Monthly Archives: November 2020

“Probably I caught you young and over influenced you.”


An invaluable (but it seems not widely recognized, probably because most people read superficially), occasional occurrence in reading is that one comes across observations that jostle the mind (suggest new ways of looking at things) and “surface” (which is to say bring to mind; elicit in one’s consciousness) “new” thoughts and formulations that one was not looking for, that come unexpectedly, that are “ancillary” to the subject or main topic of the book.



From William H. McNeill’s biography of Arnold J. Toynbee:

On her twenty-first birthday Gilbert Murray wrote to [his daughter, Rosalind Murray] as follows: “It is very strange to think of you being a grown up woman, though in a way you have been like a grown up companion to me since you were about eleven.” That, indeed, was why establishing real independence of her father was so hard. Gilbert Murray had shared literary interests with Rosalind which he could not share with his wife; and when she began to show precocious skill he undoubtedly transferred some of his own disappointed literary aspirations to his daughter. (Murray was related both to Rudyard Kipling and to W. S. Gilbert; and he once confessed that as a young man he had been jealous of Kipling’s literary success.) … Gilbert Murray … both wished to see his daughter become independent and hated to have her do so. “We used to be rather specially close and intimate,” he wrote to her in 1912, “and agree in our interests and ideas. Probably I caught you young and over influenced you. And now you are thinking for yourself in all sorts of ways and differing from me, not so much in views as in general feelings. That is all right. Only the process of breaking asunder is a necessarily painful one: it has been so for me and I imagine that it probably has for you. And I know I have sometimes been sarcastic and unkind …. And, dear, I am very sorry and won’t do it any more.” … [Gilbert Murray letter to his daughter Rosalind, June 29, 1912]

“It may be that . . . I am no longer any good to you. … I think about you constantly, I admire your work, and I love you. I think, in trying to readjust our relations from parent and child to friend and friend, we have both made a lot of blunders. It is a difficult job and we were sure to do so. But it would be rather humiliating if you and I had not enough brains and sensitiveness to avoid the most ordinary pitfalls of life.” [Gilbert Murray letter to his daughter Rosalind, December 14, 1912]

Yet, even though the family pattern meant that they were often separated, by far the most important person in Rosalind’s childhood was [her father] Gilbert Murray. When she was only one and half years old, Murray set out ”to teach her to talk by making her give me orders–‘Run’, ‘Stop’, etc.” “It is a great help she is so intelligent,” he informed her grandmother in 1893. He cultivated her (undoubtedly precocious) literary skills, asking her to write him poems when she went away to school and offering delicate, lighthearted criticism of the childish verses she sent back.

— William H. McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 56, 58-59



Probably I caught you young and over influenced you.

Over-influence. Parental over-influence. At an early age (their children’s). During their children’s development years.

Has this been studied and written about by psychologists?

It is certainly worth thinking about.

One usually reads about the dangers of parental neglect, and the benefits (taken as a given) of parental involvement in their children’s lives. To foster and nurture (the latter) growth and wellness and the development of positive attributes. But is it possible that some parents become over involved? That a certain distance should be maintained?

This is tricky. But I thought of my own parents, who seemed to do a good job in this respect. They could at times — often, in fact — be overly critical. But many of my pursuits, interests, and achievements — while fostered by them to an extent (for example, my mother had a lot to do with instilling in me a love of reading) — were carried on by me largely independent of them: my thoughts in private, my activities (such as hanging out with, playing with, and learning from friends) not that closely supervised by them.

This makes me reflect on my own parenting style, possible faults of mine in this respect, and how no one ever seems to think about this.



Rosalind Murray (1890–1967) was a British-born writer and novelist known for The Happy Tree and The Leading Note. Her father, Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), was a famous classical scholar.

In 1913, Rosalind Murray married the Oxford don Arnold J. Toynbee, who became a world famous historian.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

    November 2020

white male privilege (a flawed premise)


‘The President is golfing and exercising White male privilege’




The president is golfing and exercising White male privilege

By Robin Givhan

The Washington Post

November 17, 2020


This story illustrates a major flaw in constructing a piece of writing: a weak premise. A piece built on no sound premise — in fact, on no real premise at all; on no valid, cogent, or original thought.

A piece that essentially reiterates, using scant evidence, a weak idea or cliché.

