Friday, June 10, 2016

Heard that Song Before...

Though History does not quite repeat itself…

As the USA approached the astonishing climax of its 2016 primary presidential campaigns, I began wondering whether someone, somewhere might get killed or drop dead.  I mean, I can't forget (in our internal history) that annus terribilis, 1968.  Yet I was comforted a little by the new biography of Joseph Pulitzer, of whom (shame on me) I knew nothing, even that he was born Hungarian, except that the Prize is named for him.  Surely he was mentioned in one of those Social Studies textbooks that in high school I merely skimmed?  Surely, on the occasion of the prizes, someone had said something memorable about him?  Surely, more important, someone had tried to teach me about the decades following our Civil War, about the politicians that opposed Grant's presidency?  About the expectation that the Republican Party would not survive but split?  Was it really a consolation that our politics had been fraught from the beginning?  Rather, has our teaching of history in secondary schools always been such as apparently mine was (and I graduated, in spite of poor attendance, in the top ten of my class)?  Elsewhere here I have recorded my delighted discovery in old age of the generation of Hamlin Garland.  Surely, as certainly is the case with science and mathematics, today we do better?  I don't think so.  Maybe worse.  The curricula have so much to cope with!

Anyway, as these realizations began to dawn on me, I remembered a great old popular song, with Helen Morgan as Harry James' vocalist.  My mother had the record, but so have the Library of Congress's American Jukebox and, of course, YouTube.  But for two weeks, though I named this Post, alluding to the song, and knew what I wanted to say, I put it off.  You see, I have sworn not to take sides on the stuff that bombards us during a campaign, only to record that its takes its toll on me: I am not usually depressed.

Really, is it true that Thucydides reveals the effect of campaign speeches while democracy was still young?

Speaking of my darling Greeks, though, their rhetors made public speaking a fine art.  Occasionally, one of our politicians must confess to having absorbed the principles of classical rhetoric.  I confess that they make campaigns tolerable, even memorable for me.  You may choose your own, but the first to affect me (since I was too young to pay such attention to FDR's) was Adlai Stevenson.  Recently Barack Obama did, first in the convention speech that made him famous.  And Elizabeth Warren perhaps takes the cake.  It seems to take the combination of very good schools on top of native intelligence?  Is it a similar congruence that made John Coltrane and Miles Davis in his prime such great jazz musicians?  I mean, is that what jolted me to attention when I first heard their recordings, so that then I listened closely?  Certainly it was those monaural LPs of Beethoven Lieder sung by Dietrich Fischer-Diskau that addicted me to him and to Lieder.  The Attic vase paintings (though taken from Gerhard's Auserlesene Vasenbilder) that illustrated Greek myths in the Junior Classics volume?

Oh, well, maybe it's just as well that some persons have that sensibility as a compensatory gift.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Berthouville Centaur Cups (moved)

This post has been corrected and revised and moved to Opera Nobilia, where it belonged from the beginning.  Formatting was wrong and impossible in some operating systems.
A visit to the Cabinet des Médailles. 


Paris, Louvre.  Miniature mosaic.  Eros harvesting wine grapes.  Constantinian, from Carthage.
Paris, Louvre.  The Borghese Centaur.
(The color photos are my own)
Centaurs as a synopsis of Greek Art


By the later 2nd century and thereafter, the "Dionysian and heroic styles were different parts of the same stylistic or expressive spectrum":  R. R. R. Smith, in The Oxford History of Classical Art, OUP, 1993, edited by John Boardman, pp. 204-205.  R. R. R. Smith is also the author of Hellenistic Sculpture in the World of Art series, and both texts are worth reading.  The Furietti Centaurs, from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, are in harder stone and more academic in their treatment; besides, Hadrian's Old Centaur has no baby Eros.  When I was a child, I wondered whether the Eros was part of the original, though, of course, compositionally as well as iconographically, he had to be.  Cézanne was right to love this statue.  The head of anguish on the old centaur is similar to other anguished Hellenistic heads, but the Eros is uniquely masterly.  There are some contemptible 20th century centaurs reproduced in Google Images (though the Disney ones in the original Pastoral Symphony in "Fantasia", even if they may be too cute, do have real charm, and, of course, centaurs of both sexes and lots of sentimentality go back at least to the Classical period), but I won't discuss the latest ones, evidently less than a half century old, which look as if they came from SciFi or Fantasy Fiction.
If you would like a fine catalogue of Centaurs in their prime period, the Archaic, I recommend the Princeton University exhibition catalogue edited by J. Michael Padgett, The Centaur's Smile.  Perhaps you will agree that centaurs play a different role after, approximately, the Peloponnesian War.  That is, they provide something different for viewers to relate to.
Anyway, that's how I came to use the baby Eros in lieu of my high school photo for myself on line. In art history courses, 60 years ago, I was actually discouraged from admiring this art, and of course it is not because Eros is erotic that I love it; I rank it right up there with Verrocchio's in Florence.



