Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend, And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;

From Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, lines 130-157. I’d started to post an earlier couplet – “Be Homer’s Works your Study, and Delight, / Read them by Day, and meditate by Night” (borrowed from Horace Ars Poetica) – in celebration of my pure chance finding of the rare two volumes of Pope’s Iliad in the Twickenham edition but I ended up preferring a lengthier thought that followed it.

When first young Maro in his boundless Mind
A Work t’outlast Immortal Rome design’d,
Perhaps he seem’d above the Critick’s Law,
And but from Nature’s Fountains scorn’d to draw:
But when t’examine ev’ry Part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same.
Convinc’d, amaz’d, he checks the bold Design,
And Rules as strict his labour’d Work confine,
As if the Stagyrite o’erlook’d each Line.
Learn hence for Ancient Rules a just Esteem;
To copy Nature is to copy Them.
Some Beauties yet, no Precepts can declare,
For there’s a Happiness as well as Care.
Musick resembles Poetry, in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.
If, where the Rules not far enough extend,
(Since Rules were made but to promote their End)
Some Lucky LICENCE answers to the full
Th’ Intent propos’d, that Licence is a Rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common Track.
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;
From vulgar Bounds with brave Disorder part,
And snatch a Grace beyond the Reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro’ the Judgment, gains
The Heart, and all its End at once attains.

The things which no one sees, except for Berkeley’s God

Things (Cosas) from Borges’ The Gold of the Tigers (El Oro de los tigros) followed by notes from the critical edition.

The fallen volume; hidden by the others
from sight in the recesses of the bookshelves,
and which the days and nights muffle over
with slow and noiseless dust. Also, the anchor
of Sidon, which the seas surrounding England
press down into its blind and soft abyss.
The mirror which shows nobody’s reflection
after the house has long been left alone.
Fingernail filings which we leave behind
across the long expanse of time and space.
The indecipherable dust, once Shakespeare.
The changing figurations of a cloud.
The momentary but symmetric rose
which once, by chance, took substance in the shrouded
mirrors of a boy’s kaleidoscope.
The oars of Argus, the original ship.
The sandy footprints which the fatal wave
as though asleep erases from the beach.
The colours of a Turner when the lights
are turned out in the narrow gallery
and not a footstep sounds in the deep night.
The other side of the dreary map of the world.
The tenuous spiderweb in the pyramid.
The sightless stone and the inquiring hand.
The dream I had in the approaching dawn
and later lost in the clearing of the day.
The ending and beginning oí the epic
of Finsburh, today a few sparse verses
of iron, unwasted by the centuries.
The mirrored letter on the blotting paper.
The turtle in the bottom of the cistern.
And that which cannot be. The other horn
of the unicorn. The Being, Three in One.
The triangular disk. The imperceptible moment
in which the Eleatic arrow,
motionless in the air, reaches the mark.
The violet pressed between the leaves of Becquer.
The pendulum which time has stayed in place.
The weapon Odin buried in the tree.
The volume with its pages still unslit.
The echo of the hoofbeats at the charge
of Junin, which in some enduring mode
never has ceased, is part of the webbed scheme.
The shadow of Sarmiento on the sidewalks.
The voice heard by the shepherd on the mountain.
The skeleton bleaching white in the desert.
The bullet which shot dead Francisco Borges.
The other side of the tapestry. The things
which no one sees, except for Berkeley’s God

El volumen caído que los otros
ocultan en la hondura del estante
y que los días y las noches cubren
de lento polvo silencioso. El ancla
de sidón que los mares de Inglaterra
oprimen en su abismo ciego y blando.
El espejo que no repite a nadie
cuando la casa se ha quedado sola.
Las limaduras de uña que dejamos
a lo largo del tiempo y del espacio.
El polvo indescifrable que fue Shakespeare.
Las modificaciones de la nube.
La simétrica rosa momentánea
que el azar dio una vez a los ocultos
cristales del pueril calidoscopio.
Los remos de Argos, la primera nave.
Las pisadas de arena que la ola
soñolienta y fatal borra en la playa.
Los colores de Turner cuando apagan
las luces en la recta galería
y no resuena un paso en la alta noche.
El revés del prolijo mapamundi.
La tenue telaraña en la pirámide.
La piedra ciega y la curiosa mano.
El sueño que he tenido antes del alba
y que olvidé cuando clareaba el día.
El principio y el fin de la epopeya
de Finsburh, hoy unos contados versos
de hierro, no gastado por los siglos.
La letra inversa en el papel secante.
La tortuga en el fondo del aljibe
Lo que no puede ser. El otro cuerno
del unicornio. El Ser que es Tres y es Uno.
El disco triangular. El inasible
instante en que la flecha del eleata,
inmóvil en el aire, da en el blanco.
La flor entre las páginas de Becquer.
El péndulo que el tiempo ha detenido.
El acero que Odín clavó en el árbol.
El texto de las no cortadas hojas.
El eco de los cascos de la carga
de Junín, que de algún eterno modo
no ha cesado y es parte de la trama.
La sombra de Sarmiento en las aceras.
La voz que oyó el pastor en lá montaña.
La osamenta blanqueando en el desierto.
La bala que mató a Francisco Borges.
El otro lado del tapiz. Las cosas
que nadie mira, salvo el Dios de Berkeley.

And below are the (untranslated) notes from the Obras Completas Edicion Critica. These turn out generally less helpful than you’d want but feel more valuable here in helping pinpoint the direction of certain references.

To arrange a library is to practice, in a quiet and modest way, the art of criticism

From Borges’ In Praise of Darkness (Elogio de la sombra), in the Norman Thomas di Giovanni translation.

JUNE 1968
On a golden evening,
or in a quietness whose symbol
might be a golden evening,
a man sets up his books
on the waiting shelves,
feeling the parchment and leather and cloth
and the satisfaction given by
the anticipation of a habit
and the establishment of order.
Stevenson and that other Scotsman, Andrew Lang,
will here pick up again, in a magic way,
the leisurely conversation broken off
by oceans and by death,
and Alfonso Reyes surely will be pleased
to share space close to Virgil.
(To arrange a library is to practice,
in a quiet and modest way,
the art of criticism.)
The man, who is blind,
knows that he can no longer read
the handsome volumes he handles
and that they will not help him write
the book which in the end might justify him,
but on this evening that perhaps is golden
he smiles at his strange fate
and feels that special happiness
which comes from things we know and love.

JUNIO, 1968
En la tarde de oro
o en una serenidad cuyo símbolo
podría ser la tarde de oro,
el hombre dispone los libros
en los anaqueles que aguardan
y siente el pergamino, el cuero, la tela
y el agrado que dan
la previsión de un hábito
y el establecimiento de un orden.
Stevenson y el otro escocés, Andrew Lang,
reanudarán aquí, de manera mágica,
la lenta discusión que interrumpieron
los mares y la muerte
y a Reyes no le desagradará ciertamente
la cercanía de Virgilio.
(Ordenar bibliotecas es ejercer,
de un modo silencioso y modesto,
el arte de la crítica.)
El hombre, que está ciego,
sabe que ya no podrá descifrar
los hermosos volúmenes que maneja
y que no le ayudarán a escribir
el libro que lo justificará ante los otros,
pero en la tarde que es acaso de oro
sonríe ante el curioso destino
y siente esa felicidad peculiar
de las viejas cosas queridas

We are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance

From Samuel Johnson’s Life of Milton:

But the truth is, that the knowledge of external nature, and the sciences which that knowledge requires or includes, are not the great or the frequent business of the human mind.  Whether we provide for action or conversation, whether we wish to be useful or pleasing, the first requisite is the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong; the next is an acquaintance with the history of mankind, and with those examples which may be said to embody truth, and prove by events the reasonableness of opinions.  Prudence and justice are virtues and excellences of all times and of all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance.  Our intercourse with intellectual nature is necessary; our speculations upon matter are voluntary, and at leisure.  Physiological learning is of such rare emergence, that one may know another half his life without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostatics or astronomy; but his moral and prudential character immediately appears.

Those authors, therefore, are to be read at schools that supply most axioms of prudence, most principles of moral truth, and most materials for conversation; and these purposes are best served by poets, orators, and historians.

Let me not be censured for this digression as pedantic or paradoxical; for, if I have Milton against me, I have Socrates on my side.  It was his labour to turn philosophy from the study of Nature to speculations upon life; but the innovators whom I oppose are turning off attention from life to nature.  They seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motions of the stars.  Socrates was rather of opinion that what we had to learn was how to do good and avoid evil.

ὅττι τοι ἐν μεγάροισι κακόν τ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε τέτυκται

The quote is from Book 4 of The Odyssey (~400), as Eidothea instructs a stranded Menelaus in how to catch her father Proteus:

τόν γ᾽ εἴ πως σὺ δύναιο λοχησάμενος λελαβέσθαι,
ὅς κέν τοι εἴπῃσιν ὁδὸν καὶ μέτρα κελεύθου
νόστον θ᾽, ὡς ἐπὶ πόντον ἐλεύσεαι ἰχθυόεντα.
καὶ δέ κέ τοι εἴπῃσι, διοτρεφές, αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλῃσθα,
ὅττι τοι ἐν μεγάροισι κακόν τ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε τέτυκται
οἰχομένοιο σέθεν δολιχὴν ὁδὸν ἀργαλέην τε.

If you could somehow lie in wait and catch him, he will tell you your way and the measure of your path, and of your return, how you may go over the fish-filled sea. And he will tell you, fostered by Zeus, if so you wish, what evil and what good has been done in your halls, while you have been gone on your long and grievous way.

Nothing forgotten of the unhappy art of Mars

From The Canterbury Tales – The Knight’s Tale (lines 1967-2038), the description of the temple of Mars in the lists (arena) of Theseus’ tournament. I’m giving Neville Coghill’s modern rendering first followed by an interlineal text+translation borrowed from Harvard’s Chaucer page (online here). That seemed the best compromise against the glosses required if including the full original text by itself.

An interesting aside – Chaucer had served as clerk of the king’s works and overseen the construction of scaffolding and lists for Richard II’s 1390 tournament in Smithfield.

Why should I not go on to tell you all
The portraiture depicted on the wall
Within the Temple of Mighty Mars the red?
The walls were painted round and overhead
Like the recesses of that grisly place
Known as the Temple of Great Mars in Thrace,
That frosty region under chilling stars
Where stands the sovereign mansion of King Mars.
First on the walls a forest with no plan
Inhabited by neither beast nor man
Was painted – tree-trunks, knotted, gnarled and old,
Jagged and barren, hideous to behold,
Through which there ran a rumble and a soughing
As though a storm should break the branches bowing
Before it. Downwards from a hill there went
A slope; the Temple of Armipotent
Mars was erected there in steel, and burnished.
The Gateway, narrow and forbidding, furnished
A ghastly sight, and such a rushing quake
Raged from within, the portals seemed to shake.
In at the doors a northern glimmer shone
Onto the walls, for windows there were none;
One scarce discerned a light, it was so scant.
The doors were of eternal adamant,
And vertically clenched, and clenched across
For greater strength with many an iron boss,
And every pillar to support the shrine
Weighed a full ton of iron bright and fine.
And there I saw the dark imaginings
Of felony, the stratagems of kings,
And cruel wrath that glowed an ember-red,
The pick-purse and the image of pale Dread,
The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak,
The out-houses that burnt with blackened smoke;
Treason was there, a murder on a bed,
And open war, with wounds that gaped and bled;
Dispute, with bloody knife and snarling threat;
A screaming made the place more dreadful yet.
The slayer of himself, I saw him there
With all his heart’s blood matted in his hair;
The driven nail that made the forehead crack,
Cold Death, with gaping mouth, upon its back.
And in the middle of the shrine Mischance
Stood comfortless with sorry countenance.
There I saw madness cackling his distress,
Armed insurrection, outcry, fierce excess,
The carrion in the undergrowth, slit-throated,
And thousands violently slain. I noted
The raping tyrant with his prey o’ertaken,
The levelled city, gutted and forsaken,
The ships on fire dancingly entangled,
The luckless hunter that wild bears had strangled,
The sow, munching the baby in the cradle,
The scalded cook, in spite of his long ladle –
Nothing forgotten of the unhappy art
Of Mars: the carter crushed beneath his cart,
Flung to the earth and pinned beneath the wheel;
Those also on whom Mars has set his seal,
The barber and the butcher and the smith
Who forges things a man may murder with.
And high above, depicted in a tower,
Sat Conquest, robed in majesty and power,
Under a sword that swung above his head,
Sharp-edged and hanging by a subtle thread.
And Caesar’s slaughter stood in effigy
And that of Nero and Mark Antony;
Though to be sure they were as yet unborn,
Their deaths were there prefigured to adorn
This Temple with the menaces of Mars,
As is depicted also in the stars
Who shall be murdered, who shall die for love;

1967        Why sholde I noght as wel eek telle yow al
                   Why should I not as well also tell you all
1968        The portreiture that was upon the wal
                   The portraiture that was upon the wall
1969        Withinne the temple of myghty Mars the rede?
                   Within the temple of mighty Mars the red?
1970        Al peynted was the wal, in lengthe and brede,
                   All painted was the wall, in length and breadth,
1971        Lyk to the estres of the grisly place
                   Like to the interior of the grisly place
1972        That highte the grete temple of Mars in Trace,
                   That is called the Great Temple of Mars in Thrace,
1973        In thilke colde, frosty regioun
                   In that same cold, frosty region
1974        Ther as Mars hath his sovereyn mansioun.
                   Where Mars has his most excellent mansion.
1975        First on the wal was peynted a forest,
                   First a forest was painted on the wall,
1976        In which ther dwelleth neither man ne best,
                   In which there dwells neither man nor beast,
1977        With knotty, knarry, bareyne trees olde,
                   With knotty, gnarled, barren old trees,
1978        Of stubbes sharpe and hidouse to biholde,
                  Of stumps sharp and hideous to behold,
1979        In which ther ran a rumbel in a swough,
                  Through which there ran a rumbling in a moaning of wind,
1980        As though a storm sholde bresten every bough.
                 As though a storm should burst every bough.
1981        And dounward from an hille, under a bente,
                 And downward from a hill, close to a grassy slope,
1982        Ther stood the temple of Mars armypotente,
                 There stood the temple of Mars, powerful in arms,
1983        Wroght al of burned steel, of which the entree
                 Wrought all of burnished steel, of which the entry
1984        Was long and streit, and gastly for to se.
                   Was long and narrow, and frightening to look upon.
1985        And therout came a rage and swich a veze
                   And out of there came a rush of wind and such a blast
1986        That it made al the gate for to rese.
                   That it made all the gate to shake.
1987        The northren lyght in at the dores shoon,
                   The northern light shone in at the doors,
1988        For wyndowe on the wal ne was ther noon,
                   For there was no window on the wall,
1989        Thurgh which men myghten any light discerne.
                   Through which men might discern any light.
1990        The dore was al of adamant eterne,
                   The door was all of eternal adamant (hardest of stones),
1991        Yclenched overthwart and endelong
                   Bound crosswise and lengthwise
1992        With iren tough; and for to make it strong,
                   With tough iron; and to make it strong,
1993        Every pyler, the temple to sustene,
                   Every pillar, to support the temple,
1994        Was tonne-greet, of iren bright and shene.
                   Was big as a large barrel, (made) of iron bright and shining.
1995        Ther saugh I first the derke ymaginyng
                   There I saw first the malicious plotting
1996        Of Felonye, and al the compassyng;
                   Of Felony, and all the scheming;
1997        The crueel Ire, reed as any gleede;
                   The cruel Anger, red as any glowing coal;
1998        The pykepurs, and eek the pale Drede;
                   The pick-purse, and also the pale Fear;
1999        The smylere with the knyf under the cloke;
                   The smiler with the knife under the cloak;
2000        The shepne brennynge with the blake smoke;
                   The stable burning with the black smoke;
2001        The tresoun of the mordrynge in the bedde;
                   The treason of the murdering in the bed;
2002        The open werre, with woundes al bibledde;
                   The open war, all covered with blood from wounds:
