Category Archives: literature

Paddy Offends Willie, 1957

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 5015ff.

Ann [Fleming] had been invited to stay at the Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat by Somerset Maugham, then in his eighties and living in retirement with his partner, Alan Searle. On her arrival she found a letter from Paddy, urging her to arrange an invitation. Paddy was duly invited to lunch, and arrived (according to Ann) with ‘five cabin trunks’ (according to Paddy, all he had was one zippered holdall), ‘parcels of books and the manuscript of his unfinished work on Greece strapped in a bursting attaché case’. Paddy made himself very agreeable at lunch. He and Maugham exchanged memories of the King’s School, Canterbury, and Maugham asked him to stay on for a few days. All went well until dinner that night.

Maugham had lived with a pronounced stammer since childhood. In his novel Of Human Bondage, which deals with the misery of his schooldays, the stammer is turned into a limp. Paddy knew the book and had been hearing the stammer all day, but neither sufficed to stop him from putting his foot in it. The first jokey reference to stuttering passed without comment, but the second was more serious. Maugham had just staggered through a sentence to the effect that all the gardeners had taken the day off because it was the Feast of the Assumption. At this point, Paddy recalled being in the Louvre in front of a painting of the event, with his friend Robin Fedden (who also had trouble getting his words out): ‘and Robin turned to me and said “Th-th-that’s what I c-c-call an un-w-w-warrantable assumption.” There was a moment’s silence – the time needed for biting one’s tongue out.’

The evening was wrecked. When the other guests left, Maugham turned to Paddy and said, ‘G-goodbye, you will have left by the time I am up in the morning.’ After their host had retired, Ann described Paddy breaking the silence with a cry of anguish, as he slammed his whisky glass on the table ‘where it broke to pieces and showered a valuable carpet with blood and splinters’. Ann helped Paddy pack the following morning, and as he picked up his bag and walked to the door, Paddy heard ‘a sound like an ogre’s sneeze’. The monogrammed linen sheet had caught in the zip, leaving a great tear a yard long.

Ann Fleming and Diana Cooper, who was staying nearby, persuaded Maugham to have Paddy back to lunch to make up. ‘It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed no more than a few syllables.’ Maugham was perfectly polite, but he had had enough of Paddy. He was later heard to describe him as ‘that middle-class gigolo for upper-class women’.

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Brits in Athens, 1946

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3465ff.

Although the Germans had blown up the docks and harbours of Piraeus before their retreat, Athens had not been too badly damaged during the war. Far more severely affected were the Athenians, who had lived in a state of semi-starvation since 1941. One of the results was that almost everyone kept chickens, even those living in apartment blocks in the city centre. The crowing of cocks, added to the cries of street vendors, blaring radios and the metallic cacophony of antique trams, was enough to convince Osbert Lancaster that Athens was one of the noisiest capitals in Europe. In 1946 the Acropolis still dominated every prospect, for most people lived in modest two-storey houses. In the poorer parts of town, below Mount Hymettus, the walls were covered with Communist slogans in red.

Paddy’s immediate superior was the unfailingly affable Rex Warner, a Greek scholar who was considered one of the most promising novelists of his generation. Maurice Cardiff remembered them both. ‘At a midnight contest in a taverna, given quite difficult rhymes, he and Paddy produced passable sonnets in minutes, but Rex’s was the more perfect and metrically correct.’ As Director of the Institute Warner was answerable to Steven Runciman, whom Paddy had met in Sofia in 1934 and who was now the British Council’s Representative. Tall, fastidious and a brilliant linguist, Runciman was then working on the History of the Crusades which made his name; but his chief recreation was collecting scandals and stories. ‘Royal gossip is very good,’ he once said, ‘and political gossip is even better; but my dear, nothing beats Vatican gossip.’

They all worked in the same building in Ermou Street, and Runciman had vivid memories of Paddy. ‘He looked very good in an office,’ said Runciman, ‘but none of us could think of anything to do with him.’ Cardiff recalled that Paddy was not at work very often and when he was he seemed to be throwing a party, sitting with his feet on the desk and entertaining a stream of Cretan visitors. The Cretan economy had been almost destroyed by the occupation, and there was very little work. Paddy found menial jobs for both Manoli Paterakis and George Psychoundakis in the Institute; they and others often spent the night on the floor of his room at the Grande Bretagne, and later, in the flat he was lent in Kolonaki. His office was always blue with cigarette smoke, and the sound of loud talk, Cretan songs and rollicking laughter echoed down the passage.