This coin shows that an eros, full of energy, but with the attributes of Dionysos, expresses the same enthused joy as a winged Eros.  Habitually, I like to keep the Greek names but capitalize the name of Eros, specifically.  As the vintner eros (top of page) shows, by the late Antonine  period, the use of wings is not quite proof of its being Eros himself.

As R. R. R. Smith said, these works dwell in an artistic expressive realm where Bacchos and Eros dwell alike.  I'd love to know the immediate source of the dancing infant with beribboned thyrsos and kantharos on the copper coin (above) that Thracian Philippopolis issued for Marcus Aurelius (it is my favorite coin).
*******


*******

This is the realm, of course, of the Berthouville cups, which recently came to the Getty Museum for technical study.  Anyone who had doubted whether the Old Centaur properly had the Eros, and anyone who doubted whether centaurs dwelt in heterosexual families was just wrong.  We have, rendered in micro-mosaic, a Hadrianic copy in the Berlin Museum of the Centaur Family, pitiably attacked by a predator, copying evidently the famous painting of c. 400 BCE.*  My modern period favorites are Winsor McCay's of 1921, but I shall refrain from discussing them here.  There is too much else to consider concerning centaurs.
* a list of illustrations, pro tem, of famous works for which I do not have adequate images is given at the end.
I cannot recall, or find, even in Asia Minor, among all the exotic combined creatures that Greek art preserved and transmitted to us through the Romans, any centaurs.  I think that, after all, they must be really and truly Greek.  The only doubt in my mind that I tried to pursue came from the fact that the very earliest one is the 36 centimeter, c. 900 BCE, centaur with a wheel-made body from Lekfandi in Euboia.*  Today it is illustrated in every textbook, but it has such 'presence' (to use the art critic's favorite epithet) that it reminds us that power, nobility, humor, etc., etc., are not due to realism or expressive faces but solely to the artist's vision and ability to imbue his work with it (OK, I cannot prove the gender of the artist, but...). And though 36 cm is nothing like lifesize, it is no figurine; in fact it looks bigger than it actually is.  Now Lefkandi is Greece, but by ship it is close to the Aegean islands and indeed to Anatolia, yet I cannot find any early centaurs farther east, even though I cannot find, either, a bona fide Greek origin for satyrs, griffins, pegasoi, and all the rest of the orientalia that, thanks to Greece, are still with us.  The Images that I have found on line include many creatures that are not centaurs.


--Kenneth Lapatin, ed., "The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury",  Los Angeles, the Getty Museum, 2014.
--Jon Van de Grift, "Tears and Revel, The Allegory of the Berthouville Centaur Scyphi", American Journal of Archaeology 88, 1984, pp. 377-388, 386-387, ills. 1-2, pls. 51-53.



Naturally, I cannot use the brand-new photographs from the 2014 catalogue, and the generous supply of photos s.v. Berthouville in Google Images are mostly of the the most winsome centauress (chosen also for the catalogue's dust jacket) or are small and poor images, while the photographs used by Van de Grift probably were made for Babelon's 1916 monograph and, even though the reproductions are small, they are useful.  However, I must say that the Getty Foundation has priced their reasonable and very beautiful catalogue quite affordably, and Amazon has it.  Indeed, I learned of it, here in the deep south where I live, thanks to Amazon's very well programed servers which, when I ordered the book on Hellenistic sculpture (also published by the Getty Foundation), instantly suggested the Berthouville book as well.  As for Jon Van de Grift, his article, abstracted from his dissertation (its committee eminently well chosen for this work), is the only thing he has published, or taught, on Greek and Roman art, as I learned from my Google searches: I wanted to make sure that he had not died.

