ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR
Do you actually believe in the bottom of your
heart that Homer, writing the Iliad and the Odyssey,
ever thought of the allegories pulled and tickled out of him by
Heraclides Ponticus and
Cornutus the Stoic--or by Politican, who stole his arguments
from all the rest of them? If you do, you don't come within a
step--no, not even a hand's breadth--of my opinion, because I
solemnly swear that Homer no more dreamed of them than Ovid's
Metamorphoses are all bout the mysteries of the Gospel, which
Friar Lubin (a true parasite) has tried to prove. Maybe he
thinks he'll meet someone as stupid as he is, someday--as the
proverbs says, another lid for the same pot.
But if you don't believe it, why don't you do
as much for these merry new tales of mine--because, writing them, I
never once though of stuff like that any more than you did, probably
drinking your wine, just as I was. In fact, while working away
at this noble book, I never spent (or lost) time over it except when
I was also working away at my bodily refreshment, drinking and
eating. Which is the right time for writing about such exalted
matters, such profound truths, as Homer knew perfectly well--he, the
very model for all our learned literary people--and
Ennius, too, father of Latin poets, as Horace bears witness,
though some swine has said that his poems had more to do
with lamp oil than wine.
--Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois
Rabelais (tr. Burton Raffel)
On the theory, given to the world by my
brother-author, William Shakespeare, that it is the lean and
hungry-looking men who are dangerous and the the fat, the
sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights, are harmless, R. Jones
should have been above suspicion. He was infinitely the
fattest man in the west-central postal district of London. He
was a round ball of a man, who wheezed when he walked upstairs,
which was seldom, and shook like a jelly if some tactless friend,
wishing to attract his attention tapped him unexpectedly on the
shoulder. But this occurred still less frequently than his
walking upstairs, for in R. Jones' circle it was recognized that
nothing is a greater breach of etiquette and worse form than to tap
people unexpectedly on the shoulder. That, it was felt, should
be left to those who are paid by the Government to do it.
--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
[N.B.: Needless to say (so I'll write it
instead), R. Jones is the only sinister character in Something
Fresh, a work penned in 1915 and representing the literary
debut of that delightful, yet absent-minded, character, Lord
Emsworth. What? You don't know about Lord Emsworth?
Or his pig? Well, if pigs have wings, surely readers can as
well and should fly to their bookseller for a dose or two or three
of Lord Emsworth's adventures. As for the squib above, I
thought it worth repeating because it begins with one of my favorite
quotes from Shakespeare (now, listen here young man, it is improper
to question one about one's
embonpoint). Toodles. OH, and have a very,
Merry Christmas and such not.]
. . . . And of these emotions the
strongest, perhaps, is that which most of those who travel today go
seeking; the enchantment of mountains: the air by which we know them
for something utterly different from high hills. Accustomed to
the contour of downs and
tors, or to the valleys and long slopes that introduce a range,
we come to some wider horizon and see, far off, a further line of
hills. To hills all the mind is attuned: a moderate ecstasy.
The clouds are above the hills, lying level in the empty sky; men
and their ploughs have visited, it seems, all the land about us.
Till, suddenly, faint but hard, a cloud less varied, a greyer
portion of the infinite sky itself, is seen to be permanent above
the world. Then all our grasp of the wide view breaks down.
We change. The valleys and the tiny towns, the unseen mites of
men, the gleams or threads of roads, are prostrate, covering a
little watching space before the shrine of this dominant and
It is as though humanity were permitted to
break through the vulgar illusion of daily sense, and to learn in a
physical experience how unreal are all the absolute standards by
which we build. It is as though the vast and unexpected had a
purpose, and that purpose were the showing to mankind in rare
glimpses what places are designed for the soul--those ultimate
places where things common become shadows and fail, and the divine
part in us, which adores and desires, breathes its own air, and is
at last alive.
Inn of the Margeride from Selected Essays by
By late 1922, his friends were obliged to take
him or leave him as an eccentric, someone who refused to be squeezed
by rules, and many of them even believed he had married Polly for no
other reason than to spite them and their conventions. He
hated holidays because they were arbitrary periods of freedom which
were given rather than taken, and because they were occasions for
artificial merriment. He was an authentic dandy. He
never let Polly wear false pearls; he wouldn't wear false anythings.
He dressed impeccably, always in black, shaved scrupulously every
morning, was repelled by the touch of strangers. He found it
"disheartening to consider the ugly bodies that have washed in one's
bathtub, to imagine the people who have been born, who have made
love, or have died in one's bed. . . ."
--Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent
Harry Crosby by Geoffrey Wolff
The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark's is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.
For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together.
--To A. D. by W. E. Henley
"On trains, you remember, when one asked what time
lunch was served, one was told, 'Just after Reading'. Time is
really space after all."
--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony
'But I know just how you feel, sir. Who
steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine,
'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he who filches
my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me
'Neat, that. Your own?'
'No, sir. Shakespeare's.'
'Shakespeare said some rather good things.'
'I understand that he has given uniform
satisfaction, sir. Shall I mix your another?'
'Do just that thing, Jeeves, and with all
--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Our ship groans, as if shouldering yet more
burdens and cares. I like this sound. But when the doors
to the galley blat open I hear the music from the boombox (four
beats to the bar, with some seventeen-year-old yelling about
self-discovery), and it comes to my ears as pain. Naturally,
at a single flicker of my eyelid, the waiters take the kitchen by
storm. When you are old, noise comes to you as pain.
Cold comes to you as pain. When I go up on deck tonight, which
I will do, I expect the wet snow to come to me as pain. It
wasn't like that when I was young. The wake-up: that
hurt, and went on hurting more and more. But the cold didn't
hurt. By the way, try crying and swearing above the Arctic
Circle, in winter. All your tears will freeze fast, and even
your obscenities will turn to droplets of ice and tinkle to your
feet. It weakened us, it profoundly undermined us, but it
didn't come to us as pain. It answered something. It was
like a searchlight playing over the universe of our hate.
--House of Meetings by Martin Amis
[N.B.: This is the monologue of the novel's
protagonist, a survivor of the gulag. Amis is almost pitch
perfect here--although he does stumble over the cliche, "take the
[fill-in-the-blank] by storm." He easily recovers, though,
with that wonderful simile at the end of the paragraph. Why
can't Americans write like this? Oh, that's right, they've all
learned their "craft" in pottery--oops, I mean,
The enemy headquarters was in a farmhouse a few
hundred yards down a by-road that ran close to the railway, and as I
was the bearer of the despatches and obviously a ringleader of some
sort, I was packed off with a soldier at either side and a third man
with a drawn revolver behind. He was still smarting under my
abuse and he fired at my heel. The little soldier on my left
dropped his rifle, threw up his hands, and fell. When I knelt
beside him he was unconscious, and the man with the revolver went
into hysterics, rushed to the other side of the road, and clutched
his head and wept. The third soldier went to console him, so,
as it was obvious that no one else would do anything practical for
the unconscious man, I opened his tunic to look for a wound.
What I would do with it if I found it was more than I had thought
of, but at least I was better qualified as a hospital orderly than
my one-=man medical service, for he only shouted into the prostrate
man's ear what he thought was an Act of Contrition but was really
the Creed. I had my hand on the solder's heart when he opened
his eyes and said: "--ye all!" It was simple and final.
Then he rose with great dignity, dusted himself, buttoned his tunic,
shouldered his rifle, and resumed his march. Like myself he
wasn't much of a soldier, but he had savoir faire.
--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor
So much for the unhappy beginning of Jude's
career as a book. After these verdicts from the press its next
misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop--probably in despair at not
being able to burn me--and his advertisement of his meritorious act
in the papers.
Then somebody discovered that Jude was a
moral work--austere in its treatment of a difficult subject--as if
the writer had not all the time said in the Preface that it was
meant to be so. Thereupon many uncursed me, and the mater
ended, the only effect of it on human conduct that I could discover
being its effect on myself--the experience completely curing me of
further interest in novel-writing.
--Postscript to Jude the Obscure
by Thomas Hardy
At some dinner parties he would also auction
tickets for prizes of most unequal value, and paintings with their
faces turned to the wall, for which every guest present was expected
to bid blindly, taking his chance like the rest: he might either
pick up most satisfactory bargains, or throw away his money.
--Augustus from The Twelve Caesars
by Suetonius (tr. Robert Graves)
All these annoyances and dozens like them had to
be soothed at once, then Grandmother's attention was turned to the
main house, which must be overhauled completely. The big
secretaries were opened and shabby old sets of Dickens, Scott,
Thackeray, Dr. Johnson's dictionary, the volumes of Pope and Milton
and Dante and Shakespeare were dusted off and closed up carefully
again. Curtains came down in dingy heaps and went up again
stiff and sweet-smelling; rugs were heaved forth in dusty confusion
and returned flat and gay with flowers once more; the kitchen was no
longer dingy and desolate but a place of heavenly order where it was
tempting to linger.
--The Source from The Old Order:
Stories of the South by Katerine Anne Porter
[N.B.: Now you know where Truman Capote
swiped what little bit of style he was able to dredge up from the
smithy of his soul to fashion the uncreated Christmas squib for his
magazine's readers. Note also that of the list of author's
names, two no longer appear to belong with the others as exemplars
of greatness: Scott and Thackeray. Scott's reputation has
rightfully dimmed as he was the progenitor for the historical bodice
ripper (not to mention that late unpleasantness between the States).
Thackeray's downfall, on the other hand, is less obvious. Certainly,
obeisance is still paid to the altar of Vanity Fair but all
else is cast into outer darkness (Henry Esmond anyone,
anyone at all?). My own pet theory is that his place
was usurped by academics who developed a toothsome appetite for the
mechanical profligacy of Anthony Trollope, a master at grinding out
one undistinguished product after another (much like the unread
output of modern academia--or the prose of John Updike, another
Today I found a withered stem of honesty, and
shelled the pods between my thumb and finger; silver pennies, which
grew between the fragrant currant-bushes. Their glistening
surfaces, seeded, the very faint rustle they make in the wind--these
sensations come direct to me from a moment thirty years ago.
As they expand in my mind, they carry everything in their widening
circle--the low crisp box-hedge which would be at my feet, the
pear-trees on the wall behind me, the potato-flowers on the patch
beyond the bushes, the ivy-clad privy at the end of the path, the
cow pasture, the fairy rings--everything shimmers for a second on
the expanding rim of my memory. The farthest tremor of this
perturbation is lost only at the finest edge where sensation passes
beyond the confines of experience; for memory is a flower which only
opens fully in the kingdom of Heaven, where the eye is eternally
--The Innocent Eye by Herbert Read
The Art of Writing, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch,
the anthologist who compiled the Oxford Book of English Verse,
is a collection of lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1913-14--in
itself a poignant thought; how many of his adoring and gifted
students (as I imagine them) perished shortly thereafter in the
First World War, never to put into practice his cogent teachings?
The lectures, as Sir Arthur makes clear in his "Inaugural," were a
complete departure from the dry dronings-on of pedagogues, standard
fare served up to students in those days. I detect that Sir
Arthur had deliberately set out to be something of an iconoclast who
would disrupt the calm and even flow of traditional academic
instruction. He combines erudition and informality, depth and
humor, in the most entertaining fashion. To cite just one
sample passage that struck home to me: "Whenever you feel an impulse
to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey
it--whole-heartedly--and delete it before sending your manuscript.
Murder your darlings." A marvelous piece of advice;
thanks to Sir A. Q.-C., my wastepaper basket is a veritable Herod's
graveyard of slaughtered innocents. (Editor: Please delete
--Introduction to Poison Penmanship:
The Gentle Art of Muckraking by Jessica Mitford
The churchyard was always present to me, in that
worst of awful periods, as an uncannily unbelievable place which,
with all my elaborate deviations, I could never avoid landing up at;
drawn by Dylan's rotting remains. And I would try to envisage
how much was left of him; how much had started to crumble; and an
impotent rage against the vile crudeness of nature daring to
infringe on him, of all people, made me long to tear open that
shoddy grey, speechless mound; ferret down to the long locked cold
box, and burst it apart. There to press my headlong hot flesh
into his, to mangle him with my strong bones, mingle, mutilate the
two of us together, till the dead and the living would be desired
--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas
'If only,' they whispered, and hissed in kitchen
corners and back room bars malignantly, their bridling
better-than-thou-ness glowing reassuringly in their wilting
bird-caged breasts; 'she could have waited a decent
anonymity of years.'
Years; did you hear that; how much time do they
think I have, and how do they propose that I should kill that
deposited squeamishly out-of-sight shelf of years? If I waited
a million years, I could not forget Dylan: he will not come
blundering down the path again, all misshapen, forgettable poems and
glowing miracles of tomorrow singing, stifled, out of them; his
pockets sagging with bottles and goodies, and bang at the door
impatiently and shout, 'Cait, come down quick and let me in.'
There will be nobody to bang at the door for he is in already.
--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas
You have only to look at my hands; the very
reverse of Dylan's; square, gnarled, awkward, unwieldy, chunks of
flesh; as though born to the soil, and only fit for planting spuds.
And the nails: a shameful reproduction of my mind: torn, bitten,
bleeding; the dead skin unfurling in grotesque corrugations.
My worst vice at the bottom of all my troubles, and disquietingly
part of me. And I fail to stop; and God knows I've tried.
--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas