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Enough of science and of art

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From Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads:

THE TABLES TURNED; AN EVENING SCENE, ON THE SAME SUBJECT.

Up! up! my friend, and clear your looks,
Why all this toil and trouble?
Up! up! my friend, and quit your books,
Or surely you’ll grow double.

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow,
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife,
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music; on my life
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
And he is no mean preacher;
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by chearfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man;
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things;
—We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Written by uncudh

April 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

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Linguistic conservatism in Latin

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Peter Heather makes some interesting remarks on the education of Roman aristocrats and the resulting effect on the Latin language:

The bedrock of the system was the intense study of a small number of literary texts under the guidance of an expert in language and literary interpretation, the grammarian.  This occupied the individual for seven or more years from about the age of eight, and concentrated on just four authors: Vergil, Cicero, Sallust and Terence.  […]  Essentially, these texts were held to contain within them a canon of ‘correct’ language, and children were to learn that language—both the particular vocabulary and a complex grammar within which to employ it.  One thing this did was to  hold educated Latin in a kind of cultural [vise] preventing or at least significantly slowing down the normal processes of linguistic change.  It also had the effect of allowing instant identification.  As soon as a member of the Roman elite opened his mouth, it was obvious that he had learned ‘correct’ Latin.  It is as though a modern education system concentrated on the works of Shakespeare with the object of distinguishing the educated by their ability to speak Shakespearean English to one another (The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History).

Written by uncudh

February 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in history, literature

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The Loves of the Triangles

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One of the most bizarre poems in the English language is surely “The Loves of the Triangles”, which is a parody of an almost equally bizarre poem, “The Loves of the Plants“, by Erasmus Darwin.  The following excerpt describes the erotic tendencies of the different conic sections: parabolas, hyperbolas, and ellipses.  I imagine that if parents knew just how dirty geometry can be, we would not be allowed to teach the subject in high schools!

And first, the fair PARABOLA behold,
Her timid arms, with virgin blush, unfold!
Though, on one focus fix’d, her eyes betray
A heart that glows with love’s resistless sway,
Though, climbing oft, she strive with bolder grace
Round his tall neck to clasp her fond embrace,
Still e’er she reach it from his polish’d side
Her trembling hands in devious Tangents glide.

Not thus HYPERBOLA:—with subtlest art
The blue-eyed wanton plays her changeful part;
Quick as her conjugated axes move
Through every posture of luxurious love,
Her sportive limbs with easiest grace expand;
Her charms unveil’d provoke the lover’s hand:—
Unveil’d except in many a filmy ray
Where light Asymptotes o’er her bosom play,
Nor touch her glowing skin, nor intercept the day.

Yet why, ELLIPSIS, at thy fate repine?
More lasting bliss, securer joys are thine.
Though to each fair his treacherous wish may stray,
Though each in turn, may seize a transient sway,
‘Tis thine with mild coercion to restrain,
Twine round his struggling heart, and bind with endless chain.

The full text can be found in The Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, which is available for free download on Google Books.

Written by uncudh

December 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Posted in literature, math

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Like a Shark

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Richard Holmes begins his book, The Age of Wonder, with several quotations from writers and philosophers of the Romantic Period, including this one from Coleridge:

I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark.

Reminds me of this comic from xkcd.

Written by uncudh

December 7, 2009 at 4:53 pm

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Coleridge’s thoughts on Newton

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Coleridge had the following to say (in a letter to Tom Poole) concerning Sir Isaac Newton (see Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions):

My opinion is this—that deep Thinking is attainable only by a man of deep Feeling, and that all Truth is a species of Revelation.  The more I understand of Sir Isaac Newton’s works, the more boldly I dare to utter to my own mind & therefore to you, that I believe the Souls of 500 Sir Isaac Newtons would go to a making up of  a Shakespeare or a Milton . . . Newton was a mere materialist—Mind in his system is always passive—a Lazy Looker-on on an external World.  If the mind be not passive, if it be indeed made in God’s Image,  that too in the sublimest sense—the Image of the Creator—there is ground for suspicion, that any system build on the passiveness of the mind must be false, as a system.

Written by uncudh

November 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm

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Napkin thieves in ancient Rome

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Apparently Romans got pretty upset when people would steal napkins from their dinner tables.  Catullus, at any rate, didn’t care for the practice.  He wrote, not one, but two poems berating someone for swiping napkins at dinner.  From Catullus 12 (Green’s translation):

Your left hand, friend Asinius, you provincial,
works its michief while we drink and gossip,
snitching napkins from distracted guests.  You
think this trick is smart?  So dumb, you can’t see
just how dirty your game is, how unlovely?
[…]
Either, then, you give me back my napkin,
or else you’ll get a scad of scathing verses.
It’s not so much the price that’s made me angry:
this was a gift, a memento from my comrade,
top-line real native hand-towels, that Fabullus—
and Veranius—sent me all the way from
Spain: so I must love them just as much as
sweet Veranius and my dear Fabullus.

Written by uncudh

October 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm

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Sigurd as the “chosen one”

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We have previously made some remarks concerning Tolkien’s recently published Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun.  One thing I neglected to mention was Tolkien’s one major departure from his sources: namely, his portrayal of Sigurd as the “chosen one” of the gods, whose presence at the Last Battle will determine its outcome and the future of the world to follow.  The Norse Poetic Edda begins with the famous poem Voluspa, which describes the prophecy of the Seeress concerning the Ragnarok, or the Doom of the gods.  Tolkien begins his Lay of Sigurd with his own version of the Voluspa; however, he inserts several stanzas describing the role of Sigurd in the Last Battle:

If in day of Doom
one deathless stands,
who death hath tasted
and dies no more,
the serpent-slayer,
seed of Odin,
then all shall not end,
nor Earth perish.

This conception of Sigurd is not at all present in any of the Norse texts.  One wonders why Tolkien felt it necessary to introduce such an element into the mythology.  Christopher Tolkien points out in his commentary to the Lay the connections to his father’s own imagined mythology, in particular to the tale of Turin Turambar:

This mysterious conception […] reappeared as a prophecy in the Silmarillion texts of the 1930s: so in the Quenta Noldorinwa, ‘it shall be the black sword of Turin that deals unto Melko [Morgoth] his death and final end; and so shall the children of Hurin and all Men be avenged.’

In general, the parallels between Sigurd and Turin are of course quite clear:  Turin as the Dragon-slayer, the wearer of the Dragon-helm, etc.

Written by uncudh

October 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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