2003        Contek, with blody knyf and sharp manace.
                   Strife, with bloody knife and sharp menacing.
2004        Al ful of chirkyng was that sory place.
                   All full of creaking was that sorry place.
2005        The sleere of hymself yet saugh I ther —
                   There yet I saw slayer of himself there —
2006        His herte-blood hath bathed al his heer —
                   His heart-blood has bathed all his hair —
2007        The nayl ydryven in the shode anyght;
                   The nail driven in the top of the head at night;
2008        The colde deeth, with mouth gapyng upright.
                   The cold death, with mouth gaping upwards.
2009        Amyddes of the temple sat Meschaunce,
                   Amidst the temple sat Misfortune,
2010        With disconfort and sory contenaunce.
                   With grief and sorry countenance.
2011        Yet saugh I Woodnesse, laughynge in his rage,
                   Yet I saw Madness, laughing in his rage,
2012        Armed Compleint, Outhees, and fiers Outrage;
                   Armed Discontent, Alarm, and fierce Violence;
2013        The careyne in the busk, with throte ycorve;
                   The corpse in the woods, with (its) throat cut;
2014        A thousand slayn, and nat of qualm ystorve;
                   A thousand slain, and not killed by the plague;
2015        The tiraunt, with the pray by force yraft;
                   The tyrant, with his prey taken by force;
2016        The toun destroyed, ther was no thyng laft.
                   The town destroyed, there was nothing left.
2017        Yet saugh I brent the shippes hoppesteres;
                   Yet I saw burned the ships dancing (on the waves);
2018        The hunte strangled with the wilde beres;
                   The hunter killed by the wild bears;
2019        The sowe freten the child right in the cradel;
                   The sow devouring the child right in the cradle;
2020        The cook yscalded, for al his longe ladel.
                   The cook scalded, despite his long-handled spoon.
2021        Noght was foryeten by the infortune of Marte.
                   Nothing concerning the evil influence of Mars was forgotten.
2022        The cartere overryden with his carte —
                   The wagon driver run over by his wagon —
2023        Under the wheel ful lowe he lay adoun.
                   He lay down full low under the wheel.
2024        Ther were also, of Martes divisioun,
                   There were also, of those influenced by Mars,
2025        The barbour, and the bocher, and the smyth,
                   The barber, and the butcher, and the smith,
2026        That forgeth sharpe swerdes on his styth.
                   Who forges sharp swords on his anvil.
2027        And al above, depeynted in a tour,
                   And all above, painted in a tower,
2028        Saugh I Conquest, sittynge in greet honour,
                   I saw conquest, sitting in great honor,
2029        With the sharpe swerd over his heed
                   With the sharp sword over his head
2030        Hangynge by a soutil twynes threed.
                   Hanging by a thin thread of twine.
2031        Depeynted was the slaughtre of Julius,
                   Depicted was the slaughter of Julius,
2032        Of grete Nero, and of Antonius;
                   Of great Nero, and of Antonius;
2033        Al be that thilke tyme they were unborn,
                   Although at that same time they were unborn,
2034        Yet was hir deth depeynted ther-biforn
                   Yet was their death depicted before then
2035        By manasynge of Mars, right by figure;
                   By menacing of Mars, according to the horoscope;
2036        So was it shewed in that portreiture,
                   So was it shown in that portraiture,
2037        As is depeynted in the sterres above
                   As is depicted in the stars above
2038        Who shal be slayn or elles deed for love.
                   Who shall be slain or else dead for love.