This did not make him popular. ‘There was a very insensitive side to Paddy,’ said Cardiff. ‘He was very bumptious, a bit of a know-all, and his enthusiasm and noisiness could be rather wearing.’ Steven Runciman, too, had his reservations about Paddy. Cardiff said that this was because he resented the fact that Paddy knew more Greek royals than he did; but Runciman also saw how Paddy disturbed the peace of the office. ‘All the girls were in love with him,’ he said. ‘He used to borrow money from them – and I have to tell you, they weren’t always paid back. There were occasions when I had to sort out Paddy’s little irregularities myself . . .’

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Converting Classical to Demotic Greek

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 261-262:

As we sat by the brazier before going to bed, I tried out the few bits of Homer I knew by heart on my host and hostess, and a couple of bits of Sappho. I suppose it was rather like a Greek, in an incomprehensible accent, hopefully murmuring passages of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English to an old fisher couple in a Penzance cottage. Even so, the verses seemed to have a sort of talismanic value to their ears, and caused pleasure rather than the nonplussed tedium its English equivalent might have evoked in Cornwall. I struck luckier with Fauriel’s Greek folksongs, in the collection of Nadejda’s grandfather. They knew several of them, and my hostess Kyria Eleni – an alert old woman with wide-open blue eyes, dressed and elaborately kerchiefed in black – even sang a few lines here and there in a quavery voice. Once I had got the hang of the modern pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, with the fact that all hard breathings had evaporated and that all the accents merely indicated where the stress of a word fell, I saw that reading it aloud, though halting at first, would soon become plain sailing. I could also break down the construction of the sentences; even, now and then, and in spite of the deep demotic, the ghost of an inkling of their drift. Old newspapers hinted their meanings a stage more easily, as through a glass darkly, but with a battered missal I found on a shelf, it was almost face to face. All this was full of promise for the coming months; for, Constantinople once reached, I was planning a private invasion of Greece. But, infuriatingly, we were still confined in conversation to my halting and scarcely existent Bulgarian.

This dabbling with the mysteries of Greek caused many a sigh. They had never been to Greece, and now (unlike me) never would. They seemed glad to have a guest once more. I felt that my being English played a part in their kind welcome. At all events, when I tried to offer some money before setting off next day for Burgas, they both started back in horror as though the coins were red hot. I slept on the divan, under the twinkling ikon lamp. There was a silver-covered ikon of the Virgin (I was beginning to notice these things) and another of SS Constantine and Helen, holding up the True Cross between them; also two faded marriage wreaths intertwined in a glass case, carefully kept from their wedding day in the later decades of the last century.

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Byzantine Proustians of Bucharest, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 184-188:

Historians have been united in execrating the Phanariots. They have inherited the opprobrium that used to load the word ‘Byzantine’ with suggestions of flexibility, deviousness, lack of scruple, greed and tyranny. But there are signs that the Phanariots, too, are gradually being reassessed. It may be argued that their greed and corruption were laced by zeal for the Orthodox faith and that their share in the foreign affairs of the Ottomans, which the later sultans largely and most unwisely entrusted to them, was dictated as much, or almost as much, by anxiety for the Christian cause as it was by private ambition. It is possible that without their flexibility and genius for compromise, the principalities would have sunk into total subjection to the Ottoman yoke: that all the old national institutions, instead of degeneration, would have been obliterated completely, as they had been in the rest of south-eastern Europe. In nearly every family there was a prince with virtues to offset, in some measure, the vices of his kinsmen. Since the end of their long regime, many of their descendants have been prominent and devoted figures in Rumanian life, both in conservation and reform. But whatever their drawbacks may have been, in the period of their great ascendancy, the eighteenth century, in one thing they were pre-eminent: they were the only civilized people in south-eastern Europe. The Phanar itself was the last surviving fragment of lost Byzantium, and the courts of Bucharest and Jassy the last, faint, scarcely audible echo of the empire’s death rattle.

It was not only on their wealth but on their knowledge of languages and their wider European horizons, in a world of fanatic barbarism, that their oligarchy was based. From the first, when they became Grand Dragomans of the Porte, they were friends of literature and art; the first Rumanian bible was translated by the orders of Sherban Cantacuzene of Wallachia, and with all his faults, a figure as polished as Alexander Mavrocordato, Byron’s and Shelley’s friend and a leader in the Greek revolt, could have sprung from no other East European soil. They studied in Venice, Padua, Vienna, Paris and St Petersburg and it was mainly due to their civilized and cosmopolitan influence that Western ideas penetrated Rumania. The influence of French ideas, and the total linguistic hegemony of France among the elite, may have gone too far; there were certainly regrettable social side effects; but it did bring a vivifying blast of the Western world, a sort of belated renaissance, into the stifling isolation of the Middle Ages which Rumania was only just sloughing off.

