Category Archives: Books

Cambridge puts Isaac Newton’s notes online • The Register

Cambridge puts Isaac Newton’s notes online • The Register.

Or, if you prefer, the BBC version of the story.

Ye Diary of Sir Isaac Newton.

Up, and to ye Orchard where I did sport with Mrs Fitzsimmons; and by and by, an Apple struck me on ye Head, wherefrom I did discover something most marvellous, viz. Calculus, and with ye greatest Pleasure, introduced Mrs Fitzsimmons to ye Method of Integration. Fnarr! Fnarr!

But most vex’d today, for I am still, as yet, unable to discover Gravity, which finding, I would tell Leibnitz to go unto some other location and differentiate himself. LOL!


Of things about which Mr Bamboo is ignorant

The author of Barry Lyndon.

One of the very first videos I ever saw when VCR was cutting-edge home entertainment was the film Barry Lyndon, the story of the adventures of an Irishman who manages to dodge various misfortunes (enlisting in the British and Prussian armies) to marry the Countess of Lyndon. But his luck turns sour, and after being wounded in a duel with the Countess’s son from her first marriage, he loses his leg and his wife for an annuity.

As far as I can recall, the film was so long that it came on two tapes or in two halves or something like that. It was a very lush piece of work from Kubrick even if the second half of the film was a little slow and dull.

In the past, er, th— years since I saw the film, I have occasionally recalled it, but it has mostly passed into history. I may have seen it in one of the DVD shops somewhere in the Empire. In all that time, though, I’ve never considered that it might be a book, and I’ve only just discovered that the film was based on the book by William Makepeace Thackeray.

The reason why I discovered this was that I gave the PAL classes an extract from Vanity Fair last week and interested in perusing the text, I went to Project Gutenberg where I found Barry Lyndon listed as one of Thackeray’s works.

And thus it is that I learnt something today.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

A load of pants

Familiarity breeds contempt?
As well as The Court of the Air, which was not in Page One in Hong Kong when I bought the second two volumes in the series by Stephen Hunt, Mum and Dad sent me Joe Bennett’s book, Where Underpants Come From, which is his journey through China to find the source of his underpants. (That’s because there are no more major rivers in the world whose sources remain undiscovered. Explorers have had to branch out since then, and the invention of the satellite limited their options even further. These days, explorers have to be inventive if their goal is to find the source of something.)
The padded envelope containing the books was sitting on my desk when I got to school yesterday. It’d obviously been opened at the Post Office (first time that’s happened) because it’d been sellotaped shut again, but whoever was doing the inspecting had either not been paying attention or didn’t mind that the Chinese flag on the cover of Bennett’s book was emblazoned across a pair of underpants.
My theory is that just as the Chinese don’t notice the endless stream of noise here, the banners exhorting them to behave in a civilised fashion, or anything else which remains noticeable to ex-pats, the flag, being a some­what ubiquitous sight, is readily filtered out of the Chinese consciousness. They know it; they know what it is; they pay little attention to it because it’s overly familiar.
Actually, from a quick glance at the end of the book, Bennett may have made a few observations which would hurt the feelings of the Chinese government, and beside which the flag on a pair of underpants would be of much less concern. Fortunately tackling an entire book in English rapidly and fluently is well beyond most people here, and I probably got Where Underpants Come From because the person inspecting my post thought “Chinese flag good” and let it through without noticing the underpants at all.

But that was banned, wasn’t it?