Many readers would — I am certain do — agree that Trump is unfit to be president, that he lives a privileged life and seems not to care about people, that it is deplorable; that he appears to spend most of his time — and has done so increasingly in the past few weeks — watching television, tweeting, and, when he leaves the White House, golfing, while for all intents and purposes ignoring the pandemic and doing nothing about it.

It is also indisputable that, until very recently, golfing was (and perhaps in the present day, still is, predominantly) a sport for rich men, most of them white (I would presume); and that until recently golf clubs and courses banned blacks. And, that most golf clubs are still private and expensive — for wealthy males (I presume it is mostly a men’s sport). And, this was undoubtedly even more the case in our past history. It was a sport for the rich, leisured class.

So what?

I see photos of men riding golf carts on the course and think, they can’t they even walk and (maybe carry their bags); and look at the caddie hanging on the back of Trump’s golf cart, and it all looks so decadent, and I don’t like Trump; and why isn’t he governing? Why doesn’t he do his job? I wouldn’t want to join his club (should I be a golfer) or visit Mar-a-Lago.

This tells me a lot about Trump (but I knew it already) and about the lifestyles of some people, but the op-ed does not in the least enlighten me. It is jerry built on the premise that this is all about white male privilege. Well, yes, Trump, is white and is assigned to that artificially constructed racial category. And, yes, he lives a life of privilege and seems heedless about many things he should care about or do something about. But this tells us nothing about white male privilege, or advances our understating of it; and, anyway, white male privilege is a code word used to enshroud weak, tendentious thinking.

Bill Clinton was a womanizer. He had an affair with an intern. Donald Trump is a womanizer and groper (or worse). Using them as my key examples upon which I construct a lead and build my case, I will write an opinion piece about male chauvinism or infidelity? They have a countless number of companions in the crime, and there are so many examples throughout history that such a piece would be meaningless. The only valid piece, approach, would be to begin with the topic of, say, male chauvinism, sexual predators, white privilege, or some such topic, define what is meant by it, and then proceed to show why it is a problem today, how it is not being acknowledged or addressed, etc. It might be a very boring piece, but at least one could conceive of such an approach. But to begin with Trump’s failings and outrageous behavior, and to then assert that this proves something about white male privilege is an a priori unsound and worthless endeavor. It amounts to this writer wanting to prove something — show us: that she is against white male privilege.

Rather than hanging her op-ed on the premise of white male privilege, the author could have merely written a piece — probably illustrated — showing what Trump has been up to in the past few weeks: mostly tweeting baseless complaints about the election having been stolen, watching television, and golfing. Then say that this is ridiculous and shows that he is not governing as he still should be and is, most importantly, not dealing with the pandemic in any way. That is enough to say, and although we already know it, the writer could give specific examples of Trump’s activities since the election and put in her two cents worth. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s as if I wrote an article. The head of the local school system was found to have been cheating for years, embezzling funds and neglecting kids’ education while enjoying luxuries and perks. The premise of my article is that corruption is pervasive; corrupt officials with a sense of entitlement are living a life of privilege and perks and see nothing wrong with this. (I might say, proving nothing, “White men in important positions are committing an awful lot of crime nowadays.”) Corruption has been going on forever, and most people don’t care about it. And so forth. Such an op-ed, though probably true with respect to the broad assertions made, would be worthless, would provide no enlightenment, as opposed to a news story about the official’s crimes, which would at least be informative.

In English composition we were taught the importance of choosing and identifying one’s thesis (main topic). The thesis of this op-ed, as the writer construes it, is white male privilege. A valid, workable and sustainable topic would have been, Donald Trump’s decadent behavior in the midst of a public health crisis in the waning days of his presidency.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

Eugenio Florit, preface to “Selected Writings of Juan Ramón Jiménez”


Florit preface


Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the preface, by Eugenio Florit, to Selected Writings of Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by H. R. Hays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1957). It is a very well written essay, and Florit provides a comprehensive, brilliant overview of Jiménez’s oeuvre.

I believe this book — and presumably Florit’s preface — are not readily available.

