Friday, September 30, 2011


‘…It is observed by Schlegel, that his tone of the tragedies of Euripides approaches more nearly to modern taste than to the stern simplicity of his predecessors. The passion of love predominates in his pieces, and he is the first tragedian who paid tribute to that sentiment which has been too exclusively made the moving cause of interest on the modern stage,—the first who sacrificed to

" Cupid, king of gods and men."

The dramatic use of this passion has been purified in modern times, by the introduction of that tone of feeling, which, since the age of Chivalry, has been a principal ingredient in heroic affection. This was unknown to the ancients, in whose society females, generally speaking, held a low and degraded place, from which few individuals emerged, unless those who aspired to the talents and virtues proper to the masculine sex. Women were not forbidden to become competitors for the laurel or oaken crown offered to genius and to patriotism; but antiquity held out no myrtle wreath, as a prize for the domestic virtues peculiar to the female character. Love, therefore, in Euripides, does not always breathe purity of sentiment, but is stained with the mixture of violent and degrading passions. This, however, was the fault of the age, rather than of the poet, although he is generally represented as an enemy of the female sex; and his death was ascribed to a judgment of Venus.

" When blood-hounds met him by the way,
And monsters made the bard their prey." 

This great dramatist was less successful than Sophocles in the construction of his plots; and, instead of the happy expedients by which his predecessor introduces us to the business of the drama, he had too often recourse to the mediation of a prologue, who came forth lo explain, in detail, the previous history necessary to understand the piece…’

Chambers’ Book of Days credits September 30th as being the day the Athenian tragedian Euripides was born.  The year was 480 B.C.  The text above comes from Sir Walter Scott’s “Essay on the Drama”.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


On September 29, 1844, Thomas Carlyle writes to Ralph Waldo Emerson concerning the death of Scottish author John Sterling, whose biography Carlyle would publish in 1851. 

Dear Emerson,
There should a Letter have come for you by that Steamer; for I wrote one duly, and posted it in good time myself: I will hope therefore it was but some delay of some subaltern official, such as I am told occasionally chances, and that you got the Letter after all in a day or two. It would give you notice, more or less, up to its date, of all the points you had inquired about: there is now little to be added; except concerning the main point, That the Catastrophe has arrived there, as we foresaw, and all is ended. 

John Sterling died at his house in Ventnor on the night of Wednesday 18th September, about eleven o'clock; unexpectedly at last, and to appearance without pain. His Sister-in-law, Mrs Maurice, had gone down to him from this place about a week before; other friends were waiting as it were in view of him; but he wished generally to be alone, to continue to the last setting his house and his heart more and more in order for the Great Journey. For about a fortnight back he had ceased to have himself formally dressed; had sat only in his dressinggown, but I believe was still daily wheeled into his Library, and sat very calmly sorting and working there. He sent me two Notes, and various messages, and gifts of little keepsakes to my Wife and myself: the Notes were brief, stern and loving; altogether noble; never to be forgotten in this world. His Brother Anthony, who had been in the Isle of Wight within call for several weeks, had now come up to Town again; but, after about a week, decided that he would run down again, and look. He arrived on the Wednesday night, about nine o'clock; found no visible change; the brave Patient calm as ever, ready to speak as ever,—to say, in direct words which he would often do, or indirectly as his whole speech and conduct did, “God is Great.” Anthony and he talked for a while, then took leave for the night; in few minutes more, Anthony was summoned to the bedside, and at 11 o'clock as I said the curtain dropt, and it was all ended.— Euge [Alas]! …’

Walter Scott penned several biographies himself.  Richard Holt Hutton compares Scott’s and Carlyle’s work in his biography “Sir Walter Scott”.

‘…The editing of Dryden alone would have seemed to most men of leisure a pretty full occupation for these eight years, and though I do not know that Scott edited with the anxious care with which that sort of work is often now prepared, that he went into all the arguments for a doubtful reading with the pains that Mr. Dyce spent on the various readings of Shakespeare, or that Mr. Spedding spent on a various reading of Bacon, yet Scott did his work in a steady, workmanlike manner, which satisfied the most fastidious critics of that day, and he was never, I believe, charged with hurrying or scamping it. His biographies of Swift and Dryden are plain solid pieces of work—not exactly the works of art which biographies have been made in our day—not comparable to Carlyle's studies of Cromwell or Frederick, or, in point of art, even to the life of John Sterling, but still sensible and interesting, sound in judgment, and animated in style.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

George Buchanan

‘Having little or no property save his bare designation, Sir Mungo had been early attached to Court in the capacity of whipping-boy, as the office was then called, to King James the Sixth, and, with his Majesty, trained to all polite learning by his celebrated preceptor, George Buchanan. The office of whipping-boy doomed its unfortunate occupant to undergo all the corporeal punishment which the Lord's Anointed, whose proper person was of course sacred, might chance to incur, in the course of travelling through his grammar and prosody. Under the stern rule, indeed, of George Buchanan, who did not approve of the vicarious mode of punishment, James bore the penance of his own faults, and Mungo Malagrowther enjoyed a sinecure ; but James's other pedagogue, Master Patrick Young, went more ceremoniously to work, and appalled the very soul of the youthful king by the floggings which he bestowed on the whipping-boy, when the royal task was not suitably performed…’

The humanist, poet, and historian George Buchanan reaches the pages of Walter Scott’s “The Fortunes of Nigel” as tutor for James VI of Scotland.  James was not Buchanan’s first student.  As a result of persecution of Lutherans in Scotland (1539), Buchanan fled the country for some 20 years, moving to the continent.  He was about 33 years old at the time.  Here he picked up a notable pupil; Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. Well after Montaigne, at a time when Buchanan had returned to Scotland (1560), and just before James, Buchanan tutored James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots.  Royal tutor George Buchanan died on September 28, 1582.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From the Somme River toward England

‘…While things were in this state, William, the Duke of Normandy, and the leader of that valiant people, whose ancestors had conquered that province, began, upon the death of good King Edward the Confessor, to consider the season as favourable for an attempt to conquer the wealthy kingdom of England- and pretended King Edward had named him his heir; but his surest reliance was upon a strong army….’

On September 27, 1066, the event Walter Scott is leading to in his “Tales of a Grandfather” began to take place.  On that date, William the Conqueror left from the Somme River on his way to conquering England.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saint Cyprian the Magician

‘…"Poor brother Cyprian, at your Highness's command," said the father.
"Ay, ay, brother Cyprian," continued the Prince, "yes. Brother Cyprian shall let you out at some secret passage which he knows of, and I will see him again to pay a Prince's thanks for it."…’

It is not Saint Cyprian in Walter Scott’s “The Fair Maid of Perth”, but a namesake, at least.  And who would know about secret passages but a magician.  The former pagan magician converted to Catholicism, ultimately becoming a bishop.  Cyprian, and Saint Justina, with whom Cyprian had attempted to become intimate prior to his conversion, were both beheaded on September 26, 304 during a persecution imposed by Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Richard Porson

The man for whom the term Porsoniana came into being, ceased being on September 25, 1808.  Much can be learned of Richard Porson by reading William Maltby’s “Porsoniana”, a collection of anecdotes concerning the eponymous subject.  An exceptionally talented individual, by all accounts, he was also one who could begin the morning with porter, and spend the night with other legal beverages.  Porson made his mark in classical scholarship, and even merited a literary law being named after him (Porson's Law).  

The Edinburgh Annual Register (1808), edited by Walter Scott, carries a substantial obituary on Mr. Porson.

Sept. 25. Richard Porson, M. A. Greek professor at Cambridge.

Yesterday the remains of Professor Porson were removed from the London Institution, Old Jewry, to be deposited in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. The hearse, accompanied by four mourning coaches and six private carriages, arrived at Cambridge this day at two o'clock. The body lay in the hall, in state, till five, at which hour the Lord Bishop of Bristol, (master of the college), the vice-master, senior and junior fellows, bachelors of arts, scholars, and other members resident in the university, in their academical habits, and in black scarfs, bands, and gloves, walked from the combination-room, accompanied by the chief-mourners into the hall; and, after moving round the body, which was placed in the midst, they took their seats, the chief-mourners being placed onthe right hand and left of the master. Several epitaphs in Greek and English verse, the effusions of reverential respect for his high attainments, and of love for his virtues, were placed on the pall, and were read with the most sympathetic interest by his former associates in study. An anthem was chaunted by the choir; and the body was then conveyed to the chapel, supported by the eight senior fellows, and followed by the junior fellows, bachelors, scholars, and servants of the college two and two.

On entering the chapel, which was illuminated, the Lord Bishop, chief-mourners, and all the members of the college took their places, and the choir performed an anthem. After which, the lord bishop read the lesson, and the procession moved in the same order to the grave, which was at the foot of the statue of Sir Isaac Newton, and surrounded by those of all the illustrious persons which this college has produced. When they had taken their stations round the grave, and the body was placed above it ready for interment, the funeral anthem was performed by the choir, in the adjoining chapel, during the most perfect silence of the auditory, and with the most solemn effect. The service was then read by the lord bishop with as awful, dignified, and impressive a pathos as was ever witnessed on any former solemnity of the kind. He was himself overwhelmed as he proceeded by his feelings; and he communicated the sympathetic emotion to every listening friend of the deceased. Nothing could be more solemn nor more affecting than his tone and delivery. The whole assembly seemed to be oppressed with sorrow at the irreparable loss which the university, and the world in general, had sustained by the death of such an ornament of literature.

Professor Porson was born at East Ruston, in Norfolk, on Christmasday, 1759. Exhibiting evident signs of prodigious genius, he was sent to Eton by Mr Norris; and by the exertions of his friends was enabled to enter a student at Trinity College, in 1777. In 1781, he took his degree of master of arts, and in 1791 was elected Greek professor of Cambridge, with a salary of but 40£. a year. In 1795, he married Mrs Lunan, sister of Mr Perry, editor of the Morning Chronicle, but who sank under a decline in April 1797. It is needless here to enter into an enumeration of his literary compositions, or to appreciate their merit, as they are known to every classical scholar throughout Europe.