I had forgotten how much I must have forgotten (if, as I doubt, I had ever thought through the subject) about the representation of centaurs in Greek art.  But if I am ever to complete this blog post, as such, I must do so now.
Here I shall illustrate only a few of my favorites, which also are good examples, I think, of what I've been mulling over.
For example, on the cusp from Archaic to Early Classical art, the attack of the centaurs on the goddess Iris by the Kleophrades Painter,* whose indomitable joyous energy prevents his rowdy image from being merely typical of its time.  Or the centaur on the Broomhall krater,* still essentially Late Geometric, a vigorous man-beast, a wild creature with anthropoid potential to educate heroes.  Here Greek art verges on the utter humanity of the Ram Jug Painter's amphora in Berlin, just decades later, where Peleus knows to hand over the infant Achilles to the wise centaur Chiron, the tutor of heroes.  There may have been folklore about Chiron for generations, but here an innately empathetic artist brings us to the dawn of literary storytelling: it consists of fragments of a huge vase, but, between Beazley's description* and the early-digital photos that I tried to get, you can make out the infant in his short-sleeved chiton handed over to Chiron:
Chiron, like the Broomhall centaur, still shows himself the Hunter.

Carefully reassembled, using the curvature as well as the story, we see infant Achilles (with his hair in a layered-wig format) proffered on the palm of Peleus.

I have searched, so far in vain, for a reproduction of the Pompeian copy of the famous Classical painting showing Chiron earnestly, charmingly, tutoring the boy Achilles: it introduced the four-legged Chiron comfortably seated on his hindquarters!*  This wonderful addition to one centaur's urbanity exists, usually fragmentary, in sculptured copies, too.  It is important here to document the ever-increasing (since the Pompeian copy, in this case, is very fine) humanizing of the centaurs by about the early fourth century BCE, reminding us, as so often, of the virtuosity and beauty of the all-but-wholly lost Greek painting, which was as famous in its time as Renaissance painting of the 16th century in its turn.  Indeed, of course, it was the tantalizing ancient descriptions of famous Classical paintings, both mural and, especially, panel paintings that at least as much as statuary brought about the European Renaissance: our temptation to recover, somehow, what was lost forever, though mistaken wishful thinking, is itself an important element in the individualistic emphasis that makes our art seem alien to most Asian traditions: not so much our centaurs, et al., as our humanizing them.  Here we come to that stream of art styles often called Hellenistic Rococo in handbooks (because it seems in the eighteenth century to follow Classical, as if there were some inherent sequence at work) which, again, recurs and this time must have been due, indeed, to surviving Early Roman Imperial workshops and treasured collectibles.  The styles used for heroic centauromachies, never equaling the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia* and the centaur metopes of the Parthenon all
are different, and the story of the wild horse-men of Thessaly itself, in surviving works, is less popular than the sentimental stories.  Of the heroes, in Archaic and Classical art, it is Herakles that most often deals with centaurs, such as Pholos.*

The silver-gilt dedications from the sanctuary of Mercury (using the Latin name for the local cult) are not all of the same date; the scyphi are dated by comparison with those from Hoby, which are, say, a couple of generations earlier.  The Louvre has a fragment of cameo glass that reminds us that the Portland Vase and the Hoby cups do not limit cameo glass to epic subjects.




Garland bearers of the highest quality (this fragment may be from the Forum of Trajan in Rome), being architectural, are similar in spirit but sturdy in style.






Among the treasures in the wonderful gallery entered opposite the Cafe Richelieu with the bronze equestrian statuette of Charlemagne or one of his successors, shown explicitly imperial holding an orb (though his horse has rather rubbery forelegs), are ivory diptychs and, mounted (as a medieval treasure)° with a gorgoneion cameo at the top, Bacchus and Ariadne, shown frontally, in a chariot drawn by centaurs.  From such objects in cathedral and monastic treasuries (the historical predecessors of Cabinets ancestral to the Cabinet des Medailles itself—see the excellent chapter on the CdM itself in the current Getty catalogue) late Gothic and early Renaissance artists will have found many of their models (as well as in printed texts which were just proliferating), but the Berthouville Treasure was discovered not much more than a century ago.  Such a celebratory frontal bilateral composition occurs on a large bronze coin of Pergamon (which I shall add to this post if I can locate the image 
file), as well as an elaborate front of a large sarcophagus.




Now, the whole range of subject matter, of centaurs of both sexes, of their involvement in wine and sex, of their message of intoxication relate them very intricately with the Borghese centaur, with the Furietti pair and the micro-mosiac picture from Tivoli, of the perfect understanding and mastery of this 'rococo' style, and place the scyphi in a class by themselves.  The motifs, of course, are Bacchic (theatrical).  This post is less than I should wish, but I hope that the centaurs' continuity and its consistency with the general history of Greek art and its Greco-Roman dissemination seem plain, though I have used only a very few illustrations here.