The mysterious case of Shanghai Baby.
I went to the Foreign Languages Bookshop after tea out of curiosity. I wasn’t planning on buying anything and, indeed, bought nothing, although I was disgusted by the price tag of ¥60 for some of the Wordsworth Classics such as a translation of Plato’s Apology and some of the dialogues. But much to my surprise, there were a couple of copies of Shanghai Baby, which I thought had been banned on the Mainland. Obviously the book is no longer proscribed. Or perhaps because YouTube is still off the menu, something had to be out back on, thus preserving the balance of the national yin and yang.
On the other hand, the nation has become unbalanced with the presence of the chunky Twilight and other volumes in Stephenie Meyer’s crypto-religious, wide-margin vampire romp. In one paragraph, his hands got to her shoulders – where they chastely stopped. All build up and no climax, methinks.
Speaking of all build up and no climax, a tale of an encounter between Sherlock Holmes and Dracula popped into my head a few weeks back. I’m sure that so many other people have thought of this one that I’m almost bound to win some sort of prize for unoriginal thought. (Indeed, Loren D. Estleman wrote Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count, which was published in 1978. In this book, Holmes was part of Stoker’s original tale, but his contribution was left on the cutting room floor. One of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories was The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, though it has nothing to do with actual vampires.)
In my story, Dracula has lost his false teeth and is now reduced to chewing impotently on the necks of the local virgins who merely end up giggling a lot. There’s only one man in Europe who can find the Count’s missing gnashers – Sherlock Holmes. It just so happens that Professor Moriarty is Dracula’s guest when Holmes and Watson arrive.
“What’s he doing here?” said Holmes regarding the Napoleon of crime with deep suspicion.
“My dear Mr Holmes,” said Dracula soothingly, “since I know you think Professor Moriarty is the most evil man in Europe, his presence here makes me look good.”
“He’s right, you know, Holmes,” I said, weighing Count Dracula against Moriarty in the scales of justice and finding the latter dragging his pan down.
“To be Moriarty is bad enough,” said Holmes, “but to be Moriarty’s willing host…” He trailed off and suddenly got that steely look in his eye. “Count Dracula, if you want your teeth back, ecce homo!”
Dracula frowned in puzzlement. “Look out for homosexuals?” He glanced nervously round the room.
“Professor Moriarty is the culprit, hired by Abraham van Helsing to incapacitate you.”
“You see, Mr Holmes” said the Count sounding vindicated by the great detective’s conclusion, “I’m really not such a bad person, am I?”

Victorian Britain

Secular piety.
I reached the end of Miss Clack’s narration in The Moonstone last night, a section which I found curious and amusing. It was curious because it portrayed the time as being a deal more secular than I would’ve thought it to be. It’s amusing because Collins constantly undermines Miss Clack by making her look foolish. She’s clearly in love with Godfrey Ablewhite, but can’t see it or (and this may be stretching things) that he’s possibly a sexual predator. She misses out on a small legacy from Lady Verinder, which though her desire for money is essentially un-Christian, is a concern to her. Possibly her loss is retribution for thinking that Lady Verinder needed an impractical clergyman rather than a practical doctor. Every time she distributes her “precious publications” around the house, they’re collected up and returned to her or put to one side and ignored. Miss Clack’s final effort to interfere meets with universal derision.
I haven’t read much 19th century fiction, but I don’t recall any of it being overly obsessed with religion and churchgoing. Miss Clack’s tracts were probably common enough, albeit publications which only appealed to a small cross-section of Victorian society and which merely annoyed the rest of the populace. She seems to be a social anomaly and perhaps for the age, a throwback to pre-industrial Britain.
Would it be possible, I wonder, to do an effective[1] historical survey of religious references in non-religious works of fiction in terms of their quantity and time of writing. In other words, my hypothesis is that the quantity of religious references in secular literature has declined and that the time of writing may determine whether the number is greater or lesser. For example, do religious references decline during the Restoration? Obviously, I’d expect a general decline throughout the 18th century and an accelerated decline with the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
Anyway, I’ve also passed through Mr Bruff’s section of the narrative and have reached Franklin Blake’s part.
Score: Rachel Verinder 1; Godfrey Ablewhite 0
1. Because a work of fiction may seem outwardly secular but actually have some religious message. How could such a work then be measured in a survey like this?

Shame on me

For not knowing about Europeana.
Dante to dialects: EU’s online renaissance. According to this article in The Guardian, Europeana (unavailable at the time of writing), which is a project to digitise works of European culture, got so hammered by hits on its opening that it had to be taken down.
I have to confess that I’ve never even heard of the project, although the whole thing was driven by the French, which I probably why I’ve never heard of it. Nonetheless, Europeana should be a useful addition to digital libraries available online, providing access to a collection of material that most of us never get to see in the flesh.

Book vandals.
History’s missing pages: Iranian academic sliced out sections of priceless collection. This story, also from The Guardian, is about some despicable book-mutilator. I can appreciate Kristian Jensen’s words:
“You cannot undo what he has done…
“It makes me extremely angry. This is someone who is extremely rich who has damaged and destroyed something that belongs to everybody.”
People who make me wince are those who borrow books and turn down the corners of pages to mark their place, or bend the book double with no respect for it or its owner. I don’t do these things when I read my own books nor anybody else’s. I know that as I read a book, the spine is likely to get bent, but that’s from holding the book open and not from brute force. I’ve regretted lending books to people on more than one occasion because what got lent is reasonable condition came back looking like it’d sojourned in a medieval torture chamber.
I can imagine a romantic film in which you see Winona Ryder on a bus reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice bent double, which would then encourage people to think that such vandalism was romantic, especially on a bus. If people want books you can bend double, publishers should accommodate such a vulgar, uncouth rabble.

You get published

And some time after, appear in a footnote.
By chance, I found a couple of references to Montaigne in Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. From Part I, Canto I (ll. 37-40)
For’t has been held by many, that
As Montaigne playing with his Cat,
Complains she thought him but an Ass,
Much more she wou’d Sir Hudibras;
39 As Montaigne &c.] Montaigne, in his Essays, supposes his Cat thought him a Fool, for losing his Time in playing with her.
The other reference, from Part II, Canto II (ll. 11-14), is a little less complementary.
Dispute and set a Paradox,
Like a straight boot, upon the stocks,
And stretch it more unmercifully,
Than Helmont, Montaigne, White or Lully.5
5 Michael de Montaigne was born at Perigord… His paradoxes related only to common life; for he had little depth of learning. His essays contain an abundance of whimsical reflections on matters of ordinary occurrence, especially upon his own temper and qualities.
I’ve reached the nineteenth essay (which is the twentieth in modern editions, the fortieth in Florio and Cotton having been promoted to the fourteenth for reasons I don’t know at this time), which isn’t exactly heavy going, but the length makes it tiresome. I really need a three-dimensional copy of the Essays.
I’ve also found that Google Books has a mostly complete (?) copy of Donald M. Frame’s 1958 translation, which is much more readily com­pre­hensible than one version or another of Cotton’s; yet I can’t help but feel that Frame’s translation lacks the quaint charm or linguistic challenge of the older rendering. I’ve just found via Amazon UK that you can buy a copy of Cotton’s translation published last year. I suspect that this may be Hazlitt’s edition, but there are no details about the book beyond the author and translator.

Montaigne as the frame

Of a glassless window.
I’ve been reading versions (yes, plural) of Cotton’s translation of Mon­t­aigne’s essays, which is why it’s been All Quiet on the Bamboo Front. I’ve found myself switching between the 1711 and 1759 editions because a sentence which isn’t that comprehensible in one may be more com­pre­hen­sible in the other. Curiously, the 1759 edition isn’t always more readable. If I was being especially anal about it, I should also have Florio’s translation and Hazlitt’s edition open.
In addition, a sentence in one isn’t always matched by a sentence in the other except, perhaps, in sense. For example, the 1711 version of Essay X says

If I should always carry my Razor about me, to use as oft as this inconvenience befalls me, I should make clean work.

In the 1759 version, this has become

Were I to make a Razure, as oft as this befals me, I should have nothing at all to say…[1]

Florio, who seems to have been less apt to take such textual liberties, has the razor metaphor

Had I alwayes a razor about me, where that hapneth, I should cleane raze myselfe out.

whereas Hazlitt follows the 1759 edition. Montaigne himself wrote

Si je portoy le rasoir par tout où cela m’advient, je me desferoy tout.

Some time between 1711 and 1759, someone seems to have decided that Montaigne’s razor lacked clarity or relevance.
It took Montaigne until Essay IX Of Liars before he actually wrote something without resorting to copious examples accompanied by a minimal amount of commentary. Even so, this essay opens with a lengthy preamble about his allegedly defective memory before he even starts talking about liars. This is red line and Largely irrelevant territory. If he’d written

If, like me, you have a poor memory, lying is a bad idea…

and developed his essay from there, I wouldn’t be putting red lines through anything.
Some of what I’ve read online about Montaigne comes across as pretentious and, at times, puzzling. From the entry about Montaigne in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy we have

The unity of the work and the order of every single chapter remain problematic. We are unable to detect obvious links from one chapter to the next: in the first book, Montaigne jumps from “Idleness” (I,8) to “Liars” (I,9), then from “Prompt or slow speech” (I,10) to “Prognostications” (I,11). The random aspect of the work, acknowledged by the author himself, has been a challenge for commentators ever since. Part of the brilliance of the Essays lies in this very ability to elicit various forms of explanatory coherence whilst at the same time defying them. The work is so rich and flexible that it accommodates virtually any academic trend. Yet, it is also so resistant to interpretation that it reveals the limits of each interpretation.

There seems to be a confusion here between an essay (short prose work on diverse subjects) and chapter in a book. Montaigne’s essays are like col­umns or feature articles in a newspaper or magazine, and I’m sure not every book published in the 16th and 17th centuries was always unified beyond a single common thread which did not necessarily have any relationship to the text. Nonetheless, Montaigne may have been disquieted because the sequence really does have no identifiable unity; and other people have groped for a common thread, thinking to cleverly identify something deeply metaphysical that isn’t actually there. The common thread is Montaigne himself. But let’s leave the philosophers to look through an empty window frame trying to see the glass that’s not there.
[31.07.14. I was reading Montaigne’s essay, “On Solitude”, the other day. I haven’t read any of his work in quite some time, but he does waffle a lot.]
1. Razure = erasure; befals = befalls.

So what was that essay about?

You know, the one you mentioned below.

Monatigne’s third essay is about how people affect or try to affect the living after they die. Can bad rulers be said to be happy after they die if such a bad reputation outlives them? There are instances when the dead have been treated as if they’re alive, and there are occasions when the remains of the dead are treated as if their remains have the same potency as they person when they were alive. Personal quirks can survive death, such as the Emperor Maximilian, whose modesty led it to be stated in his will that when he died he was to be dressed in his underpants as soon as possible. The next section examines different sorts of funerals: ornate, austere, and modest. Montaigne himself wanted to leave the matter to custom and in the hands of his executors. The dead can also affect the living adversely. Montaigne has two contrary examples from Greece: one in which the Athenians punished their generals after winning a battle because they did not recover the dead; the other of a Spartan general who slowed to recover the dead, but allowed the enemy forces to escape. Montaigne ends by observing that wine and preserved meat, though both dead things, have a semblance of life.

The essays so far have been collections of examples illustrating various subjects. They’re all like themed entries in a commonplace book with some linking to hold them loosely together. As The Montaigne Project makes clear, quite a lot of the third essay was added in subsequent editions, only about 25% being original (roughly the sections about Bertrand du Glesquin and Emperor Maximilian’s underpants). Apparently, Montaigne added material to his work typically without regard to coherence and cohesion, which can be seen in the outline above, the sub-topics not displaying any clear progression. If I’d marked the essay, I would’ve write Conclusion? at the end; and a few other words besides.

But because Montaigne was the first to attempt this form, it cannot be expected that his practices would conform with those of later essayists. None of the essays I’ve read so far have proper conclusions, and as I said above, all of them have been little more than collections of examples on a theme. Montaigne falls into that old student trap of assuming that the reader will infer the writer’s intention from the examples, an explicit statement being thought to be unnecessary.

Flitting from flower to flower

The literary bee.
I switched to reading The Collected Short Stories of Saki (which I’m now about half way through) because I’d had enough of Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories for the moment. But feeling that Munro’s stories are like a snack for which you have a particular relish until a glut of them makes them less alluring, I’ve turned my attention to Montaigne’s Essays to avoid developing an aversion to Saki.
Renascence Editions offers John Florio’s early 17th century translation. The version offered Penn State’s Electronic Classics series (Montaigne) is Charles Cotton’s late 17th century translation edited by William Hazlitt in the 19th century. This edition is also available via Google Books (The Works of Michel de Montaigne).
Unfortunately, searches via Google Books seem a little haphazard. I found Volume III of Halifax’s 1711 edition of Cotton’s translation, but only by selecting the tab labelled About this book did I find Volume I and discover that I already had Volume II. Other editions are similarly random – Volume II from the University of Michigan, but no signs of I or III; a 1759 edition of Volume I; an 1811 edition of Volume I with the first 66 essays. And there seem to be a lot of others like this.
Nor am I mentioning these editions because it amuses me to do so, but rather because I got to the third essay of the first book (That our affections may carry themselves beyond us) and encountered a somewhat tortuous sentence.
THOSE which still accuse men for ever gaping after future things, and go about to teach us, to take hold of present fortunes, and settle ourselves upon them, as having no hold of that which is to come; yea much lesse than we have of that which is already past, touch and are ever harping upon the commonest humane error, if they dare call that an error, to which Nature her selfe, for the service of the continuation of her worke, doth address us, imprinting (as it doth many others) this false imagination in us, as more jealous of our actions, than of our knowledge.
Florio, 1603
They who accuse Mankind of the Folly of gaping always after Futurity, and advise us to lay hold of the Good which is present, and to set up our rest thereupon, as having too short reach to seize that which is to come, a Thing even more impossible for us than to recover what is past, have hit upon the most universal of human Errors, if it may be called an Error, whereto Nature itself has disposed us, which, for the better Continuation of her own Work, has, among several others, impressed us with this deluding Imagination, as being more jealous of what we do than what we know.
Cotton, Halifax edition, 1759
SUCH AS ACCUSE mankind of the folly of gaping after future things, and advise us to make our benefit of those which are present, and to set up our rest upon them, as having no grasp upon that which is to come, even less than that which we have upon what is past, have hit upon the most universal of human errors, if that may be called an error to which nature herself has disposed us, in order to the continuation of her own work, prepossessing us, amongst several others, with this deceiving imagination, as being more jealous of our action than afraid of our knowledge.
Cotton, Hazlitt edition, 1877
It was only by using all three versions of the translation that I managed to comprehend the sense of this sentence. If you can read this thing and understand it on the first occasion, you’d be justified in calling me an idiot, because beside you, I’d be such.
With a combination of 19th century snootiness and ignorance, Hazlitt says in his introduction
The besetting sin of both Montaigne’s translators seems to have been a propensity for reducing his language and phraseology to the language and phraseology of the age and country to which they belonged, and, moreover, inserting paragraphs and words, not here and there only, but constantly and habitually, from an evident desire and view to elucidate or strengthen their author’s meaning. The result has generally been unfortunate; and I have, in the case of all these interpolations on Cotton’s part, felt bound, where I did not cancel them, to throw them down into the notes, not thinking it right that Montaigne should be allowed any longer to stand sponsor for what he never wrote; and reluctant, on the other hand, to suppress the intruding matter entirely, where it appeared to possess a value of its own.
Nor is redundancy or paraphrase the only form of transgression in Cotton, for there are places in his author which he thought proper to omit, and it is hardly necessary to say that the restoration of all such matter to the text was considered essential to its integrity and completeness.
I can only assume that Hazlitt was unaware of the habit of Restoration and Augustan translators to produce paraphrases rather than faithful renderings of the original text. I can’t begin to imagine how Hazlitt thought Florio or Cotton might write except using the language and phraseology of their times. I don’t think Cotton sat down and thought he’d translate Montaigne into 18th century English. Hazlitt wanted, as we would today, a translation that was more faithful to the original,  his aim being to tidy up Cotton’s translation; but he was possibly a little inconsistent. The 1711 edition has
Such as accuse Mankind of the folly of gaping and panting after future things, and advise us to make our Benefits of those which are present, and to set up our rest upon them, as having too short a reach to lay hold upon that which is to come, and it being more impossible for us, than to retrieve what is past, have hit upon the most universal of Humane Errours, if that may be call’d an Errour to which Nature it self has dispos’d us, who in order to the subsistence, and continuation of her own Work, has, amongst several others, prepossess’d us with this deceiving Imagination, as being more jealous  of our Action, than afraid of our knowledge.
Cotton, Halifax edition, 1711
Hazlitt has returned to the wording of the older edition, even although it’s less accurate than the later edition. The original text can be read in French on the Montaigne Project site. It says

Ceux qui accusent les hommes d’aller tousjours béant apres les choses futures, et nous aprennent à nous saisir des biens presens, et nous rassoir en ceux-là, comme n’ayant aucune prise sur ce qui est à venir, voire assez moins que nous n’avons sur ce qui est passé, touchent la plus commune des humaines erreurs, s’ils osent appeler erreur chose à quoy nature mesme nous achemine, pour le service de la continuation de son ouvrage, nous imprimant, comme assez d’autres, cette imagination fausse, plus jalouse de nostre action que de nostre science.

I suppose Ceux qui could be translated into English as “Such as”, but even in the 19th century with its peculiar notions of propriety in translation, I’m sure “They who” would’ve been more idiomatic as it was in 1759. I started with Hazlitt’s edition when I began reading the third essay, but resorted to others because in spite of whatever liberties Cotton (in one edition or another) might’ve taken with the text, he seems a little more readable before the liberties Hazlitt took with his translation.
But every age looks back at the ages before it and tends to condemn their shortcomings from a contemporary perspective which is irrelevant to the period being criticised. We might deplore the failings of such times, but we shouldn’t expect that things should’ve been other than they were.
I had to revise this entry slightly when I found that the 1759 edition of Cotton’s translation was different from the 1711 version, the former having been altered in various ways that I was unaware of. Being even less expert in these matters than Hazlitt was, I ought to mind what I say.