Eugenio Florit (1903-1999) was a Cuban-American poet, critic and essayist and a Professor of Spanish at Columbia University. I studied Spanish at Columbia under his brother Ricardo Florit.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020



supermom Amy Coney Barrett on family separation


Since Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court, Republicans have suggested that one of the reasons she should be given a lifetime appointment on the highest court of the land is that she has seven kids. Barrett is “a remarkable mother” with “seven beautiful children,” Senator Thom Tillis said during the first day of her confirmation hearing [October 12, 2020]. She’s a “tireless mother of seven,” Senator Chuck Grassley told the room. “She and her husband have seven children,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in his opening remarks, in case anyone hadn’t heard, before giving her two more. “She and her husband have seven children. Two adopted. Nine seems to be a good number,” he said. Obviously, constantly bringing up this part of Barrett’s biography is part of an attempt on Republicans’ part to (1) draw a distinction between Barrett and what they view as childless heathen Democrats, (2) claim that any opposition to her confirmation is anti-mom, and (3) suggest that since she’s a mother, she must be a good person who couldn’t possibly issue rulings that would hurt millions of people.

But, surprise! Despite being a mother, Barrett is expected to help overturn the Affordable Care Act. … She will also very likely go after Roe v. Wade, if given the chance. … And even though she’s a mom of seven children, she apparently thinks the jury is still out on whether or not it’s bad to separate small children from their parents, if they happen to be from another country:

In one of the only discussions of immigration to arise during the confirmation hearings, Barrett declined to say whether she thought it was wrong to separate migrant children from their parents to deter immigration to the United States. “That’s a matter of hot political debate in which I can’t express a view or be drawn into as a judge,” Barrett said in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Booker said he respected her position but asked again: “Do you think it’s wrong to separate a child from their parent, not for the safety of the child or parent but to send a message. As a human being, do you believe that that’s wrong?”

Barrett told Booker she felt as if he was trying to engage her on the Trump administration’s border separation policy. Under the policy, immigration officials applied a “zero-tolerance” approach to undocumented immigration and separated families crossing the border through Mexico. “I can’t express a view on that,” Barrett said. “I’m not expressing assent or dissent with the morality of that position—I just can’t be drawn into a debate about the administration’s immigration policy.”

Booker responded that, actually, he was simply asking “basic questions of human rights, human decency, and human dignity,” which one might think a staunchly pro-life individual and mother of seven might be able to answer.

— “Amy Coney Barrett, Mother of Seven, Not Sure If Separating Migrant Children From Their Parents Is Bad: The Supreme Court nominee curiously refused to give an answer on this one.” by Bess Levin, Vanity Fair, October 14, 2020


At her confirmation hearing on October 14, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked Barrett whether Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia were correctly decided. Barrett did not hesitate to reply yes. So Blumenthal pressed her on why she will not say the same about Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court on the liberty of married couples to buy and use contraceptives.



What we have here is the usual coldhearted, calculated cunning.

The doctrine of “separate but equal” was court precedent, set by the court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. But everyone now agrees that it is wrong. Yes, it was overruled (meaning that it was once the law). But no one questions now that it is and was morally wrong.

So, Barrett can make statements (judgments) about some court opinions and some doctrines, but not others? She can’t express a personal view on human grounds –as a human being, as a parent herself — on the morality of separating parents from children? I don’t care in what setting she is being asked to express views. She can’t see that it is wrong and flat out say it, regardless of how she has been coached? Would she not be prepared to say, without hesitation, that segregation and discrimination are wrong?

Barrett said “I’m not expressing assent or dissent with the morality of that position.” In other words, she can see in the abstract that such separations might be okay — or, to put it another way — that there is nothing a priori wrong with separating immigrant children from parents?

That’s deplorable.

Judges take upon the themselves the mantle of objectivity and impartiality. It’s as if they are supposed to be a tabula rasa.

Of course, this is not true of anyone’s psyche and does not accord with actual humanity.

This is creepy. Can’t one ascribe to being high minded, fair, impartial, “above the fray” without having to give up all “pretense” of being human, which is to say, normal — someone with certain feelings shared by normal people? Of having some basic notions of right and wrong that are “extra-juridical, in one’s heart and soul, that attest to certain values that make one precisely human and that reassure us that this is so. Are we hiring scrubbed and whitewashed minds for the court, who must leave their humanity at the door?


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).



“Harvard Victory Pushes Admissions Case Toward a More Conservative Supreme Court: The court’s rightward tilt under President Trump, whose administration supported efforts to end race-based admissions policies, gives activists a more favorable opening to challenge affirmative action.”

By Anemona Hartocollis

The New York Times

November. 12, 2020


A federal appeals court on November 12, 2020 ruled that Harvard University’s admissions process does not violate civil rights law.

“The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student,” Lawrence S. Bacow, Harvard’s president, said in a statement. “Diversity also represents a pathway for excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles and our admissions process all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”



All along, Harvard admissions officials and administrators have been sanctimonious in defending their admissions policies and what they see as their enlightened standing as defenders of affirmative action in education.

I would say that discrimination against Asian-Americans has been going on for some time now. I have followed the court cases about this, but I can’t claim to know anything for certain — Harvard keeps its admissions practices as secret as it can.

But let’s just consider what Harvard’s President has said. It is in line with what many others in higher education claim.

To put it bluntly, I think it’s nonsense.

Beware of people, who live, administer, or govern by slogans. Remember those of the faceless leaders in Nineteen Eighty-Four?



“[Lliberties … cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle,” Edmund Burke wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France, going on to explain that people overcome by abstractions which they want to apply willy-nilly to everything can do much harm.

Elsewhere in the same work, Burke, said, about the doctrine of “’the rights of men” (what its fanatical supports thought about it): “Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament, and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice.” By which he meant that, in defending a principle, advocates of the French Revolution were themselves intolerant and unwilling to brook any disagreement with them.

Burke saw this tendency as dangerous.



Let’s look more closely at what Harvard President Bacow said.

The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student.

How about looking, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the things that make a student of outstanding caliber. I would assume that this would mainly be a matter of academic achievement and records, and faculty recommendations or interviews (or an application essay) that might indicate something admirable or distinctive about the student’s intellectual curiosity, academic goals, devotion to learning, etc. And, perhaps some other characteristics or indicators of merit that extracurricular activities might provide evidence of. And some consideration of character, which would probably be assessed through interviews and faculty recommendations, as well as the application essay.

Why should race come into play in evaluating admissions? I tried so hard to qualify for an elite university as a high school student, doing everything I was told to do: taking my studies very seriously, going out for sports in order to appear “well rounded,” participating in a plethora of student activities and clubs. It never would have occurred to me (and would not have been true back then) that my race had anything to do with this. And, should I have thought this was true, I would have felt it was wrong. (When asked to indicate my race on various forms, I almost always decline — if I can do so without penalty — checking any box.)

“Diversity … represents a pathway for excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles. …”

This is the sort of statement pompous administrators are in love with — they seem to love hearing themselves make them. Diversity is a “pathway to excellence”? Really? Excellence (of education) is one pathway to excellence (in knowledge and perhaps other personal attributes).

Diversity does not per se enrich the education of every student. Yes. socialization and meeting new people with different backgrounds who come from different places and countries is an invaluable and potentially enriching part of the student experience, as well as of life. It is unlikely that most college student bodies under most circumstances — at least large universities, public universities, private universities that are not controlled by a religious group and so forth — would be uniformly homogeneous with regard to race, regions, students’ religious or political views, etc.

I went to a school founded by Jewish Americans in the post-World War II years. There was a preponderance of Jewish students, but there seemed to be no bias with regard to religion in the admission process; there was a substantial minority of Christian students, and there was an international student program. I got to know some minority students well and to respect their intelligence and what they had to offer. There was always a lively exchange of views and perspectives. The experience was broadening. And, no one said a word about diversity.

I learned most, as always, from intelligent and thoughtful people and professors, irrespective of race or religion. In almost all cases, I gave little thought to what race or religion they were.



Guess what. Hortatory slogans and admonitions, mantras, pompous platitudes (there is a smug, self satisfied aspect to them) are not going to make people more educated, aware, sensitive, tolerant. Experience will. Real, lived experience. Not socially mandated and engineered experience.

And. while it is hoped that people will be tolerant — and that they learn from the experiences and views of other races and cultures — this cannot be achieved by fiat. (I do not mean that we should be blind to discriminatory laws or practices, or to outrages against blacks and other minorities, and other public practices such as racial profiling and much harsher penalties against minority groups, which has resulted in our prison population being comprised mostly of minorities; to murders, which never seem to end, by police of blacks arrested or detained merely on suspicion of crime, or for the most petty crimes, or for acting “strangely.” I don’t just sort of wish they would eventually go away. I am outraged and want to see them abolished — by which I mean the practices and policies.)



I love living in New York City because of — precisely because of — diversity. But diversity isn’t a code word for me. It’s a matter of experiencing, of encountering, all the time people of different races and nationalities, of different ethnicities and religions. I absolutely love it. It is pleasurable, enriches and enlivens my personal life, stimulates me. And, it’s incredible how very often these interactions are amiable and pleasant, how nice people are, how eager they seem to talk or exchange pleasantries, even if it’s only a brief encounter.

I live for this. That’s what “diversity” means to me. I didn’t have to be taught the value of this. And, I did not need classroom lessons or lectures to sensitize me.  It is not a matter of education, it’s a matter of life. Diversity as I perceive and regard it is not a code word or an abstraction.

I do like to learn about other cultures and about matters of race and religion, and, when it comes to social and political issues, it can be important to know about them, but I could probably do this from the media and books, etc.  Education is in most cases a group activity which involves interaction and learning, as a sort of byproduct, social skills (conversational skills, for example). When there were children and students in my classes from different backgrounds, I enjoyed it. But education is one thing and diversity is another. Educators should focus on quality education for all, with no barriers to admission but no hidden agendas about the racial or ethnic composition of the student body. They should be educators, not social engineers. And the type of social engineering they advocate does harm to some groups and no good for society, as noble as it may sound.


— Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

Walt Whitman, “Our City”


Walt Whitman, ‘Our City’

Our City

NEW YORK is a great place — a mighty world in itself. Strangers who come here for the first time in their lives, spend week after week, and yet find that there are still hundreds of wonders and surprises, and (to them) oddities, which they have not had a chance of examining. Here are people of all classes and stages of rank — from all countries on the globe — engaged in all the varieties of avocations — of every grade, every hue of ignorance and learning, morality and vice, wealth and want, fashion and coarseness, breeding and brutality, elevation and degradation, impudence and modesty.

Coming up Broadway, from the Bowling Green, an observer will notice, on each side, tall, quiet looking houses, with no great aspect of life or business. These are mostly boarding houses; and notwith­standing their still look, they no doubt contain within their walls no small number of occupants. Here the sidewalks and the street pre­sent hut few passengers. After passing Trinity Church, however, the crowd thickens, and the ground stories of the buildings are prin­cipally occupied as shops. Along this section of Broadway are sev­eral crack hotels. If you pass at the latter part of the day, you will see little groups of well dressed men, picking their teeth lazily, and enjoying an after dinner lounge. Near here, there are two shops which deserve especial notice. Judging by their capacious windows, they are for the sale of knicknacks, and fancy articles of all descrip­tions, from a chess board or an escritoire to a toothpick. From a glance at these treasures, a person can hardly help reflecting how many thousand wants, altogether imaginary, one may he led to have through the refinements of civilization.

Directly afterward, you will notice two crowds gazing at the prints in the windows of a book store. This is Colman’s. If you chance to stop there for the same purpose as the rest, look out for the contents of your pockets. We mean this in a double sense; for if you are not incited to purchase some of the alluring literary beauties to be had at Colman’s, it is quite possible that you may he otherwise relieved of your cash by some of the swells who there do congregate.

Then you come to where the Park thrusts out as a kind of wedge between Broadway and the beginning of Park Row. If you take the left, you have to make way against a great current of fashion, idleness, and foppery. Suppose you turn to the right.

Down you walk — first stopping to gaze a moment at St. Paul’s, which, with its steeple the other way, seems as if it wanted to walk off from amid so much tumult and din — and at that very respectable small city, the Astor House. A few rods, and you are in front of an ambiguous structure, of a dirty white color, and which you internally set down in your mind as the most villainous specimen of architecture you ever beheld. This is the Park theatre — or, as some of our people, with a very untasty habit of copying whatever is foreign, term it, the Old Drury. You will not wonder, when you hear that the manager has been very unsuccessful of late, maugre all his ener­getic and liberal catering. What benignant spirit could ever plume his wings on the top of such a temple?

By and by, you arrive at an open space, whereabout, if you look sharp, you will behold the name of one of the wonders of the city — that is, the “New York Aurora.” In all probability your ears will be greeted with the discordant notes of the newsboys, who generally muster here in great force. A door or two further is Tammany Hall, the Mecca of democracy — the time honored, soul endeared holy of holies, to all who go for anti monopoly, and the largest freedom of the largest number.

The City Hall on the left, with its redundance of marble tracery and ornament, will not probably strike you as being anything very extensive — so pass we on.

Now you come into the region of Jews, jewelry, and second hand clothing. Here and there, the magic “three balls” hold out hope to those whose ill luck makes them grasp at even the smallest favors.

Passing the Pearl street crossing, and the Chatham theatre, you are in the large triangle which people call Chatham square. In the middle are dray carts, coaches, and cabs: on the right loom up small hills of furniture, of every quality, with here and there an auctioneer, standing on a table or barrel top, and crying out to the crowd around him, the merits of the articles, and the bids made for them.

Then up the Bowery, which presents the most heterogeneous melange of any street in the city: stores of all kinds and people of all kinds, are to be met with every forty rods. You come by and by to the Bowery theatre; this is one of the best looking buildings in the city.

If you keep up the Bowery, you will lose yourself at last in the midst of vacant squares, unfenced lots, and unbuilt streets.

If you turn to the right, you will come into some of the dirtiest looking places in New York. Pitt, Ridge, Attorney and Willett streets, and all thereabout, are quite thickly settled with German emigrants.

If you wind your steps leftward, you will have a chance of promenading to suit any taste you may he possessed of. You can lead off into some of the most aristocratic thorough-fares, or some of the lowest, or some of a medium between both.

— Walt Whitman, The New York Aurora, March 8, 1842



Walt Whitman’s 1842 walk took him from the Battery (where I often start my walks) — the southernmost point of Manhattan — uptown to the area of Delancey Street on what is now the Lower East Side. I have walked the same route so many, many times.

I take the same delight — and experience the same perpetual wonder — in the City that Whitman did. He is my Doppelgänger. I feel such kinship with him.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

Thomson and Milton


‘Thomson and Milton’

Note the similarities.




This first Book proposes, first in brief, the whole Subject, Mans disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise wherein he was plac’t: Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the Serpent; who revolting from God, and drawing to his side many Legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of Heaven with all his Crew into the great Deep. Which action past over, the Poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into Hell, describ’d here, not in the Center (for Heaven and Earth may be suppos’d as yet not made, certainly not yet accurst) but in a place of utter darkness, filthiest call’d Chaos: Here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning Lake, thunder-struck and astonisht, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in Order and Dignity lay by him; they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his Legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded; They rise, their Numbers, array of Battel, their chief Leaders nam’d, according to the Idols known afterwards in Canaan and the Countries adjoyning. To these Satan directs his Speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven, but tells them lastly of a new World and new kind of Creature to be created, according to an ancient Prophesie or report in Heaven; for that Angels were long before this visible Creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this Prophesie, and what to determine thereon he refers to a full Councel. What his Associates thence attempt. Pandemonium the Palace of Satan rises, suddenly built out of the Deep: The infernal Peers there sit in Councel.


Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,

In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the height of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Say first, for Heav’n hides nothing from thy view
Nor the deep Tract of Hell, say first what cause
Mov’d our Grand Parents in that happy State,
Favour’d of Heav’n so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his Will
For one restraint, Lords of the World besides?
Who first seduc’d them to that foul revolt?
Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankind, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,

He trusted to have equal’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms.
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night

To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe
Confounded though immortal: But his doom
Reserv’d him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness’d huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate:
At once as far as Angels kenn he views
The dismal Situation waste and wilde,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar’d
For those rebellious, here their Prison ordain’d
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far remov’d from God and light of Heav’n
As from the Center thrice to th’ utmost Pole.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost




The subject proposed. Inscribed to the Countess of Hartford. The Season is described as it affects the various parts of nature, ascending from the lower to the higher; and mixed with digressions arising from the subject. Its influence on inanimate matter, on vegetables, on brute animals, and last on Man; concluding with a dissuasive from the wild and irregular passion of Love, opposed to that of a pure and happy kind.

Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come;

And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,

While music wakes around, veiled in a shower

Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend.

O Hartford, fitted or to shine in courts

With unaffected grace, or walk the plain

With innocence and meditation joined

In soft assemblage, listen to my song,

Which thy own season paints-when Nature all

Is blooming and benevolent, like thee.

And see where surly Winter passes off

Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:

His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill,

The shattered forest, and the ravaged vale;

While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch,

Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost,

The mountains lift their green heads to the sky.

As yet the trembling year is unconfirmed,
And Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightless; so that scarce
The bittern knows his time with bill engulfed
To shake the sounding marsh; or from the shore
The plovers when to scatter o’er the heath,
And sing their wild notes to the listening waste.

At last from Aries rolls the bounteous sun,
And the bright Bull receives him. Then no more
The expansive atmosphere is cramped with cold;
But, full of life and vivifying soul,
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads them thin,
Fleecy, and white o’er all-surrounding heaven.

Forth fly the tepid airs; and unconfined,
Unbinding earth, the moving softness strays.
Joyous the impatient husbandman perceives
Relenting Nature, and his lusty steers
Drives from their stalls to where the well-used plough
Lies in the furrow loosened from the frost.
There, unrefusing, to the harnessed yoke
They lend their shoulder, and begin their toil,
Cheered by the simple song and soaring lark.
Meanwhile incumbent o’er the shining share
The master leans, removes the obstructing clay,
Winds the whole work, and sidelong lays the glebe.

White through the neighbouring fields the sower stalks
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground:
The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the scene.

Be gracious, Heaven, for now laborious man
Has done his part. Ye fostering breezes, blow;
Ye softening dews, ye tender showers, descend;
And temper all, thou world-reviving sun,
Into the perfect year. Nor, ye who live
In luxury and ease, in pomp and pride,
Think these lost themes unworthy of your ear:
Such themes as these the rural Maro sung
To wide-imperial Rome, in the full height
Of elegance and taste, by Greece refined.
In ancient times the sacred plough employed
The kings and awful fathers of mankind;

— James Thomson, The Seasons



“He has joined with great art the most beautiful imagination and the finest reflection together, adorned with a masterly diction and versification, suitable to its other excellencies. And thus he has happily attained the two great ends of poetry, of instructing and delighting the reader …. He must be allowed to have the genuine spirit of sublime poetry in him, and bids fair to reach at length the heighth of Milton’s character.” — review of James Thomson, The Seasons, London Journal,  June 4, 1726


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020


Ruth Harwood Cline — Chrétien de Troyes


‘Ruth Harwood Cline – Chretien de Troyes’


Au jor de Pasque, au tans novel,
a Quaradigan, son chastel,
ot li rois Artus cort tenue.
Einz si riche ne fu veüe,
que mout i ot boens chevaliers,
hardiz et conbatanz et fiers,
et riches dames et puceles,
filles de rois, gentes et beles.
Mes einçois que la corz fausist,
li rois a ses chevaliers dist
qu’il voloit le blanc cerf chacier
por la costume ressaucier.
Monseignor Gauvain ne plot mie,
quant il ot la parole oïe.
« Sire, fet il, de ceste chace
n’avroiz vos ja ne gré ne grace.
Nos savomes bien tuit piece a
quel costume li blans cers a :
qui le blanc cerf ocirre puet
par reison beisier li estuet
des puceles de vostre cort
la plus bele, a que que il tort.
Maus an puet avenir mout granz,
qu’ancor a il ceanz .v.c.
dameiseles de hauz paraiges,
filles de rois, gentes et sages ;
n’i a nule qui n’ait ami
chevalier vaillant et hardi,
don chascuns desresnier voldroit,
ou fust a tort ou fust a droit,
que cele qui li atalante
est la plus bele et la plus gente. »
Li rois respont : « Ce sai ge bien ,
mes por ce n’an lerai ge rien,
car parole que rois a dite
ne doit puis estre contredite.
Demain matin a grant deduit
irons chacier le blanc cerf tuit
an la forest avantureuse ;
ceste chace iert mout mervelleuse. »

— Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide (c. 1170)


In spring, when Easter Day began,
in his walled town of Cardigan,
King Arthur held a lavish court,
with none more splendid to report.
He gathered many valiant knights,
tough, stalwart, feisty men in fights,
and maids and ladies, rich and fair,
kings’ daughters, nobly born, were there.
The king, before the courtiers went,
informed his knights of his intent
to hunt the white stag, to restore
the custom of the days of yore.
To hear this royal proclamation
filled Sir Gawain with consternation.
He said: “Sire, this hunt would preclude
your ever winning gratitude.
The custom of the white male deer
To all of us has long been dear.
The custom of the hunt is this:
the slayer of the stag must kiss
the maid at court whom he selects
as fairest, come what may come next.
Great harm may come of it, I fear,
with some five hundred maidens here.
These maidens are of noble birth,
kings’ daughters, wise and great in worth,
and not a one without a friend,
a bold brave knight, who will contend,
each speaking for himself headstrong,
and whether he is right or wrong,
the maiden he has most desired
is loveliest and most admired.”
“I know it well,” the king replied,
“but will not put my plan aside,
for words a king has said aloud
ought never to be disavowed.
Tomorrow morning, with delight,
we all will hunt the stag that’s white
within the forest of adventure;
this hunt will be a wondrous venture.”

— Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline



Eric and Enide is the earliest of Chrétien de Troyes’ Arthurian romances.

“Chrétien de Troyes was the creator of the Arthurian romance as a literary genre: he was the first known writer in Western Europe to put the Celtic legends of King Arthur and his knights into the long romance form in order to illustrate themes from the twelfth-century codes of love and chivalry. His five romances, Erec and Enide, Cligès, Lancelot, Yvain, and Perceval, were written between 1160 and 1190. … he wrote Erec and Enide, the oldest Arthurian romance, around 1160. … Probably he returned to Troyes soon afterward, where he entered the service of Countess Marie of Champagne (daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine). There he composed Cligès, a romance with Byzantine overtones which reflects the Tristan legend, and, around 1172, Lancelot, with its theme of the adulterous love between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere which was suggested by Countess Marie herself. Between 1173 and 1176 he completed Yvain and possibly Guillaume d’Angleterre; his authorship of the latter work is heavily disputed. In 1181 Chrétien left the service of the widowed Countess Marie and entered the service of Count Philippe of Flanders, at whose bidding in 1182 he began his last and longest romance, Perceval or The Story of the Grail. He died before Perceval was completed.” — Ruth Harwood Cline, Introduction,  Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975), pp. xi-xii


“The original works of Chretien de Troyes were written in Old French octosyllabic verse. Old French is a language that encompasses several dialects used between the ninth and late fifteenth centuries. It retained from Latin a two-case declension system (subject/object) and flexible word order. It had not undergone the enrichment in vocabulary that occurred in the sixteenth century. Thus Chretien expresses sophisticated ideas with a relatively limited choice of words. The verse form he chose, octosyllabic rhymed couplets, was an intrinsic part of his creative process. Verse shaped the expression of his thoughts, encouraged his word­play, and established the forward movement of his poem. Verse allowed him to halt that movement for emphasis by repeating a key phrase without wearying his listeners by redundancy.” — Ruth Harwood Cline, Introduction, Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000), pg. xxiv



“Ruth Harwood Cline’s translation is a remarkable literary achievement. She has not only understood Chretien’s difficult and subtle text-­which is no small matter, but she frequently succeeds in re-creating his witty style, his irony, his playfulness, his masterful use of octosyllabic couplets which, in his hands, can gallop or meander or creep, depending upon the matter being treated. Sometimes her version even suggests his varied and effortless use of rhymes–now rich, now mere vowel rhyme, now an arresting use of homonyms, now a play on words. And she has studiously avoided archaisms, which are the bane of so many translators. In a word she has made much of the quality of Chretien’s masterpiece available in present-day English.” — Julian Harris, Forewrod, Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975), pg. viii


“First of all, Chrétien de Troyes is a wonderful poet, who practically singlehandedly invented the Arthurian legend. Secondly — but actually, most importantly — Ruth Harwood Cline is a SUPERB translator. She does total justice to the original text, does not mangle it, and manages to translate into rhymed verse (the original French is rhymed) that totally “works” while never sacrificing meaning. To put it simply, there is magic in this translation. It is totally readable, it carries you along, and you don’t want to stop until the end.” — Roger W. Smith, review of Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot Or the Knight of the Cart, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1990)



I have read all five of Cline’s Chrétien translations. You won’t find a better translator of medieval literature anywhere — well, practically anywhere. Two other books (translations) that are brilliant:

Poems of the Elder Edda: Revised Edition, translated by Patricia Terry (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)

Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot Du Bellay, Ronsard; bilingual edition; English versions by Norman R. Shapiro (Yale University Press, 2002)

I have read all of the books the images of which are shown below, except for not having read Lyrics of the French Renaissance from cover to cover.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020



Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975)

Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval: Or the Story of the Grail, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1983)

Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot; Or the Knight of the Cart, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1990)

Chrétien de Troyes, Cligès, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000)

Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000)

Poems of the Elder Edda: Revised Edition, translated by Patricia Terry (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)

Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot Du Bellay, Ronsard; bilingual edition; English versions by Norman R. Shapiro (Yale University Press, 2002)

Sir William Jones on Sanskrit


“The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident.”

— Sir William Jones, The Third Anniversary Discourse for The Asiatick Society of Bengal (1786)


The brilliant linguist Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was a member of Samuel Johnson’s Literary Club.


posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020