There is so little work of such sophistication surviving to compare.  Cicero's Verrines shows that silver-gilt table ware was a treasure for the unscrupulous to die for (or, they hoped, not to die).  Babelon and today's specialists have devoted lifetimes of study to this rare treasure, and, of all the treasures in the Cabinet des Medailles, the Berthouville silver was the one I was most surprised to find spending more than a year in America.  When I first saw it more than 30 years ago I had gone to see the Brygos Painter's kylix with satyrs dancing ecstatically around Dionysos,* a work of genius if ever there was one (his contemporary Makron, a wonderful vase-painter in his own right, used the same composition but it is static).  I had never heard of Berthouville, but I never forgot it.  

________________________________________
* The Centaur Family from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli  In Beazley's abbreviated translation of Pfuhl's, Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting, fig. 119.
* The Centaur from Lefkandi  A different view: Hampe & Simon, The Birth of Greek Art, fig. 377.
* The Centaurs attacking Iris, by the Kleophrades Painter  A detail in Boardman's (World of Art), Athenian Red-Figure Vases of the Archaic Period, fig. 139.
* The Broomhall Krater Sir John Davidson Beazley, The Development of Attic Black-Figure.  For this vase, the original 1949 editon is better.  Plate II.
* The Ram Jug Painter's Peleus handing Achilles to Chiron  Idem, pl. II, as a supplemennt to the color slides (photos made before reassembly of fragments).
* The Seated Centaur, instructing Achilles  (illustration not yet located, but will be found)
* The West Pediment (Centauromachy) of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia In the Traditional Art History Blog:  https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3192706135770676794#editor/target=post;postID=8408145176433190674;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=10;src=postname  (Prints A89 and MA 86)
* Herakles and Pholos  T. H. Carpenter, Art and Myth in Ancient Greece, fig. 185.
* The cup with Satyrs dancing around Dionysos in the Cabinet des Medailles by the Brygos Painter  In Beazley's abbreviated translation of Pfuhl's, Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting,  fig. 40
° Besides the Commodan coin of Pergamon (from the Athens Agora excavations) with this kind if composition, consider an elaborate sarcophagus (with a late Empire portrait in the place of Bacchus and Ariadne, suggesting eternal bliss) has just this composition.







Saturday, March 26, 2016

Feeding cats, January 2002 and March 2016

Young Buster with Famdamily and Old Buster with ginger cat
January 21, 2002.  One of the first photos taken with the Nikon 775, my first digital camera, days before I left on my last sabbatical leave.  The mother cat, calico Iris, and one of her last large litter, famdamily, of kittens (lower left), is joined by a new arrival, the still lanky and adolescent male that I came to call Buster.  Though as an alley cat, house raised but left behind by student house-renters when they moved and during my last travels before I retired cared for only by the friends who cared for my house, he has become one of the most affectionate and dependent elderly neutered cats imaginable, now nearly 15 years old, which the digital camera's data records.

21 March 2016.  Though it was very overcast, I relied on the Nikon 1 v2 to record Buster, who never learned NOT to share food on the side porch, though he is as territorial as can be about his yard and the sanctuaries around and under it as ever.  One of my wisest friends warned me of the wisdom of letting neighboring cats in for company but NOT (repeat NOT) feeding them, since they aren't mine and I don't want to be adopted!  Buster, ever semi-feral, with Spring weather, insists on eating outside, unless it's raining.  Well, you see what has happened.  The ginger cat (less orange than Buster but without any white extremities, not even on his underside or his chin) evidently is house bred (neutered and clean and well nourished), but Buster still wants to eat outdoors in fresh air and doesn't mind company, though if he stares too hard the ginger cat will back away, then sneak back in a couple of minutes.  They act as if the kibbled food were a carcass and they were taking care to pick it safely.   I do not want a young cat to adopt me, but no one claims him so far.  


2 March 2016.  Solid-color, or even striped cats free of white points and bellies, are rarely seen hereabouts; this is the only one I've seen within walking distance of my house in all the thirty years I've lived here.  I notice that he does have white whiskers and wonder if show cats of this sort must have tan whiskers, too.  He has amber eyes.  Note that he is a 'pure' shorthair; Buster has a short but fluffy undercoat.  He is very timid of me, but that is because I make it plain that Buster owns me.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Supposed Romans à Clef

A strained association, but Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon occurred to me 




