LICHTLIE THIS.

As I said here, my wife and I are now reading the Edinburgh mystery novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and we’re about halfway through the second one, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. The opening scene has a man standing in Canongate Kirkyard and reading a 1962 poem by Robert Garioch, “At Robert Fergusson’s Grave,” which is such a lovely Scots sonnet I thought I’d post it here:

Canongait Kirkyaird in the failing year
is auld and grey, the wee rosiers are bare,
five gulls leam white agin the dirty air:
why are they here? There’s naething for them here.
Why are we here oursels? We gaither near
the grave. Fergusons mainly, quite a fair
turn-out, respectfu, ill at ease, we stare
at daith – there’s an address – I canna hear.
Aweill, we staund bareheidit in the haar,
murnin a man that gaid back til the pool
twa-hunner year afore our time. The glaur
that haps his banes glowres back. Strang, present dool
ruggs at my hairt. Lichtlie this gin ye daur:
here Robert Burns knelt and kissed the mool.

Rosiers are rose bushes, leam is ‘gleam,’ haar ‘mist,’ glaur ‘mud,’ haps ‘covers,’ dool ‘sorrow,’ ruggs ‘tugs,’ and mool ‘earth’ (in my Scots dictionary s.v. muild, cognate with English mo(u)ld ‘earth, topsoil’; cf. Alexander Fenton’s “it was said of Birsay parish that old men would seat themselves naked on mother-earth to see if the mould could be trusted with the bere-seed”); the most surprising (to me) word is lichtlie, which looks like “lightly” and means “lightly”—but in Scots it’s also been turned into a verb meaning ‘make light of, disparage,’ so that “Lichtlie this gin ye daur” means “Disparage this if you dare.” Offhand, I can’t think of an -ly adverb that’s been verbed in Standard English.

Comments

  1. as someone who’s mother and grand parents were scottish i have always loved the old scottish writers and poets – thanks for sharing this
    Alex

  2. gaid back til the pool escapes me. Is going back to the pool (if that is indeed what it means) a common metaphor for dying?

  3. No, I think it’s Garioch’s own metaphor for dying. (That is indeed what it means.)

  4. dool is, I guess, from the French, presumably a relic of the old alliance.

  5. Apparently, you can be likelied (selected as likely to be admitted) by a college or university. Here‘s an example:
    I was likelied by (received a likely letter from) the University of Pennsylvania…

  6. Oops, I forgot to add that of course I realise likely isn’t an adverb, but at least the suffix is the same.

  7. “Offhand, I can’t think of an -ly adverb that’s been verbed in Standard English.”
    I might take that as a challenge. There has to be at least one of those somewhere.

  8. Jeffry House says:

    Oh, I suppose “Tom swiftlied along to his destination” wouldn’t count?

  9. dearieme says:

    This minds me weel o hearin makars readin in Embro in m’ sprightfu years.

  10. I’ve seen friendlying sometimes = ‘making new friends’ but more often in a causative sense, ‘making friendly’, also in compounds, like eco-friendlying, pet-friendlying, user-friendlying etc.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Strang, present dool
    ruggs at my hairt

    Bathrobe: dool is, I guess, from the French
    ????????
    Are you thinking of la douleur ‘pain, sorrow’ (from Latin dolor)? but there is no *doul(e) in French, alone or within a derivative. Another possibility could be le dol (Latin dolus) but this word means ‘fraudulent action causing harm’, which is not appropriate here.

  12. Rebecca says:

    A nice bit of verbing an adverb in this fragment of a message board post, assuming a gerund counts (emphasis mine):
    ..Ihate the way she is smugly obviously smiling all the way through – as if she is happily and helpfully providing us with a service, rather than deliberately sadistically annoying everybody. Smuglying is worse than shouting.

  13. I think Bathrobe meant to suggest that Scots ‘dool’ is from French ‘deuil’.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    MH: (‘dool’ from Fr deuil)
    I had not thought of that one, but you must be right. The TLFI gives the origin of deuil as Lat dolus (see my earlier comment), and it does appear in OFr as dol ‘sorrow, affliction’ (besides ‘fraudulent practice’, see above), and also doeil which is supposed to have been influenced by oeil ‘eye’.
    I would have thought a Late Latin *dolium would have been more likely, but according to the TLFI that hypothesis has already been considered and discarded.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    I forgot the meaning of le deuil: ‘mourning, deep sorrow after a death’, and also ‘period of time judged appropriate for displaying signs of mourning’ (eg wearing black clothes, avoiding social events, especially happy ones, etc).

  16. Indeed, deuil < dolus.

  17. Wow! Thanks. I would have rummaged around for an obscure sense of ‘daur’. Actually have done, for a minute, in http://www.­dsl.­ac.­uk, which, incidentally, searches among all the variant forms (e.g., DARE, Daur, Dere, Dar) and does a fuzzy search if it finds no exact match.
    JavaScript snippet for the location/URL field of an entry in the bookmarks bar or whatever your browser has (so you can highlight and click):
    javascript:Qr=document.getSelection().toString();if(!Qr){void(Qr=prompt(‘Define:’,”))};if(Qr)location.href=’http://www.dsl.ac.uk/dsl/getent4.php?headerframe=yes&sset=1&fset=20&printset=20&searchtype=full&dregion=form&dtext=all&query=’+escape(Qr)

  18. @dearieme if you ever see this: so do you have great stories about them?

  19. dearieme says:

    Alas, no, anya. I was just lucky: for some reason poetry readings became popular and suddenly I could hear many of that generation reading their stuff.
    My wife once spent a social evening with Norman MacCaig and a friend, and found him excellent company. He spoke with as much precision over a glass as he did in his poems; the classicist shining through perhaps. I don’t suppose “Poet charming and fascinating chap” makes much of a headline.

  20. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    I’m not sure if it’s legitimate to refer to it for Scots, but the OED has an entry for lightly, v. Chiefly Sc. It traces the etymology of the verb not to the adverb but to the (obsolete) adjective lightly, Old English léohtlic.
    A quick search in the dictionary finds a few analogous English verbs, all obsolete & rare: burly, comely, holy, jolly, loathly, lowly, mealy, melancholy, sickly, silly, unholy.
    The same search also produces one verb that does derive from a -ly adverb, though in a different manner: fully as slang for “fully commit for trial.”

  21. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Analogous, up to a point. At least jolly and melancholy get their -ly ending in a totally different way. I suppose loathly, lowly and sickly are the ones with the truly analogous -ly suffix.

  22. I think Bathrobe meant to suggest that Scots ‘dool’ is from French ‘deuil’
    It was just a lucky guess. Bathrobe wasn’t sure, but it seemed right at the time :)

  23. Actually, lucky stab in the dark would be more accurate. I don’t actually know the word deuil. But it just felt like it should come from French…

  24. “Jolly” as a verb, in British English, at least, is far from obsolete or rare: it’s fairly regularly used in the sense of “encourage, treat well”, or “liven up”.

  25. How about “lively up” (with Bob Marley’s support)?

  26. It traces the etymology of the verb not to the adverb but to the (obsolete) adjective lightly, Old English léohtlic.
    Ah, that makes sense; I should have thought to check the OED myself.

  27. “Dead Poet Gives Interview”.
    Thanks for that; I wasn’t familiar with MacCaig, and I enjoyed him immensely. “Of course I like Scotland – I like the Scots – some of them! others I detest! … I don’t like mankind – I like Jimmy, and Janey, and him, and her, but not mankind – mankind are a rotten lot. … [On MacDiarmid:] He was a committee – and none of the members agreed with the chairman.” And from one of his poems he quoted:
    World, why do you do this to us,
    giving us poison with one hand
    and the bread of life with another?
    And reason sits helpless at its desk,
    adding accounts that never balance,
    finding no excuse for anything.

  28. Here’s a nice one of his:
    Summer Farm
    Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
    And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
    The water in the horse-trough shines.
    Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.
    A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
    Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
    A swallow falls and, flickering through
    The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.
    I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
    Afraid of where a thought might take me — as
    This grasshopper with plated face
    Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
    Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
    Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
    Lift the farm like a lid and see
    Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
      Norman MacCaig

  29. Although of course I deprecate in the strongest terms his idiotic view (shared, as he says, with Philip Larkin) that jazz died in the 1930s when it became too “intellectual.” Oh yeah, well how would you like it if I said Scottish poetry died with Burns, bucko?

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    Jazz became something else after the ’30′s; that the latter thing has the same name is largely a matter of social convention. Liking the earlier thing and not caring for the latter thing is not any different from say liking Haydn but finding Bruckner too ponderous and self-serious. (Me, I like the later stuff more, but that’s a question of subjective taste.)

  31. I deprecate in the strongest terms his idiotic view (shared, as he says, with Philip Larkin) that jazz died in the 1930s when it became too “intellectual.”
    Yes, I thought the same. ‘What we’re totally clueless about we ought to pass over in silence’, in the words of one intellectual.
    Just after 9:09 I thought I heard him say ‘lichtsome’.

  32. Modern Norman has verb douler or deuler (examples from Western and Eastern dialects), meaning to sorrow. I find it easier to imagine Scots acquiring noun dool from Anglo-Norman than from French.

  33. It’s the same word as ME dol, isn’t it? Nothing mysterious about it. Norman, English, Latin, hell, you might have picked it up anywhere. Easy as fleas.

  34. dearieme says:

    I was amused to see one of the commenters at the youtube misunderstanding “a different Scottish writer each week. In this episode modern English poet …”.
    Schools these days, eh?

  35. marie-lucie says:

    GJ, Thank you for the Norman examples. I agree with you that they (or one of them) must be the source for Scots “dool”.
    Le deuil : I forgot another (related) meaning: ‘mourning attire’. In the 19th century and even later there were several degrees of mourning display: a widow started out en grand deuil, not only dressed entirely in black but wearing a semi-transparent black veil which covered the top half of her body (including her face), then en deuil (like other relatives), just wearing all black but without the veil, then later (after at least a year) it was le demi-deuil, during which grey and sometimes mauve were allowed. It took at least two years before a widow could go back to wearing more colourful clothes. Of course these conspicuous displays made it easy for a scheming woman to pretend to be in deep mourning in order to take advantage of the pity aroused by her alleged grief and diminished social situation. There are some examples in 19th C literature.
    These subtle gradations in mourning attire were not available to all classes of society. Still when I was a child, most rural women, except the very young ones, were always dressed in black, as they had had to have their entire wardrobes dyed black when there had been a death in their family, and they could not afford to get new coloured ones which would have to get dyed anyway the next time a death occurred. I think this is still true in some parts of Southern Europe.

  36. Jazz became something else after the ’30′s; that the latter thing has the same name is largely a matter of social convention.
    Nonsense. Or if it makes sense to say that, it makes equal sense to say jazz became something else after Buddy Bolden died, after Louis Armstrong started taking a lot of solos, after the 4/4 beat took over, after big bands went out of business, after Bird died… In which case you might as well say that every single performance is an entirely different thing, and they’re all called “jazz” largely as a matter of social convention. Jazz, as a musical river that grew out of the confluence of New Orleans bands playing opera tunes, ragtime, blues, Jelly Roll Morton’s ego, and all the rest of the well-known streams, has developed organically from the very beginning and continues to do so now, despite the shrieks of fear and distaste emanating from those who get left behind by each swerve (quite comparable to people who get upset about language change: “It’s not English any more!!”). I’m glad you like the later stuff, but I don’t think there’s a single jazz musician who would agree with you that it’s somehow essentially different from what Pops and Duke played. A lot of people think Anthony Braxton “doesn’t play jazz,” but he does a splendid “All the Things You Are” on 7 Compositions (Trio) 1989.
    Oh, and Wynton Marsalis can go jump in a lake. Great trumpet player, lousy historian.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    Down with Whiggish triumphalism! Genres and artforms die. Everything dies. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If the convention is to use “jazz” to refer to various eras lumped together, that’s fine. A rival convention (like that of referring to “ska” and “reggae” as different things rather than different temporal phases of the same organically-developing thing) would be fine as well.

  38. I don’t know why you think I’m exhibiting “Whiggish triumphalism”; did I say modern jazz was better? I love Jelly Roll just as much as Jarrett, and Bechet as much as Braxton. I still await your explanation of the clear and unmistakeable differences that divide what you consider entirely different forms of music, and how you will prevent your criteria from not splitting what most people consider a single musical tradition into an absurd number of specialized forms.

  39. Why absurd? Linguists split languages (notably Egyptian, which had a very long life) into a very considerable number of specialized forms, often based on very fine distinctions indeed. For some purposes you want to say they are the same (“Latin never died”), for some purposes you want to say they are different (“Latin died when Rome fell” or “when the Carolingian Empire revived it as something separate from Romance”). It’s the same story as Chinese being one language or many: context is all.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Rather than adduce all the evidence supporting the intriguing thesis that ur-jazz somehow survived the Second World War only to be slain by the hand of Keith Jarrett in 1975, let me make a sociological point, viz. that in post-WW2 Britain jazz wasn’t experienced in quite the same way because the continuous-organic-development was happening elsewhere, so if you grew up in the UK in a certain time frame you were likely to have experienced quote trad jazz unquote presented/understood/appreciated as a genre unto itself.

  41. OrpheusRedux says:

    Not a verb, but…there’s an -ly adverb which is used as a noun in a famous American musical from the Golden Age. I won’t reveal it yet–some of you hard-core word nerds may want to take a stab at figuring out who it is. If no one guesses it, I’ll give out. — O.R.

  42. let me make a sociological point, viz. that in post-WW2 Britain jazz wasn’t experienced in quite the same way because the continuous-organic-development was happening elsewhere, so if you grew up in the UK in a certain time frame you were likely to have experienced quote trad jazz unquote presented/understood/appreciated as a genre unto itself.
    Chris Barber & Humphrey Lyttleton and their public-schoolboy trad jazz bands must have been the music that Norman MacCaig & co (Larkin, Amis & Lucky Jim) listened to. I hated this stuff as a kid, and I was in good company (The Who, Stones, Cream etc.), though I was too young at the time to realise its big problem: a) it was inauthentic, combined with b) it led nowhere. Hugh Laurie’s public-school blues is a current example of the same naughty imitation nonsense (so were John Laurie’s Lounge Lizards now I come to think of it. Perhaps the name Laurie is a Scots’ curse).

  43. dearieme says:

    “it led nowhere”
    It led me to the New Orleans Wanderers, for example.
    Too tight.
    Anyway, why must music lead anywhere? That’s not its purpose, is it? It was, as Mr Larkin said, music for capering about to. Given the utter bloody awfulness of pop music between the swing bands and the Beatles, very welcome it was too.

  44. why must music lead anywhere?
    I just mean that when the Eel Pie Island musicians like the Stones & John Mayall played blues numbers it led to a whole new kind of music.
    utter bloody awfulness of pop music
    Yes, but I think of it all being part of the same inauthentic, copying-without-adding-much, Mantovani & his Orchestra thing. Muddy Waters, B.B. King & Chuck Berry are good, Elvis is worse than Chuck Berry, Cliff Richard is worse than Elvis… actually, nobody is worse than Cliff Richard.
    Nice man, though, Humph. And I haven’t listened to any of those trad bands for years. Maybe it’s better than I remember.

  45. in post-WW2 Britain jazz wasn’t experienced in quite the same way because the continuous-organic-development was happening elsewhere
    The same is true of (of all things) the evolution of horses in the Old World. Early European attempts to construct the family tree of equids were doomed to fail, because in fact equids evolved mostly in North America. There were four separate radiations to Asia and thence to Europe and Africa, each of which except the last died out. Then there was a general extinction in North America about 12,000 years ago, with equids surviving only in exile until the New World was reseeded with them about 500 years ago.
    It always seems to surprise non-historians that the Native American horse-nomad cultures were purely post-Columbian, as there were no horses available for the purpose until after the Spanish brought them.

  46. dearieme says:

    “It always seems to surprise non-historians that …”: depends on whether you attended a decent secondary school, I suppose.

  47. let me make a sociological point, viz. that in post-WW2 Britain jazz wasn’t experienced in quite the same way because the continuous-organic-development was happening elsewhere, so if you grew up in the UK in a certain time frame you were likely to have experienced quote trad jazz unquote presented/understood/appreciated as a genre unto itself.
    Ah, that’s very true (from what I’ve read), and a good point. If you’re talking about that context, I have no problem with your distinction.

  48. Well, one who attends a decent secondary school may indeed be a historian, even if not a professional historian. This professionalization of knowledge is doubtless necessary, but ought not to lead to the notion that there is no knowledge outside the professions. Here’s a relevant bit from Le Guin’s anarchist novel The Dispossessed:
    “The Second Officer,” he said, “seems to be afraid of me.”
    “Oh, with him it’s religious bigotry. He’s a strict-interpretation Epiphanist. Recites the Primes every night. A totally rigid mind.”
    “So he sees me — how?”
    “As a dangerous atheist”
    “An atheist! Why?”
    “Why, because you’re an Odonian from Anarres — there’s no religion on Anarres.” -
    “No religion? Are we stones, on Anarres?”
    “I mean established religion — churches, creeds —” Kimoe flustered easily. He had the physician’s brisk self-assurance, but Shevek continually upset it. All his explanations ended up, after two or three of Shevek’s questions, in floundering. Each took for granted certain relationships that the other could not even see. For instance, this curious matter of superiority and inferiority. Shevek knew that the concept of superiority, of relative height, was important to the Urrasti; they often used the word “higher” as a synonym for “better” in their writings, where an Anarresti would use “more central.” But what did being higher have to do with being foreign? It was one puzzle among hundreds.
    “I see,” he said now, another puzzle coming dear. “You admit no religion outside the churches. Just as you admit no morality outside the laws. You know, I had not ever understood that, in all my reading of Urrasti books.”
    “Well, these days any enlightened person would admit —”
    “The vocabulary makes it difficult,” Shevek said, pursuing his discovery. “In Pravic the word religion is seldom. No, what do you say — rare. Not often used. Of course, it is one of the Categories: the Fourth Mode. Few people learn to practice all the Modes. But the Modes are built of the natural capacities of the mind, you could not seriously believe that we had no religious capacity? That we could do physics while we were cut off from the profoundest relationship man has with the cosmos?”
    “Oh, no, not at all —”
    “That would be to make a pseudo-species of us indeed!”

  49. I don’t know what makes you two so sure. I could guess the names of a few historians who’d be pretty surprised by that, no matter how interesting or how good their school, and I’m pretty sure neither red indians nor history of horses is on the A-Level modern history syllabus so I don’t expect any big change.

  50. I said “may”, not “must” be a historian.

  51. dearieme says:

    “I’m pretty sure neither red indians nor history of horses is on the A-Level modern history syllabus”: A-level? Good God, I dropped History at 14 but we’d already been told about the Spanish horses and the Plains Indians – presumably at an age so tender that we were keen fans of horse operas, and so guaranteed to take an interest.
    Do you mean nobody told you the story when you were “doing” the history of the Iberian explorations? Poor show.

  52. Etienne says:

    John Cowan, Dearieme:
    The “Columbian exchange” is something which *very* few people (including students) know of, in my experience. I taught a “From Latin to the Romance languages” seminar at an American University some time ago, and my students’ GPA was on average in the top 10% (I wasn’t supposed to know this, but one of the secretaries explained to me that any course involving linguistics and more than one foreign language, taught by a foreign teacher, was bound to frighten away all but the top 10% of students).
    In this light, it is revealing that ALL my students were floored to learn that tomatoes and potatoes were originally purely New World crops (and that “traditional” Irish or Italian cooking involving either ingredient cannot, by definition, go back to pre-Columbian days). We didn’t discuss horses, but I am quite certain that not a single one among them knew that they had been introduced from Europe to the Americas in post-Columbian times.
    I can say this because their knowledge of history and geography was in general so poor that I quickly made it a habit of always bringing maps in class and distributing hand-outs sketching out the time and place of major relevant historical events before discussing the linguistic impact of said events.
    Looking back, I strongly suspect that many of my colleagues, if not a majority, would have been just as ignorant.

  53. dearieme says:

    Etienne: but those were American students. Crown (I assume) went to school in England. True, by tradition English secondary schools are inferior to those of France, Germany, Scotland…. but still. I’m assuming, of course, that he did study the history of the Iberian explorations. Crown?

  54. No, I can’t remember anything Iberian coming up in History before…well, 1588 – and then again later the Peninsula War, of course. Nope. But it was sort of assumed that you knew about Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh and potatoes and tobacco – Columbus himself being of course from Genoa. Tomatoes didn’t come up much. Lunchtime.
    I went to a very good school, the same one as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Major André who the Americans hanged as a spy. I can’t really blame the school for my ignorance about red indians, the fact is that I’d much rather have learnt English history and that’s what happened. The US Civil War was an option at A Level, but I chose Gladstone & Disraeli instead (it was the right choice). That’s the only time I remember North America coming up in History, something about Palmerston sending a rude message and Prince Albert on his deathbed smoothing things over. I suppose the US War of Independence must have come up while we we discussing George III.
    But now I want to know why you gave up history at 14, was it a form of rebellion?

  55. I can only speak for one american primary school, but Native american history was a favorite subject of all my grade school teachers, and we definitely learned that the plains horses came from the conquistadors. Culinary history is less romantic, so I don’t remember if we learned about the potatoes and tomatoes then.

  56. dearieme says:

    “I want to know why you gave up history at 14, was it a form of rebellion?” No, I loved it, but there were timetable constraints and something had to go. Since I knew I’d read history for fun for the rest of my life it seemed a modest sacrifice. Especially since we’d been taught very well and were already, according to our teacher, past O-level standard.
    As for your Iberians: I am stumped as to how you could study history without doing the coming of the modern world – the Age of Exploration, The Renaissance, the Reformation and so on. You really didn’t meet Prince Henry the Navigator? Shame, shame. It’s all a rattling good yarn and rather important too, much more so than the murderous Corsican or bogus stuff about Raleigh and potatoes. (It must surely be bogus, mustn’t it?) What on earth did you study: the yawn-inducing business of Plantagenets killing each other?

  57. J.W. Brewer says:

    If wikipedia is accurate, the alumni of the very posh school AJPC attended also include Alexis Korner, who gets at least as much credit as any other single individual for the Eel Pie Island scene and associated musical exodus referenced upthread, whereby young white English lads started attempting to imitate Chicago bluesmen instead of New Orleans jazzmen. That seems a more impressive association than a mere Chancellor of the Exchequer.

  58. We did Plantagenets killing one another, but that was in English (Richard II). As I said to Ø elsewhere, history isn’t about accumulating random bits of 1066 And All That-type knowledge. You do that in your spare time, if you have any, so you can later take part in your local pub quiz. As I already said, I didn’t learn about about Sir Walter Raleigh (or Robin Hood) in history, you just absorb these things, but not at school. Plains Indians on horseback: for someone growing up in London who’s to say the Plains Indians are worthier study material than the Polynesian islanders or the Zulus are? You might as well take Geography in order to learn the names of capital cities or music to learn Mozart’s Köchel numbers [inserts some quote about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing]. That doesn’t mean I’m completely without any knowledge of the Plains Indians, I did a post on their horse drawings a couple of years ago.
    Yeah, of course we did the bloody Reformation. If there’s one thing they teach you about in English schools it’s the history of Christianity.

  59. I mentioned Chris Barber, and I thought of Alexis Korner & Eel Pie Island, but I couldn’t think of a way of squeezing him in. More importantly for me Rob Manzoli, guitarist with Right Said Fred, was in my Greek History (479-402 BC) class.

  60. J.W. Brewer says:

    I suppose “I’m Too Sexy” could (at a sufficiently high level of generality . . .) be viewed as a continuation of the English tradition of posh public schoolboys appealing to the cultural authority of ancient Athens in order to undermine Christian morality (cf. Swinburne, who went to Eton).
    The closest thing American kids of my generation (e.g. starting to listen seriously to rock toward the latter part of the ’70′s) had to an Eel Pie Island-style blues revivalist was George Thorogood, who in those days followed the archaic very-early-Stones tradition of thinking he couldn’t write songs as well as Chuck Berry / Willie Dixon / Bo Diddley / Elmore James, so why should he even try? He would have gone to my high school had he been a few years younger, but is instead claimable by the next one over (my school having subsequently been built to relieve overcrowding in that one due to suburban population growth). About five miles west is the not-particularly-posh (in the US reputational hierarchy of such things) one-time boarding school where Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell first met each other (although neither graduated due to various disciplinary issues).

  61. dearieme says:

    “As I said to Ø elsewhere, history isn’t about accumulating random bits of 1066 And All That-type knowledge. ” And as I replied, Plains Indians and hosses ain’t that sort of knowledge either.
    “the Plains Indians and the Spanish horses aren’t just random facts, they are an illustration that backs up the point that the Conquistadores had horses and the Aztecs didn’t. That, in turn, is part of the discussion of how handfuls of Spaniards (plus Indian allies) could beat the huge army of a well organised empire and take over that empire entirely. (The discussion is, as far as I know, still inconclusive: so few were the Spaniards that I doubt whether horses, or steel, or gunpowder, or all three, can explain it.)”

  62. George Thorogood certainly beats anything I’ve got, J.W.
    although neither graduated due to various disciplinary issues
    Haha.
    Dearie, if you’d got as far as reading a little historiography before you sacrificed the arts for the greater good you would have found that no matter how well they hang together it’s STILL not very important whether you learnt this bit or that bit in History. What matters is learning how to process the information, much as if you were studying Maths or Physics.

  63. horses, or steel, or gunpowder
    Disease packages and crop packages, don’t forget those.
    And while you’re right at bottom, AJP, it’s still a pretty piss-poor physics class that leaves you wholly ignorant of falling bodies (though in some ways it would be better to learn why east takes you out, out takes you west, west takes you in, and in takes you east).

  64. That really depends whether you’re training students to become physicists or just telling them about physics. We got the former: thanks to Harold Wilson’s big technology push in the mid sixties we spent what must have been weeks learning how draw up an equation to measure the specific heat of water and the latent heat contained in something else. We were supposed to be on the first boring rung of the science ladder. There were other useless things like that and I’d have preferred a few lumps of interesting information, as you suggest. We did learn some optics and Newton’s laws of motion, and they’ve been useful, but I’d rather have heard about particle accelerators, black holes and H-bombs than learned to measure specific heat.

  65. dearieme says:

    “if you’d got as far as reading a little historiography before you sacrificed the arts”: but I didn’t, I sacrificed History.
    “it’s STILL not very important whether you learnt this bit or that bit in History”: it is to me. Given the choice between learning about medieval brigands and their murderous scuffles, or the sideshow that was the Peninsular War, I am delighted that we studied Exploration and so on through to the 19th century wars of Nationalism (Bismarck and Garibaldi but not, for some reason, Lincoln). It’s the stories, you see – yarns that are not only interesting in themselves, but interesting as explaining (however tentatively or incompletely) rather a lot about the world. The maritime policies of Portugal in the 15th century versus the political manoeuvres of G and D in the House of Commons in the 19th century? For me, thank goodness we did the first. G and D sound too much like a figurative specific heat vs latent heat of history.
    Anyway, much of the point of education is to take you out of your own little world; the 19th century H of C is a rather familiar and domestic setting compared to skippers pressing their little caravels down the West African coast, learning how to use the wind patterns in the Atlantic, all to find a route to the Spice Islands. You also have the great fun of discussing whether there is any lesson to be learnt from the contrast between the rational, long-headed Portuguese policy, and the off-the-cuff Castilian policy of backing an obsessive skipper who happened to be wedded intellectually to two arithmetic errors, the whole adventure – and all his crews – being saved only by his bumping accidentally into the Bahamas.
    “What matters is learning how to process the information”: I don’t know what you mean.

  66. Anyway, much of the point of education is to take you out of your own little world
    Well said, and I intend to steal it.

  67. the sideshow that was the Peninsular War…It’s the stories, you see
    Really? The Peninsular War is a fantastic story – if you didn’t study it I don’t know how you know you can disparage it – and Goya‘s a pretty good storyteller. Glad & Dis is a fantastic story too, as good as anything by Dickens, but you need good teachers to discover it.
    yarns that are not only interesting in themselves, but interesting as explaining (however tentatively or incompletely) rather a lot about the world.
    History that claims to explain a lot about the world sounds at best Victorian in outlook and at worst like something written by Arnold Toynbee.
    “What matters is learning how to process the information”: I don’t know what you mean.
    This is what I mean.

  68. dearieme says:

    “The Peninsular War is a fantastic story – if you didn’t study it I don’t know how you know you can disparage it.”
    I disparaged it as a sideshow, not as a poor story. If you are going to teach the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, fussing about the Peninsular War would be like trying to teach The Age of Exploration by focussing on the search for the North West Passage.
    “History that claims to explain a lot about the world sounds at best Victorian in outlook and at worst like something written by Arnold Toynbee.” This way madness lies – why on earth do you study history but to learn something about the world as it is, as a consequence of what has happened in the past, and something about how people have made decisions and reacted to events? You surely don’t study history to learn about the disadvantages of writing your research notes on both sides of a leaf of paper. You could learn that by studying ruddy alchemy. Or even by indulging in a little forethought. Anyway the main lesson you need to learn about the methods of historians is that they have an inordinate fondness for repeating the views of earlier historians without applying enough critical thought to them, and that, given half a chance, a historian is inclined to take sides on any topic that engages with his view of himself.
    “as good as anything by Dickens”: well that’s not saying very much, unless you happen to have A Tale of Two Cities in mind.

  69. Well, I think it’s a shame you didn’t read that diary piece by Keith Thomas – at least I’m assuming you didn’t or you wouldn’t have written that historians just repeat the views of earlier historians, because that clearly isn’t the case.

  70. dearieme says:

    “you didn’t read that diary piece by Keith Thomas”: oh but I did, as “the disadvantages of writing your research notes on both sides of a leaf of paper” suggests.
    “you wouldn’t have written that historians just repeat the views of earlier historians”: but I didn’t write that. I wrote “they have an inordinate fondness for repeating the views of earlier historians without applying enough critical thought to them” which is rather different. And rather true.

  71. From AJP’s LRB link:

    In fact, Southey published a great deal, including three-volume histories of Brazil (1810-19) and the Peninsular War (1823-32), in both of which, the ODNB tells us, ‘the curious reader can still find much engaging anecdote and odd information.’ Unfortunately, these works are said to show poor narrative grasp and a lack of perspective.

    Was it the Peninsular War reference that brought it to mind?

  72. That bought Keith Thomas’s piece to mind? No, it’s a great reference, but I love that piece. It’s such a vivid description of a working method. I love the Webbs’ principle of one-fact-one-card, and rearranging them in a different order to see what happens – and the knitting needle. And I love that he keeps envelopes of newspaper cuttings. Historians in old age are exceptionally good at recording their own lives and they do it meticulously.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for linking to the Keith Thomas piece, AJP. I liked his answer when asked about his “research method”, among many other things in the article.

  74. If you are going to teach the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, fussing about the Peninsular War would be like trying to teach The Age of Exploration by focussing on the search for the North West Passage.
    It would, but I don’t consider that a Bad Thing. We Americans learn in school about the Seven Years’ War of 1754-63 (you know, “in order that [Frederick the Great] might rob a neighbor whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America“?). But we start with our local part of it, the French and Indian War, known further north as la guerre de la Conquête — and if we don’t often get much past that, it’s not so bad. For that matter, I might begin with Frederick the Great as the man that King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is named after and why, or at a pinch the Duke of Wellington by talking about wellingtons and how they got that way.
    More generally, every bit of knowledge is the center of knowledge, because the whole thing is a web, and you might as well begin wherever you happen to be in time or space or conceptual framework.

  75. I’m glad you like it too, m-l.

Speak Your Mind

*