All these different influences, it occurred to me later on (for I knew little or nothing of such matters then), had evolved into a society which was a mixture of late Byzantium and Proustian France. The architectural mood of Bucharest, after it had arisen from its oriental beginnings, was an amalgam of Second Empire and the fin-de-siècle, with a dash of early twentieth-century opulence. The modern buildings were irrelevant postscripts. A strong whiff of the earlier period hung unmistakeably in the social air: a climate which had also been subtly modified, during the last few generations, by a stern army of English nannies and governesses. But it left the bedrock of French influence among the boyars undisturbed, the result of a hundred years of study in the lycées of France and the Sorbonne, and of inhabiting Paris as an alternative capital.

The same life, in miniature, thrived in Bucharest; the most convincing relic of it was the plush, the brass and the chandeliers of Capșa’s restaurant. I could never tire of hearing tales of this not yet wholly evaporated epoch. Although it is the last period in history I would have liked to inhabit, there is an absorbing attraction about the robust, undoubting vulgarity and glitter which held Europe in its grip for these decades. The duels, too, which had played a large part in Rumanian, as well as the rest of European life, outside England – and, to a much lesser extent, still did – exercised a morbid, Dumas-bred fascination. Frequently fatal, they were fought with pistols or rapiers which made encounters with sabres in Austria and Hungary – where only slashing was allowed, but no lunging – sound much more innocuous. It was all frantically alien.

What distinguished these people then, and later, from the rest of pleasure-loving aristocratic Europe was their anti-philistinism: a fastidious passion for erudition for its own sake, for literature, painting, music, sculpture and the movement of ideas, that turned their houses into the haunts of Academicians. (Rather like France, again, Rumania has always been a country where a few women, through their brilliance, wit, beauty or hospitality, have played a more important role than in other countries.) The devotion to writing, in particular, went far beyond literary dilettantism and emerged, in many cases, in works of great distinction. Not alas, in Rumanian, a chauvinist might sigh. But at least these extra-territorial exploits released them from the wheel of patriotic nationalism, to which the poetic and literary genius of resurgent nations is indissolubly bound. Paris after all is no mean arena in which to shine. No wonder that Proust should have been so deeply intrigued by Rumanians in Paris and sought them out as friends.

I have gone on rather a long time about this because it was so different to anything I had come across in similar circumstances in the Danubian capitals further upstream. In Hungary the candlelit talk at the end of dinner would be more inclined to concern shooting or horses, a serious weighing of the comparative merits of bootmakers and saddlers in London or long discussions about mediatization, morganatic marriages, primogenitive quarterings, Hoffähigkeit, the exact degree of cousinage between the Festitich and Fürstenberg families and how many yokes of land the Esterházys owned. So it might, mutatis mutandis, in Bucharest, but not for long.

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How Aberdeen SD Became “Hub City”

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 97-98:

When the Milwaukee [RR] was surveying its line through Brown County in 1880, conventional wisdom held that the line would be routed through Columbia, which was the county seat. Columbia’s town fathers, feeling that they were in a strong negotiating position, refused to provide the Milwaukee with land for a right of way and a depot free of charge. C. H. Prior, then chief surveyor of the Milwaukee, resurveyed the main line to bypass Columbia and then platted a rival town (on a tract of land owned by his wife) some 12 miles from Columbia. This site became the City of Aberdeen, which was designated as a railroad division point, became the junction for several Milwaukee lines, and eventually became the third largest city in the state. Columbia stagnated and lost the county seat to Aberdeen several years later.

One of Aberdeen’s claims to fame is that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, lived there from 1888-1891 with his wife and two sons (the couple would have two more sons while in South Dakota). While there, he opened a gift shop, Baum’s Bazaar, and when it closed after two years, he purchased the weekly newspaper the Dakota Pioneer and changed its name to Saturday Pioneer. Believe it or not, this paper was one of Aberdeen’s seven weekly papers and two dailies at the time.

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Japanese Pessimism after 1905

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 646:

The naturalist movement in literature, a literature of disillusion, developed immediately after the Russo-Japanese War. A typical example of naturalist fiction, Tayama Katai’s story “Ippeisotsu” (One Soldier), based in part on his experiences as a war correspondent in China, was considered to be so antimilitaristic that for years it could be printed only with passages excised. The generation that grew to maturity during the years after the Russo-Japanese War seemed to be alienated. This alienation often began with shock at the wartime casualties and disappointment over the results of the war but later took such forms as socialism in politics. This in turn caused the older generation to express gloom over the loss by the young of their traditions. Yamazaki Masakazu characterized the times as “the morose era.”

Oka Yoshitake wrote of the same period, “Some youths were swallowed up by scepticism and despair in the course of their search for meaning in life. In fact, that tendency had showed signs of emerging even before the Russo-Japanese war, but it became much more apparent following the cessation of hostilities.”

One might suppose that victory in the war and the admiration voiced abroad would have made the Japanese self-confident, if not proud, but critics of the time worried about the “anxious pessimism” that had become fashionable among young men and women. This pessimism, ironically, may have contributed to the extraordinary flourishing of literature during the ten years after the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War.

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Meiji and The Mikado

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 136:

Three days after [British envoy Sir Harry] Parkes and [junior interpreter A. B.] Mitford were presented to the emperor, the first clash occurred between the imperial forces advancing on Edo and the Shinsengumi, a band of some 200 men under the command of Kondō Isami (1834–1868). The imperial forces under Itagaki Taisuke were victorious. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the march of the imperial troops to Edo was the song they sang, “Tokoton’yare,” composed by Shinagawa Yajirō (1843–1900) during the battles at Toba and Fushimi. This song spread not only throughout Japan but also to England, where the music and part of the Japanese words were incorporated into the operetta The Mikado, composed in 1885: Miyasama, miyasama, ouma no mae no, pira pira suru no wa nan jai na, tokoton’yare ton’yarena. Arya chōteki seibatsu seyo to no nishiki no mihata ja shiranka, tokoton’yare ton’yare na.

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Tibetan Monastery Schools

From Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, by Barbara Demick (Random House, 2020), Kindle p. 143:

MONASTERY SCHOOLS ARE often criticized for their old-fashioned ways. Students are instructed by rote memorization and are disciplined with the rod when their eyes invariably droop from the tedium. Kirti, however, was more like an elite boarding school. The school, which had opened in 1994, taught math and science as well as the traditional subjects like Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan language. The Dalai Lama, frustrated by the inadequacy of his own education as a young monk, had called for Tibetan monasteries to offer a more modern curriculum. Many Tibetan writers, filmmakers, and academics were monastery-educated. Kirti itself produced notable figures such as the vice president of PEN International’s Tibetan Writers Abroad, Lobsang Chokta Trotsik, and Go Sherab Gyatso, an essayist and blogger.

The young monks engaged in a ritualized form of debating, as integral to their studies as it is among Talmudic scholars. One group of monks would be assigned to defend a thesis, and the others to challenge it—punctuating the question with a sharp clap of the hands. If one took too long to answer a question, the other monks would protest with a round of three claps, indicating disapproval. A successful defense of a thesis would be approved with a vigorous round of stomping on the pavement, the monastic equivalent of a high five. The subject itself might be existential—what is the meaning of the Buddhist dharma or the impermanence of worldly phenomena—but it was carried out with such gusto to make it exercise for the body as well as the mind. The debates took place outdoors in the large courtyard in front of the main assembly hall, where members of the public could watch. Sometimes the debates lasted until eleven P.M. Dongtuk would tumble into bed past midnight, exhausted and exhilarated. He loved it. He was one of the best debaters in his age group, which gained him status not usually afforded to a short, unathletic boy with poor eyesight.

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Finding Classics in Other Alphabets

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 81-83:

Arabic dictionaries also used nonalphabetical methods of organizing. The Mukhaṣṣaṣ, or The Categorized, by Ibn Sīda (d. 1066), was divided, as its title states, by subject or topic, beginning with human nature and continuing on to physiology, psychology, women, clothes, food, and weapons. Al-Khalīl Ibn Aḥmad (d. 791), in his Kitāb al-‘ain, The Book of [the Letter] ‘Ain, used sounds to organize his work: he listed entries in an order of his own, where each sound group was followed by subcategories based on how many consonants a word contained. …

These mainly nonalphabetical developments contrasted with the works of Hebrew scholars, who tended toward alphabetical order simultaneously with (and occasionally a little ahead of) their Christian contemporaries. At the end of the eleventh century, Nathan ben Jehiel (c. 1035–c. 1110) produced his Sefer ha’Arukh, The Set Book. Ben Jehiel, who had been born in Rome, spoke Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Persian, and Syriac, and he drew on his knowledge of these languages to produce an alphabetically ordered book of root words occurring in rabbinic literature. It became one of the best-known dictionaries of its type—more than fifty copies survive—as well as being one of the first Hebrew books to be printed, in Rome sometime before 1472.

Many of these works, both in Arabic and Hebrew, and the scholarship that had produced them, became accessible to scholars in Western Europe for the first time as these languages began to be more widely translated into Latin. … That so many of these works returned to the West via Arabic was significant, for earlier Arab scholars had frequently added substantially to the originals, including details of their own work, which was far in advance of much of Western thought at the time.

The Western rediscovery of the classics had two results, one somewhat abstract, one concrete. More generally, the awareness of how many great works had been entirely unknown before the lifetimes of these new readers, and of how many more had been permanently lost, produced a sense that the current generation needed to ensure that this recaptured knowledge, as well as all the works produced under its influence, were preserved for future generations. Further, it created a drive to ensure that the details contained in all these new works could be found easily—in other words, readers wanted not merely to read the books, but to refer to them: they wanted search tools.

These recently translated manuscripts also brought to the West other elements that are crucial for our story. Educated European readers now became increasingly familiar with foreign alphabets. In Italy and France in particular, Hebrew had routinely been transliterated into the roman alphabet when manuscripts were copied; in the rest of Europe, the Greek alphabet had sometimes been used, but less and less as time went on. In Europe, apart from Spain, where Arabic was in common use, Arabic too had been almost always transliterated into the roman alphabet. By contrast, some in the British Isles were familiar with Old English runes, known as futhorc, or with the Irish writing system known as Ogham. Many more would have recognized, and used in conjunction with the roman alphabet, the Old English runic letters such as thorn (Þ, þ) and wynn (Ρ, ρ). For these reasons, “foreign”-looking letters were more familiar and less unnerving in the British Isles, and so Latin and Hebrew letters were both used, as they were from the ninth century in Germany, a regular destination for highly educated monks from Ireland and Britain.

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Evolution of Early Glossaries

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 55-57:

In Europe, Isidore’s innovative use of alphabetical order to organize his work on vocabulary was instead proving influential in a parallel genre: glosses. Glosses had originally appeared in the manuscripts they were glossing, where they explained the meanings of difficult words in Latin or translated foreign words. In both cases, the gloss was written either above the relevant word or beside it, in the margin. Later, sometimes for clarity, sometimes to preserve a valuable manuscript, glosses began to be written out as a separate document, initially continuing to list the words in the order in which they appeared in the primary text, so tying a gloss to a single work, or even, because of the reshaping and reordering that we have seen in copied manuscripts, to one particular copy of a work. Gradually, however, the utility of a gloss that included vocabulary from more than one work became apparent, even if it meant it was no longer practicable to list the words in order of appearance.

And so experiments began with different ordering systems. One possibility was alphabetical order. Another was subject categories, particularly for glosses of technical vocabulary, grouping together words relating to hunting, for example, or words for military fortifications or for parts of the body. Other glosses relied on organizing principles that are far more foreign to us today. The Læcboc, or Medicinale anglicum, The Leech Book, or English Remedies, written in Old English around 950, was arranged, as were many medical texts of the period, with diseases and cures situated along the human body a capite ad calcem, from head to heel. In the Byzantine Empire, texts were generally organized by subject, sometimes geographically, or by name. Only the Suda, a Byzantine encyclopedic dictionary dating from the late tenth century, was an alphabetical compilation, magisterially ordering thirty-one thousand historical, biographical, and lexicographical entries into a single alphabetical order. But it was an outlier, both in Byzantium and in Western Europe too at that date.

Glosses, owing their existence to readers’ difficulties with Latin, were more common in countries where the local language had no etymological connection with Latin. Native English, or German, or Flemish readers had greater need of assistance with Latin vocabulary than did French or Italian or Spanish readers, and so it follows that some of the earliest glosses we know of, from the seventh and eighth centuries, were produced by English and Irish speakers. The Leiden Glossary was probably compiled in St. Gallen, but by someone who, judging from the English translations, probably came from what is now Kent, in England. He translated the Latin vocabulary into either Old English or Old High German, and arranged the entries, at least in part, in first-letter alphabetical order. By the eighth century one glossary, which defined nearly five thousand Latin words, ordered just under two thousand of them into fairly consistent first-letter alphabetical order. One extraordinary copy of another glossary, the Liber glossarum, The Book of Glosses, which may have been produced at a convent at Soissons and was based in part on Isidore’s Etymologies, was in almost absolute order, one of the very earliest examples.

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