a new way to tempt fate. Eight. Now his luck had to change.

It did not. The consul uncovered a nine, looked around at the group, and then pushed the cards away. Willi opened his eyes wide. “Well, Consul?” But the consul lifted his finger and pointed outdoors, “It has just struck the half hour, Lieutenant.”

“What,” cried Willi, pretending to be astonished. “Couldn’t we give it another quarter of an hour?”

He looked around the circle as though he sought approval. Everyone was silent. Herr Elrief looked away, very aristocratically, and lit a cigarette; Wimmer bit his lips; Greising whistled nervously, almost soundlessly; and the theatre manager remarked somewhat rudely, as though it were trivial, “The lieutenant has really had bad luck today!”

The consul stood up and called for the waiter-as though it had been a night like any other.

To the title (with plot SPOILERS) – Spiel im Morgengrauen has two acts, the gambling and the aftermath in which Willi, with only a day for deadline, tries obtaining the money, first from an uncle and later from that uncle’s wife, Leopoldine, a former (one-night) lover he’d not thought of since. She demurs but promises a later messenger with an answer. She herself comes and, without saying anything of the money, seemingly allows herself to be kept for dinner and finally for the night. In the morning Willi wakes to her dressed and leaving. He at last says something of the money – to which she replies by giving him 1000 gulden (not 1/10 of what he needed) as payment for his services, reminding him that it’s far more than the 10 he’d left her – unasked and insultingly – all those years before. He’s too angry to respond but realizes in sequence that she’d loved him, that he’d never felt loved like that since, and that he really was the evening before selling himself in hope of the money. Since she’s left as he worked through these conclusions, he also assumes she was only interested in him for the revenge. We cut forward a bit and he’s found dead of a self-inflicted bullet to the head. Shortly after his uncle shows up with the money Leopoldine had all along arranged to have sent.

Spiel im Morgengrauen is literally ‘game (singular) at dawn.’ Night Games misses the indeterminacy Schnitzler seeds in the title – where he leaves open whether the focal game is, as first appears, Willi’s gambling that ends at dawn or, as I firmly think, the sequence that plays out with Leopoldine the following morning at dawn (and stretches back several years). ‘Games’ blandly suggests equal importance for both and ‘night’ focuses the reader more on the moment of activity (gambling/sex) than on what really matters – the time of its consequence and reckoning (loss in various senses).

Cyriac of Ancona

A couple of selections from Francesco Scalamonti’s Life of Cyriac of Ancona, from the first of the I Tatti Renaissance Library’s two (eventually three?) volumes of Cyriac’s works. I first learned about Cyriac nearly 10 years ago when I got stuck in a museum bookstore during some bad weather and ended up reading the majority of Marina Belozerskaya’s To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology – which I would probably recommend over this first I Tatti volume since the Life here was only intended as a sketch for a fuller treatment to be written by someone else and wraps up without ceremony midway through.

By way of overview:

Cyriac is the only man in thirteen hundred years, since the age of Hadrian, whose expansive nature and highborn temper gave him the courage to travel all over the world – through Greece, Asia, Egypt, and the Ionian and Aegean islands – to survey and investigate the sties and characteristics of its territories and provinces, its mountains, woodlands, springs and rivers, its seas, lakes and noblest cities and towns. Whatever fine monuments of venerable antiquity he found worthy of not in these places, he faithfully recorded, not in the common language, but in Latin or Greek; and, as we have often heard him say himself, his indefatigable resolve, regardless of all discomforts, toils and sleepless nights the task involved, was to inspect and examine whatever ancient remains were to be seen in the world as far as the last rocky heights jutting into Ocean, the the island of Thule, and any other remote parts of the earth.

And in the tradition of renaissance book hunters like Petrarch and Poggio:

In Cyprus too Cyriac made a particularly lucky find. After a good day’s hunting panthers, the king, laden with the kill, arrived at a hunting lodge where he conferred knighthood on a Dacian youth; and Cyriac, on his usual search for books, went to a certain old monastery where, among its squalidly kept and long neglected manuscripts, he was overjoyed to discover an ancient codex of Homer’s Iliad, which he persuaded an illiterate monk, not without difficulty, to let him have in exchange for a Gospel book. This book afforded him his first great help in overcoming his ignorance of Greek literature. Late on, in Nicosia, from another monk, he also acquired an Odyssey, a number of the tragedies of Euripides, and a book of antiquities by the Alexandrian grammarian Theodosius; and whenever he found a moment of leisure, he would pore over the task of constructing and reading them through.

Little former steps on the present-day stairs

A followup to Quelle est cette façon / D’être et d’avoir été ? – in that I found a translation of that and a related piece in Selected Poems and Reflections on the Art of Poetry translated by George Bogin (SUN, 1985). First L’enfant et la riviere – The Child and the River (French in the other post):

From his riverbank
Childhood watches us flowing:
“What is this river
Where my feet get wet,
These magnified boats,
These unveiled reflections,
This confusion
Where I recognize myself,
What is this business
Of being and of having been?”

And I who cannot reply
Turn myself into a dream
in order to pass by
The feet of a shadow.

And the related poem, L’enfant et les escaliers – The Child and the Stairs:

You whom I hear running up and down the stairs of the house
Hiding your face from me and even the rest of yourself
When I come to the bannister,
Aren’t you my childhood frequenting my favorite places,
You who move away with difficulty from your former tenant?
I recognize who you are because of your invisible way, so to speak,
Of prowling around me when no one is watching
And running away like someone who ought not to be seen with another.
Very well, I won’t say that I’ve been able to recognize you,
Buy you must also keep our secret, low sound a hundred times familiar
Of little former steps on the present-day stairs.

Toi que j’entends courir dans les escaliers de la maison
Et qui me caches ton visage et même le reste du corps,
Lorsque je me montre à la rampe,
N’es-tu pas mon enfance qui fréquente les lieux de ma préférence,
Toi qui t’éloignes difficilement de ton ancien locataire.
Je te devine à ta façon pour ainsi dire invisible
De rôder autour de moi lorsque nul ne nous regarde
Et de t’enfuir comme quelqu’un qu’on ne doit pas voir avec un autre.
Fort bien, je ne dirai pas que j’ai pu te reconnaître,
Mais garde aussi notre secret, rumeur cent fois familière
De petits pas anciens dans les escaliers d’à présent.

Don’t call our Partners cats

Cordwainer Smith’s The Game of Rat and Dragon. No extract to this one but the full 10ish page story is here at Project Gutenberg (my paper edition is the SF Masterworks collection of Smith’s short fiction, The Rediscovery of Man). Summary: man and cat telepathically link to fight space demon.

My parents never let me read science fiction or fantasy so every few months now I indulge my denied child-self and try something in this, the sister Fantasy Masterworks collection or, more rarely, the top 100 list at the charmingly 90’s-designed GreatSFandF. Most are not what I’d hope but some – like Smith so far – are so odd as to be endearing.

Quelle est cette façon / D’être et d’avoir été ?

L’Enfant Et La Riviere by Jules Supervielle in La Fable du monde (or the Pléiade Oeuvres poétiques complètes). I can’t find a translation online and I’ve not drunk enough this evening to brash out one myself. Supervielle was a nice closing counterweight to a day otherwise spent with Thomas Bernhard.

De sa rive l’enfance
Nous regarde couler :
« Quelle est cette rivière
Où mes pieds sont mouillés,
Ces barques agrandies,
Ces reflets dévoilés,
Cette confusion
Où je me reconnais,
Quelle est cette façon
D’être et d’avoir été ? »

Et moi qui ne peux pas répondre
Je me fais songe pour passer aux pieds d’une ombre.

The proper study of mankind is books

From Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow. Making due allowance for some irony, I think Wimbush here comes closer to the author’s own voice than any other character in the novel, certainly more so than the focalizing Denis. It’s not that Huxley would ever phrase the point so confidently himself, it’s that no one truly book-bound hasn’t at least flirted with this line of thought at some point.

“I do not know how it is,” Mr. Wimbush continued, “but the spectacle of numbers of my fellow-creatures in a state of agitation moves in me a certain weariness, rather than any gaiety or excitement. The fact is, they don’t very much interest me. They’re aren’t in my line. You follow me? I could never take much interest, for example, in a collection of postage stamps. Primitives or seventeenth-century books—yes. They are my line. But stamps, no. I don’t know anything about them; they’re not my line. They don’t interest me, they give me no emotion. It’s rather the same with people, I’m afraid. I’m more at home with these pipes.” He jerked his head sideways towards the hollowed logs. “The trouble with the people and events of the present is that you never know anything about them. What do I know of contemporary politics? Nothing. What do I know of the people I see round about me? Nothing. What they think of me or of anything else in the world, what they will do in five minutes’ time, are things I can’t guess at. For all I know, you may suddenly jump up and try to murder me in a moment’s time.”

“Come, come,” said Denis.