Shop window in Alexandria, VA, AD 2006

Visiting a friend who had been my roommate in college and then a friend, though usually by mail, ever since, I took the occasion to look over this justly famous old city, Alexandria, where she had settled.  This true bow window is evidently the ornament of a dress shop (which was closed at the time I passed it).  Well, we have nothing in Baton Rouge (or for  that matter in Berkeley) to match the main street of Alexandria, so even in a light rain I was delighted to explore it.  Still using a camera that took small-capacity cards, I did not take enough pictures to write a blog post on it, and you can go to Wikipedia now, anyway.  It did amuse me to let the window display recall Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon, a century earlier, and for a decade now I have wanted to use this favorite photo in this blog (so please indulge me, since I had wracked my brain for something, of my own, not copyright, to head this post).
*****
If someone could not help experiencing everything in old Alexandria turned into famous modern paintings and probably scarier things, too, along with uncontrollable streams of meanings alien to them, that would be manic paranoia.  On the other hand, this is a composition with scantily clad  plaster models, coping with a window difficult to use for a display to the street, that does vaguely recall the Demoiselles.  That resemblance would not excuse supposing that the shop's owner had deliberately borrowed their narrow pyramidal arrangement from Picasso's painting, as if, perhaps, he or she acknowledged that the bare shoulders were suggestive here in a window looking onto the street (as Picasso ironically intended by the "demoiselles" of the painting's title).  Such a supposition is what I'm complaining of.
*****
Let me first beg your pardon for letting two days intervene before completing this post.  

Most literary authors draw on their own inner lives and also on their own friends and families. Some, preeminently Virginia Woolf, have left us diaries that discuss their own works as they were published, as if, one might think, having begun as a literary reviewer, the habit of reviewing her own work was preordained (though, of course, there's more to it than that).  Besides, eventually she wrote memoir-essays and volumes of letters.  I have always found them integral to her oeuvre.  On the other hand, except for Quentin Bell's, I have put less stock in the biographies.  I have come to regard, as many others do, Mrs. Dalloway as her greatest novel, but I took this occasion to re-read Jacob's Room and Between the Acts, too; the latter being perhaps my favorite, no matter how I judge it (why judge it, in fact?).

The point is that the stream of consciousness of Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway can only be drawn on her own experience.  It is unlike any other such account.  For, though today we have many studies and memories of bi-polar experience, their authors are either less gifted or more reticent or consciously scientific.  When I was young and first read my way through Virginia Woolf, I could hardly bear to re-read Mrs. Dalloway.  All the characters in that novel are memorable, but all the rest of them were copable for a young Berkeleyan in the arts.  Thus, it is fair to say, I have come to Septimus from a literary point of view for the first time: what Woolf did was to give its own voice to a unique person's manic experience.  It is impossible for me to imagine what it must have cost her, not least in exhaustive revision of the text.  But this is not the place for a non-specialist venture.  The point is that Virginia Woolf did draw endlessly on her own life in creating the lives in her fiction, and not only in the high play of Orlando.  It is agreed, for example, that Jacob's Room remembers her brother Thoby.

But (and this is the point of confusion), Ethel Smyth, the composer, was the longterm friend of Virginia and Leonard Woolf as well as of E. F. Benson, where in the whole Dodo trilogy she plays an important rôle as Dodo's friend, Edith.  And Benson, much as I adore his writing, was happy to incorporate Ethel, whole hog, in the Dodo trilogy.  Of course there are exaggerations,  just as there would be in the Mapp and Lucia books, but anyone at the time would, and did, recognize Ethel Smyth in Dodo's friend.  So did she, and she is recorded as richly enjoying it.  But Virginia Woolf did not incorporate real persons in her novels in that way.  Clarissa's being in love with Sally Seton is not comparable, though it is an important motif.
In any case, Margot Asquith did NOT accept identity with Benson's Dodo.  Yes, Benson knew everybody, the Asquiths included, and yes, he did range through his whole acquaintanceship throughout his career.  But he knew, as I said, "everyone", and nothing is to be gained for the reader by worrying over who Dodo "really" was.  As a reader, I rather resent being asked to keep considering Margot Asquith.  I admit, I have not read her biography, but the biographies of persons in society, not to mention those close to the royal family, do not impress me as being either deep or subtle, and only if the biographies of persons in society were esteemed as literature would I want to read them.  If they sat for Cecil Beaton, and were the subjects of his best photographs, I'd be interested in how he photographed them.  I don't especially relish bell peppers, but I love Edward Weston's photographic studies of them.  What makes so much of E. F. Benson great reading is that (unlike Mr. Fellowes) he is writing of his own experience at the time: his account of the Armistice in London is given to Dodo, but it is his own, and I can't remember reading another as good.  On the other hand, he has made a unique woman, Dodo, in novels ranging from her youth in the 1890s to the end of World War I, doubtless from his acquaintance with real women (yes, of the same social class as Margot Asquith), just as Rye gave him the material for Mapp and Lucia, just as his David Blaize novels are drawn from school memories (and, yes, in part of his own, not least the daydream and dream memories of the pre-school child in David Blaize and the Blue Door which are far too specific and exact to be anything but his own).
So here I am again urging the pleasure of reading E. F. Benson on everyone.  Of course, not only is he a full generation older than Virginia Woolf, and he is easy reading of the highest kind if ever there was any, but the case of Ethel Smyth, whom the Woolfs wrote about privately and discreetly (though quite frankly, not regarding her as a great composer) perfectly exemplifies the sheer stupidity of spilling ink to prove that a work of fiction is a roman à clef.
Speaking of stupidity, was it really necessary for me to write a post about this?  Only, why do the persons who write for Wikipedia bother with such stuff?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The "new" learning of the elderly

The pleasure of finally learning things that might have been learned more than a half century ago 
Eastern Hercules Beetle.  About two inches long.  Photo, Atlanta GA, courtesy dp.

The Stag Beetle, Bill Welch says (Naturally blog, for 21 January, 2015, 3rd and 4th images) is one of the largest in England, but Denise's Eastern Hercules, truly nearly the width of her palm, is bigger.  Yet they look related.  The Stag, Wiki says, is limited to SE England, and the Hercules to the SE of the USA.  Both of them, new to me (and my ignorance of beetles is almost perfect) delighted me.  The largest flying cockroaches here are about as large, but they lack great structure and the ease of handling (they are really ugly!) of these rare beetles and of scaraboids in general.

I greatly enjoy reading E. F. Benson (Mapp and Lucia), but besides his wonderful general intelligence, his writing is enlivened by the kind of general interest and knowledge of all sorts that, generally, only leisure can enable, ideally (as in his case) by the kind of adolescent education that the best schools provided (he was born in 1867 and at the usual age was sent to Marlborough College, the model for that in his novel David Blaize, which is purely and devotedly Late Victorian), and as wonderful a source as can be imagined for college cricket and for all the other interests and activities of that life, not least carefully noted nature walks.  I cannot express my debt to Bill Welch's blog, Naturally, for its devotion (amateur in the truest and best sense) to the insects and plants in particular and his photographs.  I  have learned that the most serious shortcoming of my almost George Gissing-like adolescence, which helped form me and gave me strength and some kinds of discrimination,, is exactly the converse of what E. F. Benson's provided (and then some).  Likewise, my young friend Denise is a far better observer than I am.  Indeed, if it weren't for its probable limited expectancy, being old is so good that I'd love to be old forever.  For the moment, may I just recommend to everyone reading E. F. Benson.  Also, the Naturally blog.  It is unlimitedly worthwhile.  As an example, the Link that I gave was to the use of Comtois horses, which look almost like the oldest French cave drawings of Palaeolithic horses.  Be that as it may, this blog post on coppicing led me to look up Comtois horses in another treasure of the present decades, Wikipedia, by means of which I spent a whole afternoon studying the training of these strong and calm, beautifully stocky and short (only 14 or 15 hands) working horses and the man who trains them.  Well, I can't do that with the Hercules Beetle, though I learned that Denise had handled and watched it for quite a while before releasing it.  Yet I wouldn't have got her to show me the photo that she took if I had not learned of stag beetles from Bill Welch's post and, reading E F Benson, been instantly interested in the boy, David,  in the early chapters of Benson's novel, when David was still a school boy.  By the way, never mind what journalistic reviews say about this novel.  And don't smirk at the idealism of its last chapter, either.  (I am still searching for my photo of a bright green emerging cicada which, to my delight, chanced on my rear screen door, attached itself, and was still emerging when I came out in the morning; its wings were as lovely as any dragon fly's).  Just read both the blog and E. F. Benson.
It was on July 10, 1912 that with a tiny camera, awaking to something utterly surprising and lovely, this cicada, still damp and green, just emerged from its puppa, having chosen my rear screendoor as an ideal place to attach itself.  Later that day the cicada had departed, but the shell stuck to the screen for a couple of months.  Of course, the source for such fairy wings must have been dragonflies, but I must admit that I hadn't realized them before: here they became real to me.  
*****
Anyway, in the middle of one of those cricket games in David Blaize (if anyone can tell me where to read up on the rules and scoring of cricket I shall be most grateful), twice in one page, and only that once, I came across a surprising word, google.  This, in fact, may be its first appearance, a vernacular word, such as players themselves come up with (cf. dribble in basketball, about the same age and of the same kind, alluding to a particular kind of movement of a ball or puck--any relation at all in vernacular usage to puckishness or mischievousness?).  Actually, the US OED that comes on my iMac says
  1. googly |ˈgo͞oglē|

  • noun ( pl. googlies ) Cricket
    a ball bowled with a deceptive bounce.
    ORIGIN early 20th cent.: of unknown origin. 
And the dolls whose eyes' irises go off to the side, to look askance,  of course, were called googly-eyed.  You see them commonly on Antiques Roadshow.  They, too, dated from the turn of the last century and the eyes were made to go off to the side.  The 10th edition of the Webster's Collegiate no longer has the word, though it was listed simply (as in the OED) in the 1956 edition of the Collegiate from my undergraduate days.  It was the two-volume 'Shorter' OED that first put me onto this line of thought.

And what does that prove?  Nothing at all.  Dribble, goggle, google, wobble, and the like, I think, are words that can happen more than once, and Google's own account of its name, from a child's coming up with googul for the prodigious quantity requiring place-markers all the way across a page, need not be related except that these are just the kind of words that are unknown in origin precisely because they are not pedantic but, on the contrary, part of the essential remnants of baby talk.  Yet the sense of going awry runs through all our pre-Google usages, and it is also far earlier (cited as in print in 1904).  It matters, however, only as it mattered to Partridge.  Words just do matter.

As so often, it was in Eric Partridge that I found a citation ; he was interested in such things:
Origins: A Short Dictionary of Modern English, Macmillan, 2nd edition, 1959, s.v. jig, 7.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Readings of Old Books-2

When Wood showed me how to get over the levee to the River
By the time we clambered down the moist bank of the levee, the sun had just set over Port Allen in the west; it was late Spring, and the river was half flooded around the swamp willows.  This was taken (early 1980s) where one could drive to the top of the levee where also some of the agriculture school cattle were grazing, on the dry side, about half a mile south of the LSU campus.  Of course, it is film, not digital, Kodachrome probably.

I want to write about a Memoirs, Present Indicative, of Noel Coward, that I first read when I was about to graduate from high school or during the three semesters that I was at the California College of Arts and Crafts.  In either case I was living in Berkeley (so was the family) but did not yet have access to the University library.  I recall finding it at the Egyptianizing Berkeley Public Library on Shattuck Avenue and checking it out there.  It really made an impression!  It was a time when I was reading biographies and memoirs of opera singers, Emma Calvé, Maria Jeritza, Lotte Lehmann, Geraldine Farrar (my goodness: princes and tennis stars, cf. Anna Netrebko), Chaliapin, Caruso, Alma Gluck: probably her first, because her daughter, Marcia Davenport, had written the novel that really astonished my adolescent imagination, The Valley of Decision, and then Of Lena Geyer, so that it was no wonder that opera stars were exciting—and wasn't it just as well that I could imagine Manon, for example, delicate, petite?  I also haunted the used-book stores for 78 rpm records.  It was a lovely couple of years.  At the rooming house, at 2622 College, which qualified as Approved Housing, since I was under age, in the evening we sat around a large round kitchen table and filled sketchbooks and talked, and talked.  Neither before or later (until perhaps now) did I have free time for such preoccupations.  By the time I turned 21, in 1955, I was beginning graduate course work.

So what about that Sunset over the Willow Swamp on the Mississippi?  Well, the photos of famous people are under copyright, and by now those years in the early 1950s and now even the early 1980s have become sentimental in their own right, and I have made a habit of using pictures as headers.  I might break my neck if I went down the slithery mud today, to take new ones, and my coaevals are dying and my former students are at the height of their careers, very busy, so I treasure these pictures.  Besides, they are part of me, and you may make of them what you wish.

(Have to re-write body of this post: please excuse):
Having lost the tangled thread for this post, I'll just note the kind of thing I had in mind.  Noel Coward had reminded me of the craze for African American night-club music (and it was picked up, too, in Downton Abbey, Season 5).  But I also had noticed in novel after novel the protagonists having been described as appreciating a Grammaphone Society recording of the Bach Concerto for two violins, which reminded me how much shorter the pre-WW II catalogues had been, and how important the really outstanding 78rpm sets had been.  Then there was that Blackbird business: a comment on a YouTube offering of a 1927 song, "Bye, bye Blackbird", and some young person was astonishingly puzzled by the lyrics of the song.  Nor did I at the time know about the all African-American musical show Blackbirds, which predated the song by a year or so.  The song's 'blackbird' was inspired by Florence Mills, who enchanted London and, I think, Paris as well, until her early death in 1927.  She was adorable, as her portrait photos show (and perhaps the inspiration for the figure of Betty Boop?), but she never recorded the song in question though we do have a recording of one with a similar reference.  Like Noel Coward, Paul McCartney. who sang the 1927 "Bye bye" song so lovingly in the "Kisses on the Bottom " concert at the Capitol Records studio a few years ago, surely knew whose song it was, and Bessie Smith actually recorded it when it was new.  However, and this is the kind of realization (better late than never), I have a two-CD album  of Josephine Baker in her youth that includes two of the songs from Blackbirds.  But these were European recordings and were not noticed, apparently, by the person who compiled the list in the Wikipedia.  But Josephine Baker's knowledge of Mills, who died so young, and her covering Mills's songs for performance in France, adds one more detail to the history of the effect (with the Prince of Wales, Edward, attending Mills's concerts repeatedly) of the most enchanting African-American  performers  in Europe  at the time.  It was my retirement-age pleasure reading that took me to the abundant material in Wikipedia on the musical  Blackbirds and Florence Mills.  You'll find lots of material, both documentary and pictorial, on Florence Mills—all except her voice.  Josephine Baker was only five years younger, but happily lived till 1975.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Reading of old Books

Detail of a poor photo of a rabbit (Jill's), but all I could think of as a heading was a rabbit, and Durer's is too wild, too fine, and too alert to illustrate Dorothy Sayers' characterization of an unhappy drunken college girl: "The general impression of an Angora rabbit that has gone loose and was astonished at the result"—but what I need is the face, and of an Angora, and I can recall but cannot find the image of my sister Linda's big old rabbit.

In any case, that characterization is from Gaudy Night, and I hadn't meant to risk being disappointed after fifty years by that one.  Actually, I was wondering whether I would still admire her Dante commentaries as much as I had when the three Penguin volumes were new, but the font is too small till I get new reading glasses.  And, in the first place, looking across the room at my big oaken chair with the mask of a goat pan on its back, I was thinking of a student couple in Eugene, Oregon, c. 1970, who had found a chair just like mine but with a lion mask (indeed mine is the only one with an aegipan mask).  I think it was to Roger that I lent the paperback of Busman's Honeymoon, as fun to read, and he found it "castrating".  That rather spoiled the fun, though later I realized that one needed to know that the personality of Peter Wimsey had evolved so that, though he might not have liked the book, Roger might have chosen a different epithet.  Besides, between the two wars, and especially after the trenches, working with what we call PTSD, and after the worst experiences of World War II we called Shell Shock, as I recall, was de rigueur for writers who took themselves seriously.  After Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf, et al., who called Dorothy Sayers a feminist?  And girls raised in Oxford were generally well educated even before the women's colleges.  There's a whole literature on them.
Anyway, I found out that Busman's Honeymoon had been a highly successful play before she turned it into a novel a year later.  That accounts perhaps for its wonderful conversations, perhaps more numerous than even in her other detective stories.  But only those readers who just don't like Sayers (even as I just don't like P. D. James, though it seems to me normal to have one's favorites, and James has her own admirers), and I enjoyed Busman's Honeymoon more than ever.  So much, in fact, that I re-read Gaudy Night, too.  It had been the first of her books that I'd read, and I enjoyed it even more for getting all of the references (I think, all of them).  This time, between the two of them, I have decided finally to read Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.  Kindle obliged handsomely, but they don't have those three volumes of Dorothy Sayers' commentary on Dante in eBook format.  Famous poetic versions abound, and those everlasting Doré illustrations, but not commentaries.  I suspect that we are supposed to treasure the Commedia,  but not to study it, not to get from it what Dante put in.  Not even if one wants an Italian commentary.  I pulled down the Penguins, but the font that seemed so reasonable until recently now might as well be 6-point.
Surely I am not the only reader-for-pleasure to pluck choices from chapter headings in the books I'm reading currently.  There's always plenty more.  It is not the sort of reading you'd get course credit for in college, but it was there that I formed the habit.  You study for one final exam then steal time to read something that appeals to you before facing preparing for the next exam.  During final exams you don't have to dress or go out to do anything...  I protest, I didn't read detective fiction during exam weeks; in those early days I'd read travels or journals or sometimes the novels by authors that I couldn't afford to take whole courses on (or, to confess it, that I hated to answer the predictable essay questions on, spoiling the book for me!).  
I think I'll write a couple more posts about reading things I've always meant to read or that I haven't read again since I was fifty years younger.
Here is that chair again that I got in the 1960s.  It really is white oak, but the black is a product called japalac, which is original.  Roger and Judy (I think I have their names right) "cleaned" their lion-head one, stripping it right down to the bare wood.  That was the fashion at the time, alas.  The chair is American Renaissance Revival, c. 1885, I think.