If this book is boring, two years from now it will be wrapping butter at the grocer’s

From Stendhal’s Souvenirs d’egotisme (Memoirs of an Egotist in an English translation):

Si ce livre est ennuyeux, au bout de deux ans il enveloppera le beurre chez l’épicier ….

If this book is boring, two years from now it will be wrapping butter at the grocer’s ….

I would like a history of all such phrases – bad books as food wrappings. I know of three in Latin literature and a near parallel in English but I’m sure I’ve read others without retaining them:

Catullus XCV.9:

But the Annals of Volusius will die by the river Padua where they were born, and will often furnish a loose wrapper for mackerels.

at Volusi annales Paduam morientur ad ipsamet laxas scombris saepe dabunt tunicas


Horace Epistles 2.1.265-70

Not for me attentions that are burdensome, and I want neither to be displayed anywhere in wax, with my features misshaped, nor to be praised in verses ill-wrought, lest I have to blush at the stupid gift, and then, along with my poet, outstretched in a closed chest, be carried into the street where they sell frankincense and perfumes and pepper and everything else that is wrapped in sheets of useless paper.

nil moror officium quod me gravat, ac neque ficto in peius voltu proponi cereus usquamnec prave factis decorari versibus opto,ne rubeam pingui donatus munere, et unacum scriptore meo, capsa porrectus operta, deferar in vicum vendentem tus et odores et piper et quidquid chartis amicitur ineptis

Persius 1.40-45

 Is there anyone who would disown the desire to earn the praise of the people?—or, when he’s produced compositions good enough for cedar oil, to leave behind him poetry which has nothing to fear from mackerels or incense?

an erit qui velle recusetos populi meruisse et cedro digna locutuslinquere nec scombros metuentia carmina nec tus?

And Lyly’s Euphues (To the Gentleman readers):

We commonly see the book that at Christmas lieth bound on the stationer’s stall at Easter to be broken in the haberdasher’s shop

Suus cuique attributus est error

Catullus XXII.  I’m sure there’s are better translations than the Loeb prose – though they’re all butchery to some degree – but ctrl+c/ctrl+v makes a strong counter-argument.

Svffenvs iste, Vare, quem probe nosti,
homost venustus et dicax et urbanus,
idemque longe plurimos facit versus.
puto esse ego illi milia aut decem aut plura
perscripta, nec sic ut fit in palimpsesto
relata: chartae regiae, novi libri,
novi umbilici, lora rubra, membranae,
derecta plumbo, et pumice omnia aequata.
haec cum legas tu, bellus ille et urbanus
10Suffenus unus caprimulgus aut fossor
rursus videtur: tantum abhorret ac mutat.
hoc quid putemus esse? qui modo scurra
aut siquid hac re scitius videbatur,
idem infacetost infacetior rure,
simul poemata attigit; neque idem umquam
aequest beatus ac poema cum scribit:
tam gaudet in se tamque se ipse miratur.
nimirum idem omnes fallimur, nequest quisquam
quem non in aliqua re videre Suffenum
possis. suus cuique attributus est error:
sed non videmus manticae quod in tergost.


That Suffenus, Varus, whom you know very well, is a charming fellow, and has wit and good manners. He also makes many more verses than any one else. I suppose he has got some ten thousand or even more written out in full, and not, as is often done, put down on used sheets; imperial paper, new rolls, new bosses, red ties, parchment wrappers; all ruled with lead and smoothed with pumice. When you come to read these, the fashionable well-bred Suffenus I spoke of this time seems to be nothing but any goatherd or ditcher; so unlike himself and changed he is. How are we to account for this? The same man who was just now a dinner-table wit or someone (if such there be) even smarter, is more clumsy than the clumsy country, whenever he touches poetry; and at the same time he is never so happy as when he is writing a poem, he delights in himself and admires himself so much. True enough, we all are under the same delusion, and there is no one whom you may not see to be a Suffenus in one thing or another. Everybody has his own delusion assigned to him: but we do not see that part of the bag which hangs on our back.