“True,” Mr. Wimbush continued, “the little I know about your past is certainly reassuring. But I know nothing of your present, and neither you nor I know anything of your future. It’s appalling; in living people, one is dealing with unknown and unknowable quantities. One can only hope to find out anything about them by a long series of the most disagreeable and boring human contacts, involving a terrible expense of time. It’s the same with current events; how can I find out anything about them except by devoting years to the most exhausting first-hand study, involving once more an endless number of the most unpleasant contacts? No, give me the past. It doesn’t change; it’s all there in black and white, and you can get to know about it comfortably and decorously and, above all, privately—by reading. By reading I know a great deal of Caesar Borgia, of St. Francis, of Dr. Johnson; a few weeks have made me thoroughly acquainted with these interesting characters, and I have been spared the tedious and revolting process of getting to know them by personal contact, which I should have to do if they were living now. How gay and delightful life would be if one could get rid of all the human contacts! Perhaps, in the future, when machines have attained to a state of perfection—for I confess that I am, like Godwin and Shelley, a believer in perfectibility, the perfectibility of machinery—then, perhaps, it will be possible for those who, like myself, desire it, to live in a dignified seclusion, surrounded by the delicate attentions of silent and graceful machines, and entirely secure from any human intrusion. It is a beautiful thought.”

“Beautiful,” Denis agreed. “But what about the desirable human contacts, like love and friendship?”

The black silhouette against the darkness shook its head. “The pleasures even of these contacts are much exaggerated,” said the polite level voice. “It seems to me doubtful whether they are equal to the pleasures of private reading and contemplation. Human contacts have been so highly valued in the past only because reading was not a common accomplishment and because books were scarce and difficult to reproduce. The world, you must remember, is only just becoming literate. As reading becomes more and more habitual and widespread, an ever-increasing number of people will discover that books will give them all the pleasures of social life and none of its intolerable tedium. At present people in search of pleasure naturally tend to congregate in large herds and to make a noise; in future their natural tendency will be to seek solitude and quiet. The proper study of mankind is books.”

A mental carminative. That’s what you need.

From Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow, a long-winded joke – the overbuilt sort that makes you feel Huxely spent more time imagining witty exchange than engaging in it. Explanation passed below.

“One suffers so much,” Denis went on, “from the fact that beautiful words don’t always mean what they ought to mean. Recently, for example, I had a whole poem ruined, just because the word ‘carminative’ didn’t mean what it ought to have meant. Carminative—it’s admirable, isn’t it?”

“Admirable,” Mr. Scogan agreed. “And what does it mean?”

“It’s a word I’ve treasured from my earliest infancy,” said Denis, “treasured and loved. They used to give me cinnamon when I had a cold—quite useless, but not disagreeable. One poured it drop by drop out of narrow bottles, a golden liquor, fierce and fiery. On the label was a list of its virtues, and among other things it was described as being in the highest degree carminative. I adored the word. ‘Isn’t it carminative?’ I used to say to myself when I’d taken my dose. It seemed so wonderfully to describe that sensation of internal warmth, that glow, that—what shall I call it?—physical self-satisfaction which followed the drinking of cinnamon. Later, when I discovered alcohol, ‘carminative’ described for me that similar, but nobler, more spiritual glow which wine evokes not only in the body but in the soul as well. The carminative virtues of burgundy, of rum, of old brandy, of Lacryma Christi, of Marsala, of Aleatico, of stout, of gin, of champagne, of claret, of the raw new wine of this year’s Tuscan vintage—I compared them, I classified them. Marsala is rosily, downily carminative; gin pricks and refreshes while it warms. I had a whole table of carmination values. And now”—Denis spread out his hands, palms upwards, despairingly—“now I know what carminative really means.”

“Well, what DOES it mean?” asked Mr. Scogan, a little impatiently.

“Carminative,” said Denis, lingering lovingly over the syllables, “carminative. I imagined vaguely that it had something to do with carmen-carminis, still more vaguely with caro-carnis, and its derivations, like carnival and carnation. Carminative—there was the idea of singing and the idea of flesh, rose-coloured and warm, with a suggestion of the jollities of mi-Careme and the masked holidays of Venice. Carminative—the warmth, the glow, the interior ripeness were all in the word. Instead of which…”

“Do come to the point, my dear Denis,” protested Mr. Scogan. “Do come to the point.”

“Well, I wrote a poem the other day,” said Denis; “I wrote a poem about the effects of love.”

“Others have done the same before you,” said Mr. Scogan. “There is no need to be ashamed.”

“I was putting forward the notion,” Denis went on, “that the effects of love were often similar to the effects of wine, that Eros could intoxicate as well as Bacchus. Love, for example, is essentially carminative. It gives one the sense of warmth, the glow.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

was what I wrote. Not only was the line elegantly sonorous; it was also, I flattered myself, very aptly compendiously expressive. Everything was in the word carminative—a detailed, exact foreground, an immense, indefinite hinterland of suggestion.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

I was not ill-pleased. And then suddenly it occurred to me that I had never actually looked up the word in a dictionary. Carminative had grown up with me from the days of the cinnamon bottle. It had always been taken for granted. Carminative: for me the word was as rich in content as some tremendous, elaborate work of art; it was a complete landscape with figures.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

It was the first time I had ever committed the word to writing, and all at once I felt I would like lexicographical authority for it. A small English-German dictionary was all I had at hand. I turned up C, ca, car, carm. There it was: ‘Carminative: windtreibend.’ Windtreibend!” he repeated. Mr. Scogan laughed. Denis shook his head. “Ah,” he said, “for me it was no laughing matter. For me it marked the end of a chapter, the death of something young and precious. There were the years—years of childhood and innocence—when I had believed that carminative meant—well, carminative. And now, before me lies the rest of my life—a day, perhaps, ten years, half a century, when I shall know that carminative means windtreibend.

‘Plus ne suis ce que j’ai ete

Et ne le saurai jamais etre.’

It is a realisation that makes one rather melancholy.”

“Carminative,” said Mr. Scogan thoughtfully.

“Carminative,” Denis repeated, and they were silent for a time. “Words,” said Denis at last, “words—I wonder if you can realise how much I love them. You are too much preoccupied with mere things and ideas and people to understand the full beauty of words. Your mind is not a literary mind. The spectacle of Mr. Gladstone finding thirty-four rhymes to the name ‘Margot’ seems to you rather pathetic than anything else. Mallarmé’s envelopes with their versified addresses leave you cold, unless they leave you pitiful; you can’t see that

‘Apte à ne point te cabrer, hue!

Poste et j’ajouterai, dia!

Si tu ne fuis onze-bis Rue

Balzac, chez cet Hérédia,’

is a little miracle.”

“You’re right,” said Mr. Scogan. “I can’t.”

“You don’t feel it to be magical?”

“No.”

“That’s the test for the literary mind,” said Denis; “the feeling of magic, the sense that words have power. The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what wonder if he loved words and attributed power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal formulas together, and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant. For example, I proffer the constatation, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ A self-evident truth, one on which it would not have been worth while to insist, had I chosen to formulate it in such words as ‘Black fire-escapes have no bladders,’ or, ‘Les echelles noires manquent de vessie.’ But since I put it as I do, ‘Black ladders lack bladders,’ it becomes, for all its self-evidence, significant, unforgettable, moving. The creation by word-power of something out of nothing—what is that but magic? And, I may add, what is that but literature? Half the world’s greatest poetry is simply ‘Les echelles noires manquent de vessie,’ translated into magic significance as, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ And you can’t appreciate words. I’m sorry for you.”

“A mental carminative,” said Mr. Scogan reflectively. “That’s what you need.”

Windtreibend is something like ‘gas-expelling.’ The whole joke is that anyone with a bit of Latin would expect carminative to relate to carmen (loosely – poem or song, spell, or charm in verse) while the actual derivation is from an unrelated rare technical verb carminare (to card wool) and the meaning is a purely medical ‘anti-flatulent’. The OED gives the derivation as carminare participial stem + ive suffix but it also seems possible the English comes via French carminatif since that one has the proper proposed path of sense as Classical Latin ‘card wool’ -> Medieval Latin ‘break up by scrubbing’ -> French ‘cleanse by purging.’

Varro has a relevant entry in De Lingua Latina (7.54) for Plautus Menaechmi 797, though his etymology is not accepted.

In The Menaechmia:

Why, you’d bid me sit among the maids at work and
card the wool.

This same word carere ‘to card’ is in the Cemetriab of Naevius. Cārĕre is from cārĕre ‘to lack,’ because then they cleanse the wool and spin it into thread, that it may carere ‘be free’ from dirt: from which the wool is said carminari ‘to be carded’ then when they carunt ‘card’ out of it that which sticks in It and is not wool, those things which in the Romulus Naeviusd calls asta, from the Oscans.

In Menaechmis:

Inter ancillas sedere iubeas, lanam carere.