One of those smiles which might be supposed to have come from the dimpled cheeks of the august Tisiphone

An easily overlooked masterpiece from Henry Fielding in bk.1 ch.8 of Tom Jones. Tisiphone, along with Alecto and Megaera, is one of the three Furies. Her appearance in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (bk. 4 starting at ~470) is given at bottom to better fill out the visual. And as good as this line is, another right after it – ‘a voice sweet as the evening breeze of Boreas in the pleasant month of November’ – is almost equally memorable.

When Mr Allworthy had retired to his study with Jenny Jones, as hath been seen, Mrs Bridget, with the good housekeeper, had betaken themselves to a post next adjoining to the said study; whence, through the conveyance of a keyhole, they sucked in at their ears the instructive lecture delivered by Mr Allworthy, together with the answers of Jenny, and indeed every other particular which passed in the last chapter.

This hole in her brother’s study-door was indeed as well known to Mrs Bridget, and had been as frequently applied to by her, as the famous hole in the wall was by Thisbe of old. This served to many good purposes. For by such means Mrs Bridget became often acquainted with her brother’s inclinations, without giving him the trouble of repeating them to her. It is true, some inconveniences attended this intercourse, and she had sometimes reason to cry out with Thisbe, in Shakspeare, “O, wicked, wicked wall!” For as Mr Allworthy was a justice of peace, certain things occurred in examinations concerning bastards, and such like, which are apt to give great offence to the chaste ears of virgins, especially when they approach the age of forty, as was the case of Mrs Bridget. However, she had, on such occasions, the advantage of concealing her blushes from the eyes of men; and De non apparentibus, et non existentibus eadem est ratio—in English, “When a woman is not seen to blush, she doth not blush at all.”

Both the good women kept strict silence during the whole scene between Mr Allworthy and the girl; but as soon as it was ended, and that gentleman was out of hearing, Mrs Deborah could not help exclaiming against the clemency of her master, and especially against his suffering her to conceal the father of the child, which she swore she would have out of her before the sun set.

At these words Mrs Bridget discomposed her features with a smile (a thing very unusual to her). Not that I would have my reader imagine, that this was one of those wanton smiles which Homer would have you conceive came from Venus, when he calls her the laughter-loving goddess; nor was it one of those smiles which Lady Seraphina shoots from the stage-box, and which Venus would quit her immortality to be able to equal. No, this was rather one of those smiles which might be supposed to have come from the dimpled cheeks of the august Tisiphone, or from one of the misses, her sisters.

With such a smile then, and with a voice sweet as the evening breeze of Boreas in the pleasant month of November, Mrs Bridget gently reproved the curiosity of Mrs Deborah; a vice with which it seems the latter was too much tainted, and which the former inveighed against with great bitterness, adding, “That, among all her faults, she thanked Heaven her enemies could not accuse her of prying into the affairs of other people.”

And Ovid (Loeb translation):

And [Juno] explains the causes of her hatred and of her journey hither, and what she wants. What she wanted was that the house of Cadmus should fall, and that the Fury-sisters should drive Athamas to madness. Commands, promises, prayers she poured out all in one, and begged the goddesses to aid her. When Juno had done, Tisiphone, just as she was, shook her tangled grey locks, tossed back the straggling snakes from her face, and said: “There is no need of long explanations; consider done all that you ask. Leave this unlovely realm and go back to the sweeter airs of your native skies.” Juno went back rejoicing; and as she was entering heaven, Iris, the daughter of Thaumus, sprinkled her o’er with purifying water.

Straightway the fell Tisiphone seized a torch which had been steeped in gore, put on a robe red with dripping blood, girt round her waist a writhing snake, and started forth. Grief went along with her, Terror and Dread and Madness, too, with quivering face. She stood upon the doomed threshold. They say the very door-posts of the house of Aeolus shrank away from her; the polished oaken doors grew dim and the sun hid his face. Ino was filled with terror at the monstrous sight, and her husband, Athamas, was filled with terror, too. They made to leave their palace, but the baleful Fury stood in their way and blocked their exit. And stretching her arms, wreathed with vipers, she shook out her locks: disturbed, the serpents hissed horribly. A part lay on her shoulders, part twined round her breast, hissing, vomiting venomous gore, and darting out their tongues. Then she tears away two serpents from the midst of her tresses, and with deadly aim hurls them at her victims. The snakes go gliding over the breasts of Ino and of Athamas and breathe upon them their pestilential breath. No wounds their bodies suffer; ’tis their minds that feel the deadly stroke. The Fury, not content with this, had brought horrid poisons too—froth of Cerberus’ jaws, the venom of the Hydra, strange hallucinations and utter forgetfulness, crime and tears, mad love of slaughter, all mixed together with fresh blood, brewed in a brazen cauldron and stirred with a green hemlock-stalk. And while they stood quaking there, over the breasts of both she poured this maddening poison brew, and made it sink to their being’s core.

Then, catching up her torch, she whirled it rapidly round and round and kindled fire by the swiftly moving fire. So, her task accomplished and her victory won, she retraced her way to the unsubstantial realm of mighty Dis, and there laid off the serpents she had worn.

A perpetual clog to public business

From Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (ch8 of part 3), a sidetrip to Glubbdubdrib where the governor has the power to raise the spirits of the dead. He really hits stride as satirist in this and the next part – among the houyhnhnms – when he drops allegory and takes up the catalog:

I was chiefly disgusted with modern history. For having strictly examined all the persons of greatest name in the courts of princes, for a hundred years past, I found how the world had been misled by prostitute writers, to ascribe the greatest exploits in war, to cowards; the wisest counsel, to fools; sincerity, to flatterers; Roman virtue, to betrayers of their country; piety, to atheists; chastity, to sodomites; truth, to informers: how many innocent and excellent persons had been condemned to death or banishment by the practising of great ministers upon the corruption of judges, and the malice of factions: how many villains had been exalted to the highest places of trust, power, dignity, and profit: how great a share in the motions and events of courts, councils, and senates might be challenged by bawds, whores, pimps, parasites, and buffoons. How low an opinion I had of human wisdom and integrity, when I was truly informed of the springs and motives of great enterprises and revolutions in the world, and of the contemptible accidents to which they owed their success.

Here I discovered the roguery and ignorance of those who pretend to write anecdotes, or secret history; who send so many kings to their graves with a cup of poison; will repeat the discourse between a prince and chief minister, where no witness was by; unlock the thoughts and cabinets of ambassadors and secretaries of state; and have the perpetual misfortune to be mistaken. Here I discovered the true causes of many great events that have surprised the world; how a whore can govern the back-stairs, the back-stairs a council, and the council a senate. A general confessed, in my presence, “that he got a victory purely by the force of cowardice and ill conduct;” and an admiral, “that, for want of proper intelligence, he beat the enemy, to whom he intended to betray the fleet.” Three kings protested to me, “that in their whole reigns they never did once prefer any person of merit, unless by mistake, or treachery of some minister in whom they confided; neither would they do it if they were to live again:” and they showed, with great strength of reason, “that the royal throne could not be supported without corruption, because that positive, confident, restiff temper, which virtue infused into a man, was a perpetual clog to public business.”

I had the curiosity to inquire in a particular manner, by what methods great numbers had procured to themselves high titles of honour, and prodigious estates; and I confined my inquiry to a very modern period: however, without grating upon present times, because I would be sure to give no offence even to foreigners (for I hope the reader need not be told, that I do not in the least intend my own country, in what I say upon this occasion,) a great number of persons concerned were called up; and, upon a very slight examination, discovered such a scene of infamy, that I cannot reflect upon it without some seriousness. Perjury, oppression, subornation, fraud, pandarism, and the like infirmities, were among the most excusable arts they had to mention; and for these I gave, as it was reasonable, great allowance. But when some confessed they owed their greatness and wealth to sodomy, or incest; others, to the prostituting of their own wives and daughters; others, to the betraying of their country or their prince; some, to poisoning; more to the perverting of justice, in order to destroy the innocent, I hope I may be pardoned, if these discoveries inclined me a little to abate of that profound veneration, which I am naturally apt to pay to persons of high rank, who ought to be treated with the utmost respect due to their sublime dignity, by us their inferiors.

His style is a model of simplicity but only when he forgets all about it

From Salvador de Madariaga‘s Don Quixote: An Introductory Essay in Psychology, a book that has sadly been out of print (in English, at least) since 1948. It is better known for the concluding chapters on how Don Quixote and Sancho reciprocally reshape each other over the course of the novel, but the portions on the tensions underlying Cervantes’ creative style are almost as rich. First a summary statement (pg. 12)

It is well to remember that in Cervantes, as in almost every other Spanish genius, there is as pronounced lack of harmony between the critical and the creative faculties. As a creator, Cervantes is one of the freest men of genius in the world of art. As a critic, his mind is both guided and fettered by classical and academic ideas which merge into hard literary dogmas, as it were, without warning. The two tendencies appear almost inextricably mixed in his attitude towards Books of Chivalry.

and here a more fully explored version of the same (pg. 46-48):

[Cervantes] had in him a royal measure of natural creative spirit; he had also a strong critical prepossession and rather fancied his scholarship, as witness the somewhat naive remarks on translations which he puts in the mouth of Don Quixote when the Knight is visiting the Printing Works in Barcelona. He was endowed with at least the usual amount of sensitiveness to criticism; lastly he worked, as it were, under the eyes of a host of rivals eager to find a flaw. His natural self-consciousness was therefore exacerbated by the conditions under which he was working. And the point is important, for the main effect of self-consciousness in creative work is that it hinders the fusion of the elements which enter into the composition and prevents their blending into an harmonious unity.

Hence the complexity of Don Quixote as a literary work, for in it the diverse currents of influence which acted upon Cervantes at the time of writing appear flowing, as it were, side by side, and may be traced to their different sources. The most important of all, that which gives the work its immortal value, is the creative spirit of the race, as manifest in Cervantes’ predecessors, and particularly in La Celestina. When Cervantes is in this vein he is at his best. Then his observation is so acute, his style so terse and clear, that the work is as reality itself to us. It is the vein of most of the dialogue scenes between Don Quixote and Sancho. Cervantes is here the unprejudiced and spontaneous creator, the impartial observer and lover of men, whatever their condition, rank, virtue; the born writer who never sets down a word that is not living; the free artist who knows nothing but reality seen through emotion; the ideal poet, in whom the ever romantic imagination is instinctively guided and tempered by the ever classic common sense.

And now and then the learned gentleman with literary ambitions puts in a word. Then Cervantes tries to vie with the wits of Italy; He seeks the strange plot; he tries his hand at daintily twisted phrases; he courts the elusive metaphor. When this will-o-the-wisp gets hold of his fancy it is the curious paradox of this most wonderful book that Cervantes seems to forget the very principles of classical order which he so admirably applies when under a spontaneous creative inspiration. Left to itself, his creative imagination, though romantic by nature, is classical in its sobriety, in the economy of its means, in the admirable restraint of its conception and expression. Hustled by his pseudo-classical conceits, this imagination which we saw so true and clearsighted, seems to lose touch with the earth and indulge in extravagant and fanciful evolutions; matter and style become elaborate and needlessly complicated, and Cervantes is then as extravagantly romantic as he was severely classic when writing under the influence of his classical prepossessions.

In writing his Don Quixote, Cervantes meant to break a lance in the cause of simplicity. And, in fact, his style is a model of simplicity but only when he forgets all about it…

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129, one of the better known ones but here rather for its thematic connection to a previously posted poem of Petronius and Ben Jonson’s translation of it.

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

You have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator

From Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, ch.6 in A Voyage to Brobdingnag:

His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to recapitulate the sum of all I had spoken [regarding England]; compared the questions he made with the answers I had given; then taking me into his hands, and stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words, which I shall never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in: “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions. It does not appear, from all you have said, how any one perfection is required toward the procurement of any one station among you; much less, that men are ennobled on account of their virtue; that priests are advanced for their piety or learning; soldiers, for their conduct or valour; judges, for their integrity; senators, for the love of their country; or counsellors for their wisdom. As for yourself,” continued the king, “who have spent the greatest part of your life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But by what I have gathered from your own relation, and the answers I have with much pains wrung and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”