If thou hadst not so much wit, I could find in my heart to marry thee

From John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (4.2), reminiscent of Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado and, as there, the only genuine relationship in the play.

Tysefew. But do you hear, lady?—you proud ape, you! What was the jest you brake of me even now?

Crispinella. Nothing. I only said you were all mettle;—that you had a brazen face, a leaden brain, and a copper beard.

Tysefew. Quicksilver,—thou little more than a dwarf, and something less than a woman.

Crispinella. A wisp! a wisp! a wisp!—will you go to the banquet?

Tysefew. By the Lord, I think thou wilt marry shortly too; thou growest somewhat foolish already.   

Crispinella. O, i’faith, ’tis a fair thing to be married, and a necessary. To hear this word must! If our husbands be proud, we must bear his contempt; if noisome, we must bear with the goat under his armholes; if a fool, we must bear his bable; and, which is worse, if a loose liver, we must live upon unwholesome reversions; where, on the contrary side, our husbands—because they may, and we must—care not for us. Things hoped with fear, and got with strugglings, are men’s high pleasures, when duty palls and flats their appetite.   

Tysefew. What a tart monkey is this! By heaven! if thou hadst not so much wit, I could find in my heart to marry thee. Faith, bear with me for all this!

Crispinella. Bear with thee? I wonder how thy mother could bear thee ten months in her belly, when I cannot endure thee two hours in mine eye.

Tysefew. Alas, for your sweet soul! By the Lord, you are grown a proud, scurvy, apish, idle, disdainful, scoffing—God’s foot! because you have read Euphues and his England, Palmerin de Oliva, and the Legend of Lies!

Crispinella. Why, i’faith, yet, servant, you of all others should bear with my known unmalicious humours: I have always in my heart given you your due respect. And Heaven may be sworn, I have privately given fair speech of you, and protested——

Tysefew. Nay, look you; for my own part, if I have not as religiously vow’d my heart to you,—been drunk to your health, swallowed flap-dragons, ate glasses, drunk urine, stabb’d arms, and done all the offices of protested gallantry for your sake; and yet you tell me I have a brazen face, a leaden brain, and a copper beard! Come, yet, and it please you.  

Crispinella. No, no;—you do not love me.

Tysefew. By —— but I do now; and whosoever dares say that I do not love you, nay, honour you, and if you would vouchsafe to marry——

Crispinella. Nay, as for that, think on’t as you will, but God’s my record,—and my sister knows I have taken drink and slept upon’t,—that if ever I marry, it shall be you; and I will marry, and yet I hope I do not say it shall be you neither.  

Tysefew. By Heaven, I shall be as soon weary of health as of your enjoying!—Will you cast a smooth cheek upon me?

Crispinella. I cannot tell. I have no crump’d shoulders, my back needs no mantle, and yet marriage is honourable. Do you think ye shall prove a cuckold?

Tysefew. No, by the Lord, not I!   

Crispinella. Why, I thank you, i’faith. Heigho! I slept on my back this morning, and dreamt the strangest dreams. Good Lord! How things will come to pass! Will you go to the banquet?

Tysefew. If you will be mine, you shall be your own:—my purse, my body, my heart, is yours,—only be silent in my house, modest at my table, and wanton in my bed;—and the Empress of Europe cannot content, and shall not be contented, better.   

Crispinella. Can any kind heart speak more discreetly affectionately? My father’s consent; and as for mine——

Tysefew. Then thus, and thus, so Hymen should begin; Sometimes a falling out proves falling in.

The Dutch Courtesan

A couple of exchanges from John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (from 1.2 and 3.1). I think the language is lively enough to stand without context or notes but there is an old edition available online that has a few pointers (here).

Surprisingly, there is also a complete filming of a 2013 University of York production available on Youtube (embedded below). I always prefer period-original productions but this one’s pretty delightful, especially given that there’s little to no chance of ever seeing another performance.

Cocledemoy. Hang toasts! I rail at thee, my worshipful organ-bellows that fills the pipes, my fine rattling fleamy cough o’ the lungs, and cold with a pox? I rail at thee? what, my right precious pandress, supportress of barber-surgeons, and enhanceress of lotium and diet-drink? I rail at thee, necessary damnation? I’ll make an oration, I, in praise of thy most courtly in-fashion and most pleasureable function, I.

Mary Faugh. Ay, prithee do, I love to hear myself praised, as well as any old lady, I.

Cocledemoy. List then:—a bawd; first for her profession or vocation, it is most worshipful of all the twelve companies; for, as that trade is most honourable that sells the best commodities—as the draper is more worshipful than the pointmaker, the silkman more worshipful than the draper, and the goldsmith more honourable than both, little Mary, so the bawd above all: her shop has the best ware; for where these sell but cloth, satins, and jewels, she sells divine virtues, as virginity, modesty, and such rare gems; and those not like a petty chapman, by retail, but like a great merchant, by wholesale; wa, ha, ho! And who are her customers? Not base corn-cutters or sowgelders, but most rare wealthy knights, and most rare bountiful lords, are her customers. Again, whereas no trade or vocation profiteth but by the loss and displeasure of another—as the merchant thrives not but by the licentiousness of giddy and unsettled youth; the lawyer, but by the vexation of his client; the physician, but by the maladies of his patient—only my smooth-gumm’d bawd lives by others’ pleasure, and only grows rich by others’ rising. O merciful gain, O righteous in-come! So much for her vocation, trade, and life. As for their death, how can it be bad, since their wickedness is always before their eyes, and a death’s head most commonly on their middle-finger? To conclude, ’tis most certain they must needs both live well and die well, since most commonly they live in Clerkenwell, and die in Bride-well. Dixi, Mary.


Crispinella. Pish! sister Beatrice, prithee read no more; my stomach o’ late stands against kissing extremely.

Beatrice. Why, good Crispinella?

Crispinella. By the faith and trust I bear to my face, ’tis grown one of the most unsavoury ceremonies: body o’ beauty! ’tis one of the most unpleasing injurious customs to ladies: any fellow that has but one nose on his face, and standing collar and skirts also lined with taffety sarcenet, must salute us on the lips as familiarly—Soft skins save us! there was a stub-bearded John-a-Stile with a ployden’s face saluted me last day and struck his bristles through my lips; I ha’ spent ten shillings in pomatum since to skin them again. Marry, if a nobleman or a knight with one lock visit us, though his unclean goose-turd-green teeth ha’ the palsy, his nostrils smell worse than a putrified marrowbone, and his loose beard drops into our bosom, yet we must kiss him with a cursy, a curse! for my part, I had as lieve they would break wind in my lips.

For comparison between the text and the stage, the first passage above starts at 11:00 and the second at 1:01 (both with minor vocab modifications for audience benefit).

A part to tear a cat in

From Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1.2):

QUINCE
You, Nick Bottom, are set down for Pyramus.
BOTTOM
What is Pyramus? a lover, or a tyrant?
QUINCE
A lover, that kills himself most gallant for love.
BOTTOM
That will ask some tears in the true performing of
it: if I do it, let the audience look to their
eyes; I will move storms, I will condole in some
measure. To the rest: yet my chief humour is for a
tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to
tear a cat in, to make all split.

The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phibbus’ car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.


This was lofty! Now name the rest of the players.
This is Ercles’ vein, a tyrant’s vein; a lover is
more condoling.

The OED gives the following definition for ‘to tear a cat’:

to tear a (the) cat: to play the part of a roistering hero; to rant and bluster: cf. tear-cat adj. and n. at tear- comb. form 2. Obsolete.
1600 W. Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream i. ii. 25 I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to teare a Cat in, to make all split. View more context for this quotation
1610 Histrio-mastix 8 Sirrha is this you, would rend and teare the cat upon a stage?

and connects it to a compound ‘tear-cat’:

tear-cat adj. and n.Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˈtɛːkat/, U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈtɛrˌkæt/ (a) adj. swaggering, ranting, bombastic (see tear v.1 1d); (b) n. a bully, swaggerer, ‘fire-eater’.
1606 J. Day Ile of Guls sig. A2v I had rather heare two good baudie iests, then a whole play of such teare-cat thunderclaps.
1611 T. Middleton & T. Dekker Roaring Girle sig. K3v Iac. Dap. What’s thy name fellow souldier? T. Cat. I am cal’d by those that haue seen my valour, Tear-Cat. Omn. Teare-Cat?
1821 W. Scott Kenilworth I. xii. 316 A man of mettle, one of those ruffling tear-cats, who maintain their master’s quarrel with sword and buckler.

Both definitions are clear enough for use but neither is satisfying for origin. All my editions are content with citing some combination of the above parallels and the only thing I can readily find that looks deeper is a 2008 piece from the Kenyon Review that documents a few editorial explanations proposed through the years. Borrowing from there we find:

Here, for example, are some tearings of cats, from “A Midsummer-night’s Dream, By William Shakespeare”, ed. Henry Cuningham, Harold F. Brooks, Published by Methuen, 1905:

“Tear a cat: Apparently a proverbial phrase for tearing a passion to tatters (Hamlet, III. ii. 10). Edwards, Canons of Criticism, 1765, p. 52, thinks this a burlesque upon Hercules’s killing a lion.

Heath, Revisal of Shakespeare’s Text, 1765, p. 45, takes Warburton’s emendation, “cap,” seriously, and supposes “it might not be unusual for a player, in the violence of his rant, sometimes to tear his cap.”

Capell takes Bottom seriously, and supposes ‘he might have seen ‘Ercles’ [Heracles] acted, and some strange thing torn, which he mistook for a cat.’”

More adventurous is Andrew Becket in Shakespeare’s Himself Again (pg 267):

The sense is wholly mistaken by the editors. It is not the domestic animal the cat, which is spoken of. For what can possibly be understood of “a part to tear a cat in?” We must read: “a part to tear: a catin.” ” To tear,” is to rant, to bluster. Catin is a french word signifying a drab, a low, vulgar woman. ‘A’ is the french particle which has the power of the adverb ‘like’. The whole will run thus: ‘My chief humor is for a tyrant. I could play Ercles rarely, or a part in which I might rant and bluster like a very drab, a common roarer.’ Hamlet, we may remember, says;

‘Must I unpack my heart with words,
And fall a railing like a very drab.’

In the quotations in which tear cat appears, it should be noted that ‘cat’ is contracted of ‘catin’. Thus, in the Comedy of the Roaring Girl, Tear-cat (roaring woman) [is] the name of a character of the play. It must not be objected that Tear-cat is, in some of the pieces, a male character. A man may be said to rant or rail like a drab, a common woman– and we have an example of it in the lines from Hamlet.”

For my part, the only gesture to an explanation I can come up with is built largely on a later line from the same play when Lysander, trying to get rid of Hermia, says (3.2.260):

Hang off, thou cat, thou burr! vile thing, let loose,
Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent!

This is the only use I see in Shakespeare of a cat as ‘clinging thing’ but I can (with blind optimism) imagine ‘tear a cat’ coming about as a compression of the idea ‘act a part with such violent gestures that you’d dislodge a clinging cat.’ With even blinder optimism I could pull this one step further from anything to do with an actual cat and link it back to the prototypical stage swaggerer Hercules – the originating idea then becoming a Hercules playing his part so violently that he tears/disorders the cat (=lion) skin integral to his costume.

Some stories of the elder Publius Africanus

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights (4.18). Not to assert wrongdoing on his part but my modern sensibility finds these tales more amusing if I imagine Scipio here as testing the limits of his own capacity to pull off a bluff.

Some stories of the elder Publius Africanus, taken from the annals and well worth relating.

How greatly the earlier Scipio Africanus excelled in the splendour of his merits, how lofty and noble of spirit he was, and to what an extent he was upheld by consciousness of his own rectitude, is evident from many of his words and acts. Among these are the following two instances of his extreme self-confidence and sense of superiority.

When Marcus Naevius, tribune of the commons, accused him before the people and declared that he had received money from king Antiochus to make peace with him in the name of the Roman people on favourable and easy terms, and when the tribune added sundry other charges which were unworthy of so great a man, then Scipio, after a few preliminary remarks such as were called for by the dignity and renown of his life, said: “I recall, fellow citizens, that this is the day on which in Africa in a mighty battle I conquered Hannibal the Carthaginian, the most bitter enemy of your power, and won for you a splendid peace and a glorious victory. Let us then not be ungrateful to the gods, but, I suggest, let us leave this worthless fellow, and go at once to render thanks to Jupiter, greatest and best of gods.” So saying, he turned away and set out for the Capitol. Thereupon the whole assembly, which had gathered to pass judgment on Scipio, left the tribune, accompanied Scipio to the Capitol, and then escorted him to his home with the joy and expressions of gratitude suited to a festal occasion. The very speech is in circulation which is believed to have been delivered that day by Scipio, and those who deny its authenticity at least admit that these words which I have quoted were spoken by Scipio.

There is also another celebrated act of his. Certain Petilii, tribunes of the commons, influenced they say by Marcus Cato, Scipio’s personal enemy, and instigated to appear against him, insisted most vigorously in the senate on his rendering an account of the money of Antiochus and of the booty taken in that war; for he had been deputy to his brother Lucius Scipio Asiaticus, the commander in that campaign. Thereupon Scipio arose, and taking a roll from the fold of his toga, said that it contained an account of all the money and all the booty; that he had brought it to be publicly read and deposited in the treasury. “But that,” said he, “I shall not do now, nor will I so degrade myself.” And at once, before them all, he tore the roll across with his own hands and rent it into bits, indignant that an account of money taken in war should be required of him, to whose account the salvation of the Roman State and its power ought to be credited.


De P. Africano superiore sumpta quaedam ex annalibus memoratu dignissima.

Scipio Africanus antiquior quanta virtutum gloria praestiterit et quam fuerit altus animi atque magnificus et qua sui conscientia subnixus, plurimis rebus quae dixit quaeque fecit declaratum est. Ex quibus sunt haec duo exempla eius fiduciae atque exuperantiae ingentis.

Cum M. Naevius tribunus plebis accusaret eum ad populum diceretque accepisse a rege Antiocho pecuniam, ut condicionibus gratiosis et mollibus pax cum eo populi Romani nomine fieret, et quaedam item alia crimini daret indigna tali viro, tum Scipio pauca praefatus quae dignitas vitae suae atque gloria postulabat, “Memoria,” inquit, “Quirites, repeto, diem esse hodiernum quo Hannibalem Poenum imperio vestro inimicissimum magno proelio vici in terra Africa pacemque et victoriam vobis peperi spectabilem. Non igitur simus adversum deos ingrati et, censeo, relinquamus nebulonem hunc, eamus hinc protinus Iovi optimo maximo gratulatum.” Id cum dixisset, avertit et ire ad Capitolium coepit. Tum contio universa, quae ad sententiam de Scipione ferendam convenerat, relicto tribuno, Scipionem in Capitolium comitata atque inde ad aedes eius cum laetitia et gratulatione sollemni prosecuta est. Fertur etiam oratio quae videtur habita eo die a Scipione, et qui dicunt eam non veram, non eunt infitias quin haec quidem verba fuerint, quae dixi, Scipionis.

Item aliud est factum eius praeclarum. Petilii quidam tribuni plebis a M., ut aiunt, Catone, inimico Scipionis, comparati in eum atque inmissi, desiderabant in senatu instantissime ut pecuniae Antiochinae praedaeque in eo bello captae rationem redderet; fuerat enim L. Scipioni Asiatico, fratri suo, imperatori in ea provincia legatus. Ibi Scipio exurgit et, prolato e sinu togae libro, rationes in eo scriptas esse dixit omnis pecuniae omnisque praedae; illatum, ut palam recitaretur et ad aerarium deferretur. “Sed enim id iam non faciam,” inquit, “nec me ipse afficiam contumelia,” eumque librum statim coram discidit suis manibus et concerpsit, aegre passus quod cui salus imperii ac reipublicae accepta ferri deberet rationem pecuniae praedatae posceretur.

That man has the horse of Seius

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 3.9. Also reported in Erasmus’ Adagia 997 (citing Gellius).

The characteristics of the horse of Seius, which is mentioned in the proverb…

Gavius Bassus in his Commentaries, and Julius Modestus in the second book of his Miscellaneous Questions, tell the history of the horse of Seius, a tale wonderful and worthy of record. They say that there was a clerk called Gnaeus Seius, and that he had a horse foaled at Argos, in the land of Greece, about which there was a persistent tradition that it was sprung from the breed of horses that had belonged to the Thracian Diomedes, those which Hercules, after slaying Diomedes, had taken from Thrace to Argos. They say that this horse was of extraordinary size, with a lofty neck, bay in colour, with a thick, glossy mane, and that it was far superior to all horses in other points of excellence; but that same horse, they go on to say, was of such a fate or fortune, that whoever owned and possessed it came to utter ruin, as well as his whole house, his family and all his possessions. Thus, to begin with, that Gnaeus Seius who owned him was condemned and suffered a cruel death at the hands of Marcus Antonius, afterwards one of the triumvirs for setting the State in order. 1 At that same time Cornelius Dolabella, the consul, on his way to Syria, attracted by the renown of this horse, turned aside to Argos, was fired with a desire to own the animal, and bought it for a hundred thousand sesterces; but Dolabella in his turn was besieged in Syria during the civil war, and slain. And soon afterwards Gaius Cassius, who had besieged Dolabella, carried off this same horse, which had been Dolabella’s. It is notorious too that this Cassius, after his party had been vanquished and his army routed, met a wretched end. Then later, after the death of Cassius, Antonius, who had defeated him, sought for this famous horse of Cassius, and after getting possession of it was himself afterwards defeated and deserted in his turn, and died an ignominious death. Hence the proverb, applied to unfortunate men, arose and is current: “That man has the horse of Seius.”


Quis et cuiusmodi fuerit qui in proverbio fertur equus Seianus …

Gavius Bassus in commentariis suis, item Iulius Modestus in secundo Quaestionum Confusarum, historiam de equo Seiano tradunt dignam memoria atque admiratione: Gnaeum Seium quempiam scribam fuisse eumque habuisse equum natum Argis in terra Graecia, de quo fama constans esset tamquam de genere equorum progenitus foret qui Diomedis Thracis fuissent, quos Hercules, Diomede occiso, e Thracia Argos perduxisset. Eum equum fuisse dicunt magnitudine invisitata, cervice ardua, colore poeniceo, flora et comanti iuba, omnibusque aliis equorum laudibus quoque longe praestitisse; sed eundem equum tali fuisse fato sive fortuna ferunt, ut quisquis haberet eum possideretque, ut is cum omni domo, familia fortunisque omnibus suis ad internecionem deperiret. Itaque primum illum Gnaeum Seium, dominum eius, a M. Antonio, qui postea triumvirum reipublicae constituendae fuit, capitis damnatum, miserando supplicio affectum esse; eodem tempore Cornelium Dolabellam consulem, im Syriam proficiscentem, fama istius equi adductum Argos devertisse cupidineque habendi eius exarsisse emisseque eum sestertiis centum milibus; sed ipsum quoque Dolabellam in Syria bello civili obsessum atque interfectum esse; mox eundem equum, qui Dolabellae fuerat, C. Cassium, qui Dolabellam obsederat, abduxisse. Eum Cassium postea satis notum est victis partibus fusoque exercitu suo miseram mortem oppetisse, deinde post Antonium, post interitum Cassii parta victoria, equum illum nobilem Cassi requisisse et, cum eo potitus esset, ipsum quoque postea victum atque desertum, detestabili exitio interisse. Hinc proverbium de hominibus calamitosis ortum dicique solitum: “Ille homo habet equum Seianum.”

λεξιθηρέω – word-hunting

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 2.9

In bringing this charge [of an incorrectly used word] against Epicurus Plutarch is “word-hunting” with excessive minuteness and almost with frigidity; for far from hunting up such verbal meticulousness and such refinements of diction, Epicurus hunts them down.

Nimis minute ac prope etiam subfrigide Plutarchus in Epicuro accusando λεξιθηρεῖ Has enim curas vocum verborumque elegantias non modo non sectatur Epicurus, sed etiam insectatur.

I enjoy Gellius’ verb here – λεξιθηρέω, a simple compound of ‘word’ (λέξις) and the verbal form of hunt (θήρα). It seems a near hapax in surviving works, though Clement uses a related noun λεξιθηρία in his Paedagogus (page 15 in this online version) and the grammarian Phrynicus Arabius (in Latin here) gives a few other related forms like λεξιθήρ and λεξιθήρας. For those two, Pape in his Greek-German dictionary gives the cleanest overall rendering of the idea with ein Wortjäger. The sense in Gellius and Clement (who denies he’s engaging in the activity) is fussy pedantism but we let that slide.

Fools praising fools and dunces praising dunces

From Erasmus’ Praise of Folly/Encomium Moriae (section 50), Folly speaking:

The daintiest thing is when they compliment each other, turn about, in an exchange of letters, verses, and puffs; fools praising fools and dunces praising dunces. The first, in the opinion of the second, is an Alcaeus; the second, in the opinion of the first, is a Callimachus. One puts another far above Cicero; the other then finds the one more learned than Plato. Or sometimes they will pick out a competitor and increase their reputation through rivalry with him. As a result, the doubtful public is split into opposing camps, until, when the battle is well over, each leaves the field as victor and each has a triumphal parade. Wise men deride all this as most foolish, as indeed it is. Who denies it? But meanwhile, by my boon our authors lead a sweet life, nor would they exchange their triumphs for those of the Scipios. And while the scholars indeed have a great deal of fun laughing at them, and savor to the full the madnesses of others, they themselves owe a good deal to me, which they cannot disavow without being the most ungrateful of men.


Illud autem lepidissimum, cum mutuis epistolis, carminibus, encomiis sese vicissim laudant, stulti stultos, indoctos indocti. Hic illius suffragio discedit Alceus, ille huius Callimachus: ile huic est M. Tullio superior, hic illi Platone doctior. Nonnumquam etiam antagonistam quaerunt, cuius aemulatione famam augeant. Hic scinditur incertum studia in contraria vulgus, donec uterque dux re bene gesta victor discedit, uterque triumphum agit. Rident haec sapientes, ut, veluti sunt, stultissima. Quis enim negat? Sed interim meo beneficio suavem vitam agunt, ne cum Scipionibus quidem suos triumphos commutari. Quamquam docti quoque interim dum haec magna cum animi voluptate rident, et aliena fruuntur insania, non paulum mihi debent et ipsi, quod inficari possunt, nisi sint omnium ingratissimi.

It is possibly uncharitable but all I see here is the carousel of reviewers and this year’s ‘revolutionary new voices.’

Robinson Crusoe and the double columns!

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Wrong Box, the first of an eventual three novels co-written with his son-in-law Lloyd Osbourne. I never associate Stevenson with comedy but he pulls off a grand farce here.

And then a remark of his uncle’s flashed into his memory: If you want to think clearly, put it all down on paper. ‘Well, the old boy knew a thing or two,’ said Morris. ‘I will try; but I don’t believe the paper was ever made that will clear my mind.’

He entered a place of public entertainment, ordered bread and cheese, and writing materials, and sat down before them heavily. He tried the pen. It was an excellent pen, but what was he to write? ‘I have it,’ cried Morris. ‘Robinson Crusoe and the double columns!’ He prepared his paper after that classic model, and began as follows:

Bad. —— Good.
1. I have lost my uncle’s body.
1. But then Pitman has found it.

‘Stop a bit,’ said Morris. ‘I am letting the spirit of antithesis run away with me. Let’s start again.’

Bad. —— Good.
1. I have lost my uncle’s body.
1. But then I no longer require to bury it.

2. I have lost the tontine.
2.But I may still save that if Pitman disposes of the body, and
if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.

3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle’s
succession.
3. But not if Pitman gives the body up to the police.

‘O, but in that case I go to gaol; I had forgot that,’ thought Morris. ‘Indeed, I don’t know that I had better dwell on that hypothesis at all; it’s all very well to talk of facing the worst; but in a case of this kind a man’s first duty is to his own nerve. Is there any answer to No. 3? Is there any possible good side to such a beastly bungle? There must be, of course, or where would be the use of this double-entry business? And—by George, I have it!’ he exclaimed; ‘it’s exactly the same as the last!’ And he hastily re-wrote the passage:

Bad. —— Good.
3. I have lost the leather business and the rest of my uncle’s
succession.
3. But not if I can find a physician who will stick at nothing.

‘This venal doctor seems quite a desideratum,’ he reflected. ‘I want him first to give me a certificate that my uncle is dead, so that I may get the leather business; and then that he’s alive—but here we are again at the incompatible interests!’ And he returned to his tabulation:

Bad. —— Good.
4. I have almost no money.
4. But there is plenty in the bank.

5. Yes, but I can’t get the money in the bank.
5. But—well, that seems unhappily to be the case.

6. I have left the bill for eight hundred pounds in Uncle
Joseph’s pocket.
6. But if Pitman is only a dishonest man, the presence of this
bill may lead him to keep the whole thing dark and throw the body
into the New Cut.

7. Yes, but if Pitman is dishonest and finds the bill, he will
know who Joseph is, and he may blackmail me.
7. Yes, but if I am right about Uncle Masterman, I can blackmail
Michael.

8. But I can’t blackmail Michael (which is, besides, a very
dangerous thing to do) until I find out.
8. Worse luck!

9. The leather business will soon want money for current
expenses, and I have none to give.
9. But the leather business is a sinking ship.

10. Yes, but it’s all the ship I have.
10. A fact.

11. John will soon want money, and I have none to give.
11.

12. And the venal doctor will want money down.
12.

13. And if Pitman is dishonest and don’t send me to gaol, he will
want a fortune.
13.

‘O, this seems to be a very one-sided business,’ exclaimed Morris. ‘There’s not so much in this method as I was led to think.’

The Crusoe reference is to an early episode in the novel (ch 4) when Robinson sits down to map out his situation – it was a long favorite of enlightenment readers but really does leave a large window for the grotesque-ing above.

I now began to consider seriously my condition, and the circumstances I was reduced to; and I drew up the state of my affairs in writing, not so much to leave them to any that were to come after me—for I was likely to have but few heirs—as to deliver my thoughts from daily poring over them, and afflicting my mind; and as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated very impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered, thus:—

Evil.Good.
I am cast upon a horrible, desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.But I am alive; and not drowned, as all my ship’s company were.
I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be miserable.But I am singled out, too, from all the ship’s crew, to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.
I am divided from mankind—a solitaire; one banished from human society.But I am not starved, and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance.
I have no clothes to cover me.But I am in a hot climate, where, if I had clothes, I could hardly wear them.
I am without any defence, or means to resist any violence of man or beast.But I am cast on an island where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw on the coast of Africa; and what if I had been shipwrecked there?
I have no soul to speak to or relieve me.But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply myself, even as long as I live.

Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world: that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.

And she turned from the picture at night to scheme of tearing it out for herself next sun.

From Robert Browning’s The Statue and The Bust (142-153), online in full here.

Meantime, worse fates than a lover’s fate,
Who daily may ride and pass and look
Where his lady watches behind the grate!

And she — she watched the square like a book
Holding one picture and only one,
Which daily to find she undertook:

When the picture was reached the book was done,
And she turned from the picture at night to scheme
Of tearing it out for herself next sun.

So weeks grew months, years; gleam by gleam
The glory dropped from their youth and love,
And both perceived they had dreamed a dream;

I give four stanzas for more stable context but it’s really only the image in the second and third that I’m especially struck by. Browning was always tinkering with his work and this one had a couple of small but possibly significant tweaks along the way. The 1855 proofs of Men and Women read:

When the picture came the book was done,
And she turned from it all night to scheme
Of tearing it out for herself next sun.

And an 1863 Selections alters the second line above to:

And she turned from the picture all night

I somewhat like the 1855 proof version more than the final. The picture is of course the Duke Ferdinand and his actively riding by is what puts an end to the unnamed lady’s ‘reading’ each day (since the picture can’t ‘be reached’ without his ‘coming’). Then ‘all night’ over ‘at night’ seems better to hit the lady’s subjective sense of their separation’s painful duration .

But if the final reading loses something inside the image, it seems better to blend with the poem overall. The grammatical passivity of ‘was reached’ can be aligned with the moral failing of characters who continue waiting for a resolution to ‘be presented’ to them. ‘Was reached’ then contributes to what feels a meaningful splitting of verbs throughout the stanza – two passives (was reached, was done) and one active with a negative value (turn from). Given the nature of the characters, it is appropriate both that passivity would dominate and that the single action actively taken would move not towards resolution but a resetting and perpetuation of the situation. That line of reasoning pushes further if you include the negative values of the nonfinite verbals ‘to scheme’ and ‘tearing it out.’ Finally, ‘at night’ over ‘all night’ I take as emphasizing the iterative element – that by the time of narration the action is a routine one that has somewhere lost the pain and become so sadly – because simply accepted – neutral.