Idem hoc est verbum in Cemetria Naevii. Carere a carendo, quod eam tum purgant ac deducunt, ut careat spurcitia; ex quo carminari dicitur tum lana, cum ex ea carunt1 quod in ea haeret neque est lana, quae in Romulo Naevius appellat asta ab Oscis.

I’m too blown out now to gloss Mallarme’s poem-addresses.

When thou must home to shades of under ground

From Thomas Campion’s A Booke of Ayres, number XX (pg. 17 of my Percival Vivian-edited edition, preserving the editor’s spelling and punctuation):

When thou must home to shades of under ground,
And there ariv’d, a newe admired guest,
The beauteous spirits do ingirt thee round,
White Iope, blithe Helen, and the rest,
To heare the stories of thy finisht love
From that smoothe toong whose musicke hell can move;

Then wilt thou speak of banqueting delights,
Of masques and revels which sweete youth did make,
Of Turnies and great challenges of knights,
And all these triumphes for thy beauties sake:
When thou hast told these honours done to thee,
Then tell, O tell, how thou didst murder me.

I had to look up Iope – who turned out a lesser wife of Theseus, as mentioned by Plutarch (Theseus 29.1). I wonder how Campion came to choose the name.

There are, however, other stories also about marriages of Theseus which were neither honourable in their beginnings nor fortunate in their endings, but these have not been dramatised. For instance, he is said to have carried off Anaxo, a maiden of Troezen, and after slaying Sinis and Cercyon to have ravished their daughters; also to have married Periboea, the mother of Aias, and Phereboea afterwards, and Iope, the daughter of Iphicles;

postin : viam : videtas : tetis : tokam : alies : esmen : vepses : vepeten

A sample of an Italic language known as South Picene. I’ve lifted all the below intro, translation, and commentary from Benjamin Fortson’s Indo-European Language and Culture:


South Picene is known from nearly two dozen inscriptions from an area in east-central Italy called Picenum in ancient times; the inhabitants were called the Piceni. Although South Picene inscriptions have been known for some time, due to difficulties posed by the script they remained essentially a closed book until very recently. In the 1980s it was finally realized that the two symbols (• and :) that had always been assumed to be interpuncts were instead the letters o and f; needless to say, this discvoery dramatically improved oru ability to read these texts, and further advnces in interpretation have been continuing apace. Our South Picene documents date from the beginning of the sixth to the third century BC; the earliest ones are among our oldest preserves texts in any Sabellic language.
South Picene appears to be more closely related to Umbrian than to Oscan. It is unrelated to another language of the region called North Picene, a non-IE [Indo-European] language preserved in a single unintelligible text.

The inscription begins near the bottom of the inner of the two vertical lines of text on the left (right above the vertically stacked triple dots) and proceeds upwards and then clockwise around. Drawing from Marinetti (see below).

The inscription, a gravestone found in Bellante near Teramo, south of Piceno. The inscription is poetry in the archaic Italic strophic style; except for the first word it consists of alliterative word-pairs (viam videtas, tetis tokam, etc.)

postin : viam : videtas : tetis : tokam : alies : esmen : vepses : vepeten

Along the road you see the “toga” of Titus Alius (?) buried (?) in this tomb.


Notes. postin: ‘along’, Umbrian pustin. videtas: probably ‘you see’, 2nd pl., equivalent to Lat. videtis ‘you (pl.) see’; passers-by are the addressees. tetis alies: apparently the name, in the genitive, of the man buried there. tokam: cognate with Lat. togam (accus. sing.), but the exact sense is uncertain (‘covering’? The root is *(s)teg- ‘cover’). In many early Italic inscriptions k or c was used for voiced g. esmen: locative of the demonstrative stem e-, cp. Umbr. esme; superficially similar to Sanskrit asmin ‘in this’ but probably not of identical origin. It is thought to continue *esmeien, the earlier locative *esmei plus the postposition -en ‘in’. vepses: perhaps ‘buried’; unclear. It might be a past participle of the sort seen in Lat. lapsus ‘slipped’. vepeten: perhaps ‘tomb’, with locative in -en.


More details can be found in Anna Marinetti’s Le iscrizioni sudpicene with some analysis of the poetic features in Calvert Watkins’ How to Kill a Dragon. There also seems a good amount done on this language family since these works (Angelo Mercado’s Italic Verse: A Study of the Poetic Remains of Old Latin, Faliscan, and Sabellic seems especially promising but I need a few days to find a copy.)

And a less than great image of the gravestone itself: