Milton’s Holinshed.

PhysOrg reports on a literary-historical discovery:

John Milton’s handwritten annotations have been identified in a copy of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), a vital source of inspiration for the Paradise Lost poet. The discovery, made in the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, Arizona, makes this one of only three known books to preserve Milton’s handwritten reading notes, and one of only nine books to have survived from his library.

As interesting as the find is, I confess that what grabbed my attention was this:

The findings, detailed by three researchers in the Times Literary Supplement, include Milton censoring Holinshed by crossing out a lewd anecdote about the mother of William the Conqueror, Arlete. Spotted while dancing by Robert I of Normandy, and summoned to his bed, Arlete refused to let him lift up her smock and instead tore it herself from top to bottom, explaining that it would be immodest for her ‘dependant’ garments to be ‘mountant’ to her sovereign’s mouth.

In the margin, Milton dismisses this anecdote as inappropriate and told in the style of a pedlar hawking wares on the streets. In Milton’s exact words, it was: “an unbecom[ing] / tale for a hist[ory] / and as pedlerl[y] / expresst.” “The adverb ‘pedlerly’ was quite rare in writing at the time so we are seeing Milton really stretching language to express his contempt,” said co-author Prof. Jason Scott-Warren, from Cambridge University’s English Faculty, who was consulted to confirm that the handwriting was Milton’s.

And of course I appreciated this observation:

“Milton is renowned as an enemy of press censorship,” Scott-Warren said, “but here we see he was not immune to prudishness.”

There’s more about Milton’s use of source material and other finds from his library; it ends:

The researchers point out that public libraries like Phoenix’s are “are off the beaten path for academics who work with early modern books and manuscripts.” This discovery, barely five years after the Shakespeare Folio was found in another US public library, suggests that more of Milton’s books may be out there, including in less well-known collections.

Thanks, Trevor!

Song as Signal.

Carl Zimmer’s NY Times story “Why Do People Make Music?” (archived) begins:

Music baffled Charles Darwin. Mankind’s ability to produce and enjoy melodies, he wrote in 1874, “must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.” […] Other Victorian scientists were skeptical. William James brushed off Darwin’s idea, arguing that music is simply a byproduct of how our minds work — a “mere incidental peculiarity of the nervous system.”

That debate continues to this day. Some researchers are developing new evolutionary explanations for music. Others maintain that music is a cultural invention, like writing, that did not need natural selection to come into existence.

In recent years, scientists have investigated these ideas with big data.

You can go to the link for the details of the research; I’ll excerpt this bit here:

It’s possible that songs have distinct features because they have a special role in human communication separate from speech, said Aniruddh Patel, a psychologist at Tufts University who was not involved in the study. What’s more, our brains appear to be sensitive to those features. In 2022, Dr. Patel pointed out, researchers discovered human neurons that only responded to singing — not speech or music played on instruments.

“There is something distinctive about song all around the world as an acoustic signal that perhaps our brains have become attuned to over evolutionary time,” Dr. Patel said.

On the one hand, this is intriguing stuff; on the other, the general tone reminds me of the sort of Times article I was mocking back in 2003. So I thought I’d toss it out there for Hattic de(con)struction. (Thanks, Bonnie!)

A Tremendous Book.

Anatoly Vorobey (Avva) has posted about Mallams’ auction lot 539:

Tolkien (J.R.R.). ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy Pt I.’The Fellowship of the Ring‘ 4th Imp. Nov 1955. Pt II ‘The Two Towers‘. 2nd Imp 1955. Pt III ‘The Return of the King‘ 2nd Imp 1955. Allen and Unwin, London. Original red cloth, much split and bumped with m/s letter from Roger Lloyd? with comments (3+)

Avva is convinced — and it seems very plausible to me — that the author of the letter is Roger Bradshaigh Lloyd, an Anglican priest and writer who published with Allen & Unwin; at any rate, it is an interesting look at a reader’s impression of the trilogy before it was famous. I will reproduce Avva’s transcription, with his guesses and question marks replaced by my own readings:
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Philosophy in Sakha.

Jonathan Egid has a series of interviews called Philosophising in…:

‘Philosophising in…’ is an interview series devoted to exploring the philosophical richness of lesser-studied languages from across the world. Despite recent acknowledgement of the global nature of philosophical thought, an overwhelming majority of work focuses on philosophy written in either classical languages (Greek, Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese) or contemporary European languages (German, French, English etc.). Although covering a hugely diverse body of literary philosophy, this focus nevertheless reflects the thought of only a small portion of humanity. This series aims to rectify this narrowness by examining the philosophical ideas of peoples the world over, especially those expressed in the languages, of Africa, Asia and the Americas. […] Interviews are conducted with philosophers who are experts in the chosen language, and explore some philosophical ideas distinctive of that linguistic culture, the history of their production and the methodology by which these insights are discovered, often in spaces at the interface of literacy and orality.

I don’t have a great deal of interest in philosophy as an academic study, although I do enjoy reading the more literary philosophers (Plato, Nietzsche), but I am intensely interested in different ways of seeing the world, so I’m eager to investigate the series, and the first one I looked at was Philosophy in… Sakha, an interview with Justin Smith-Ruiu: “In this interview on philosophising in Sakha, we discuss Olonkho poetry, the distinctive position of Sakha in the diverse linguistic landscape of North Asia, and its fate under the Soviet Union, as well as ‘hyperactive intentionality detection devices’, the philosophical significance of animism, and living in the coldest inhabited regions of the world.” I’ll quote some chunks, but the whole thing is worth reading, and there are some gorgeous photos.
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Can North Africans Understand Maltese?

This 35-minute video is a real treat:

What is the degree of mutual intelligibility between the North African dialects of Arabic, from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and the Maltese language […] In this video, we’ll take a look at how well Libyans, Tunisians, Algerians, and Moroccans can understand Maltese with Sean (Maltese speaker) reading a couple of short paragraphs and proverbs to Lameese, Donia, Yasser, and Jihane, who represent Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, respectively.

It’s hosted by Bahador Alast, who apparently has a whole series of such videos (e.g., Yemenite vs Samaritan vs Modern Hebrew). I know enough basic Arabic vocabulary that I was able to follow what was going on, and I expect it to be of considerable interest to drasvi (if he hasn’t seen it already).

Also, Jongseong Park sent me his new video (19:00) about the Tham Lanna script of northern Thailand:
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Metalepsis: Twikent.

I was not familiar with the term metalepsis, which the OED (entry revised 2001) defines thus:

The rhetorical figure consisting in the metonymical substitution of one word for another which is itself a metonym; (more generally) any metaphorical usage resulting from a series or succession of figurative substitutions. Also: an instance of this.

It’s from post-classical Latin metalepsis < ancient Greek μετάληψις ‘alternation, succession.’ Some of the citations are quite lively:

1550 Transsumpcion, is when by degrees we go to yᵗ that is shewed as: he hyd hym selfe in the blacke dennes. By blacke, is vnder stand ful of darkenes & consequently stepe downe, and verye depe. [Margin] Metalepsis.
R. Sherry, Treatise of Schemes & Tropes sig. Cv

1589 The figure Metalepsis, which I call the farfet, as when we had rather fetch a word a great way off then to vse one nerer hand to expresse the matter aswel & plainer.
G. Puttenham, Arte of English Poesie iii. xvii. 152

1930 Naturally a man who could combine a synecdoche and a metalepsis with intent to deceive would be capable of anything.
Journal Royal Statist. Society vol. 93 237

1975 In a metalepsis a word is substituted metonymically for a word in a previous trope, so that a metalepsis can be called, maddeningly but accurately, a metonymy of a metonymy.
H. Bloom, Map of Misreading ii. v. 102

(Puttenham’s farfet = far-fetched.) But even livelier is the Icelandic example given in the Wikipedia article, introduced as follows:
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Tu doces.

I was amused by the Victorian-era jokes in this Laudator Temporis Acti post (quoting a Classical Journal squib from 1925):

A correspondent recalls the following which he read in copies of Harper’s Drawer published 70 years ago:

Motto for a tea-caddy: Tu doces (thou tea-chest).

Motto given by a wag to a newly rich tobacconist who had just acquired a carriage: Quid rides (English pronunciation). Soon the tobacconist lost his money and absconded. The wag wrote on the door of the shop: Quid fles.

An English gentleman serving clam stew to his guests found much broth and few clams. In serving the last guest he searched long for a clam. Finally he brought up from the bottom of the tureen a single bivalve and exclaimed triumphantly: De profundis clam-avi (clam ’ave I).

Tu doces (which at the time would have been read aloud “too dough-seez”) means ‘you (sg.) teach,’ or in the fusty English of the Latinism of the day “thou teachest.” I found this clever enough to google it and discovered it was already a gray-bearded knee-slapper in 1856:

Quid rides means ‘Why are you laughing?’ and the second word would have been pronounced “rye-deez,” but here of course the jokester wants “rides (English pronunciation).” Quid fles means ‘Why are you crying?’ and the second word would have been pronounced “fleez,” like the verb “flees.” And the clam-avi (clam ’ave I) joke is a good illustration of the extreme nature of pre-reform anglicized Latin.

Kaverin’s Unknown Artist.

Once again I’ve finished a novel without having a clue what to say about it — not because it’s beneath description but because it’s doing unusual things in ways I’m not familiar with. You’d think I’d be used to Veniamin Kaverin, having read and enjoyed his Скандалист [The troublemaker] (post) and Перед зеркалом [Before the mirror] (post), but he’s the kind of writer who doesn’t repeat himself, and Художник неизвестен [The artist is unknown, tr. as The Unknown Artist] (see this post) kept me off balance from beginning to end. Fortunately, Michael Falchikov has a useful chapter-by-chapter summary in Neil Cornwell’s indispensable Reference Guide to Russian Literature, which I will further condense to give you an idea of what plot there is.

The novel is divided into eight parts (“Encounters”) with an epilogue. […] The novel opens on a Leningrad street scene, peopled by various examples of low life. Arkhimedov and his neighbour Shpektorov meet and go to Arkhimedov’s run-down studio where he lives with his wife Esfir and baby son Ferdinand (named after the German socialist Lassalle). Shpektorov knows that Arkhimedov has failed to adapt to “real life” […]. A chance meeting at Lassalle’s statue between the narrator and Arkhimedov with Ferdinand leads to a night of conversation, after which the narrator resolves to write a book about Arkhimedov at some future date. […] Meanwhile, Arkhimedov has drifted away from Esfir and now spends his time in a children’s theatre, with two disciples, Zhaba and Vizel’. […] The next Encounter takes the author away from Leningrad to a state farm in the steppes where Shpektorov is working […]. A Dr Veselago now enters the story and tells a touching tale of encountering Arkhimedov in the street, defending a group of homeless people, who are being cleared out of the city as undesirables. Arkhimedov takes up their plea for trust and is himself arrested. The author goes looking for him and finds Esfir working in the theatre as a costumier. However, Shpektorov is already there and the author and Vizel overhear a conversation in which he begs her to give up Arkhimedov and acknowledge Ferdinand as their child. But she refuses and, shockingly, a short while after, throws herself to her death from the fifth floor. [Arkhimedov becomes a half-crazed drunk and disrupts a wedding.] The enigmatic epilogue describes a painting depicting the scene of Esfir’s death, with the final cryptic designation — “Artist Unknown”.

But what does it all mean? It has to do with the politics and literary politics of 1920s Leningrad, for which I turn to Donald Piper’s very helpful 1970 monograph V. A. Kaverin: A Soviet Writer’s Response to the Problem of Commitment: The Relationship of Skandalist and Khudozhnik Neizvesten to the Development of Soviet Literature in the Late Nineteen-twenties:
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Glossary Words.

Some interesting tidbits in this TLS column:

Should you find yourself sat in a crumby crib or a cockloft, a passing spring-cart audible without, with only a glass of negus to drink and toast-and-water to eat – alas, we fear you must have tumbled into the world of The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens.

This collection of sketches began as a series in Dickens’s journal All the Year Round. It roams “now about the city streets: now, about the country by-roads”, its narrator “seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I think may interest others”. It interests us in turn to see that The Uncommercial Traveller has now been published in the Oxford Edition of Charles Dickens, edited by J. H. Alexander (Oxford University Press, £190). This new edition boasts a glossary that could be useful to anyone who wishes to get to grips with the archaic lingo of the 1860s.

Happily (“perhaps”) a bobby has remained a familiar term, even if that’s not what most people would today call a policeman. Most people have no cause, meanwhile, to look out for the once-common drayman (a “driver of low horse-drawn beer cart”), still less a drysalter (a “dealer in articles for dyeing and related products”). We wish we could reintroduce into everyday usage the fine adjective cannibalic (“just awful, shockingly bad”) – not to mention the even finer saponaceous (“soapy”).

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M.I.T. Grandpa.

In Connie Wang’s NY Times review (archived) of Wenyan Lu’s novel The Funeral Cryer (a fine example, by the way, of the benefits of opening up the paper to a more diverse group of reviewers), she talks about the “professional wailers, usually from China, who are paid to cry at funerals”:

While I’ve never personally witnessed a funeral crier, my family comes from the parts of China that still employ this and other local traditions that have endured even as their young people have moved abroad. For example, my American husband finds it confusing that I don’t know the given names of my extended family members despite my closeness to them; he can’t understand why a 36-year-old woman still refers to her friends’ parents as “Soft Tofu” or “M.I.T. Grandpa.”

Observed through a Western lens, this preference for pet names and terms of kinship can seem juvenile, even disrespectful. But for Chinese people with roots in small villages, this is simply the way life is, and has been. The lack of given names is just one of the cultural dissonances that Wenyan Lu employs throughout her debut novel […]

It reminded me of the variety of naming practices discussed in this 2011 post (“In Thailand people have a nickname, that is usually not related to their actual name, and will generally use this name to address each other in non-formal situations. […] Often they will have different nicknames for family and friends.”).