Homer Spews, We Lick

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (Preface):

What a company of poets hath this year brought out, as Pliny complains to Sossius Sinesius. This April every day some or other have recited. What a catalogue of new books all this year, all this age (I say), have our Frankfort Marts, our domestic Marts brought out? Twice a year, Proferunt se nova ingenia et ostentant, we stretch our wits out, and set them to sale, magno conatu nihil agimus. So that which Gesner much desires, if a speedy reformation be not had, by some prince’s edicts and grave supervisors, to restrain this liberty, it will run on in infinitum. Quis tam avidus librorum helluo, who can read them?

As already, we shall have a vast chaos and confusion of books, we are oppressed with them, our eyes ache with reading, our fingers with turning. For my part I am one of the number, nos numerus sumus, (we are mere ciphers): I do not deny it, I have only this of Macrobius to say for myself, Omne meum, nihil meum, ’tis all mine, and none mine. As a good housewife out of divers fleeces weaves one piece of cloth, a bee gathers wax and honey out of many flowers, and makes a new bundle of all, Floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant, I have laboriously collected this cento out of divers writers, and that sine injuria, I have wronged no authors, but given every man his own; which Hierom so much commends in Nepotian; he stole not whole verses, pages, tracts, as some do nowadays, concealing their authors’ names, but still said this was Cyprian’s, that Lactantius, that Hilarius, so said Minutius Felix, so Victorinus, thus far Arnobius: I cite and quote mine authors (which, howsoever some illiterate scribblers account pedantical, as a cloak of ignorance, and opposite to their affected fine style, I must and will use) sumpsi, non suripui; and what Varro, lib. 6. de re rust. speaks of bees, minime maleficae nullius opus vellicantes faciunt delerius, I can say of myself, Whom have I injured?

The matter is theirs most part, and yet mine, apparet unde sumptum sit (which Seneca approves), aliud tamen quam unde sumptum sit apparet, which nature doth with the aliment of our bodies incorporate, digest, assimilate, I do concoquere quod hausi, dispose of what I take. I make them pay tribute, to set out this my Maceronicon, the method only is mine own, I must usurp that of Wecker e Ter. nihil dictum quod non dictum prius, methodus sola artificem ostendit, we can say nothing but what hath been said, the composition and method is ours only, and shows a scholar. Oribasius, Aesius, Avicenna, have all out of Galen, but to their own method, diverso stilo, non diversa fide. Our poets steal from Homer; he spews, saith Aelian, they lick it up. Divines use Austin’s words verbatim still, and our story-dressers do as much; he that comes last is commonly best,

———donec quid grandius aetas
Postera sorsque ferat melior.———

Though there were many giants of old in physic and philosophy, yet I say with Didacus Stella, A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself; I may likely add, alter, and see farther than my predecessors; and it is no greater prejudice for me to indite after others, than for Aelianus Montaltus, that famous physician, to write de morbis capitis after Jason Pratensis, Heurnius, Hildesheim, &c., many horses to run in a race, one logician, one rhetorician, after another.

Robert Burton (scholar) - Wikipedia

A Mere Scholar, A Mere Ass

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy 1.2.3:

“Hear Tully pro Archia Poeta: whilst others loitered, and took their pleasures, he was continually at his book, so they do that will be scholars, and that to the hazard (I say) of their healths, fortunes, wits, and lives. How much did Aristotle and Ptolemy spend? unius regni precium they say, more than a king’s ransom; how many crowns per annum, to perfect arts, the one about his History of Creatures, the other on his Almagest? How much time did Thebet Benchorat employ, to find out the motion of the eighth sphere? forty years and more, some write: how many poor scholars have lost their wits, or become dizzards, neglecting all worldly affairs and their own health, wealth, esse and bene esse, to gain knowledge for which, after all their pains, in this world’s esteem they are accounted ridiculous and silly fools, idiots, asses, and (as oft they are) rejected, contemned, derided, doting, and mad. Look for examples in Hildesheim spicel. 2, de mania et delirio: read Trincavellius, l. 3. consil. 36, et c. 17. Montanus, consil. 233. Garceus de Judic. genit. cap. 33. Mercurialis, consil. 86, cap. 25. Prosper Calenius in his Book de atra bile; Go to Bedlam and ask. Or if they keep their wits, yet they are esteemed scrubs and fools by reason of their carriage: after seven years’ study

———statua, taciturnius exit,
Plerumque et risum populi quatit.———

He becomes more silent than a statue, and generally excites people’s laughter. Because they cannot ride a horse, which every clown can do; salute and court a gentlewoman, carve at table, cringe and make conges, which every common swasher can do, hos populus ridet, &c., they are laughed to scorn, and accounted silly fools by our gallants. Yea, many times, such is their misery, they deserve it: a mere scholar, a mere ass.”

Image result for medieval manuscript reading

Pseudo-Scholarship and Profit

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

“The scholar, like the philosopher, can contemplate the river of time. He contemplates it not as a whole, but he can see the facts, the personalities, floating past him, and estimate the relations between them, and if his conclusions could be as valuable to us as they are to himself he would long ago have civilized the human race. As you know, he has failed. True scholarship is incommunicable, true scholars rare. There are a few scholars, actual or potential, in the audience today, but only a few, and there is certainly none on the platform. Most of us are pseudo-scholars, and I want to consider our characteristics with sympathy and respect, for we are a very large and quite a powerful class, eminent in Church and State, we control the education of the Empire, we lend to the Press such distinction as it consents to receive, and we are a welcome asset at dinner-parties.

Pseudo-scholarship is, on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning. It also has an economic side, on which we need not be hard. Most of us must get a job before thirty, or sponge on our relatives, and many jobs can only be got by passing an exam. The pseudo-scholar often does well in examination (real scholars are not much good), and even when he fails he appreciates their innate majesty. They are gateways to employment, they have power to ban and bless. A paper on King Lear may lead somewhere, unlike the rather far-fetched play of the same name. It may be a stepping-stone to the Local Government Board. He does not often put it to himself openly and say ‘That’s the use of knowing things, they help you to get on.’ The economic pressure he feels is more often subconscious, and he goes to his exam, merely feeling that a paper on King Lear is a very tempestuous and terrible experience but an intensely real one. And whether he be cynical or naif, he is not to be blamed. As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider.”

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Twenty Links for Twenty Days of Protest

“Surely, justice will overcome the architects of lies and their false witnesses.”

καὶ μέντοι καὶ δίκη καταλήψεται ψευδέων τέκτονας καὶ μάρτυρας.

Heraclitus, fr. 118

αἱ εἴκοσι ἡμέραι, “twenty days”

We have now seen 20 days in first local then international  protests over the death of George Floyd, police violence, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are only at the beginning of our shared action and responsibility. (And not near the end of the protest: Breonna Taylor‘s killers have bot been arrested and Rayshard Brooks was killed mere days ago.)

Below are some resources and links I have found helpful and hope others will use to think about our place in this particular space and time and our obligations moving forward. Since this is a Greek and Roman literature blog with a focus on Classical Studies in general, a good deal of the material assembled  is concerned with that.

As Classicists, we have a lot to think about, but our thoughts and actions need to be for the long term in support of what the protests achieve and to help advance and solidify their aims. One question as a starting point, how is a canon like a statue?

N.B. Please do let me know if you want anything else added to this list. I have assembled this mainly for those who don’t spend a lot of time on twitter, etc.

Resources for action and education

  1. A homepage for resources to engage in protest and support Black Lives Matter. See also the Movement for Black Lives homepage
  2. Mariame Kaba on Defunding the Police
  3. Collection of Resources for Anti-Racism compiled by Rebecca Futo Kennedy (see also her blogposts about the racism intrinsic to the concept of “western civilization“). See this Anti-racist reading list too and this slightly older one.
  4. Keeange-Yamahtta Taylor:  “How Do We Change America?
  5.  If someone doubts police brutality: a list of videos.
  6. Education from Academics 4 Black Lives Video
  7. Racism in Publishing


  1. The SCS Statement is pretty good and the ACL Statement shows much improvement thanks in part to the activism of Dani Bostick and others like Ian Lockey. As a long time member, I would like to single out the CAMWS Statement for its weakness (a call for “robust, respectful dialogue” but no mention of black lives, police violence, white supremacy or the complicity of classical education).

    Screenshot 2020-06-14 19.34.38
    Just in case they edit the statement….
  2. Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium (MRECC) Statement in Solidarity and Action Plan
  3. EOS (Africana Receptions of Greece and Rome) and their special session of EOS Reads. My colleague Cat Gillespie and I are bringing this to Brandeis.
  4. Asian American Caucus’ Statements of Solidarity and links for donations.
  5. A Student response to the Oxford Classics Statement (statement here)
  6. Classics and Social Justice Statement
  7. Brandeis’ Statements: followed by a community meeting and a two-day workship: President’s call for proposals and the superior statement by students in the Justice; and a presentation on America’s Racial Reckoning by Chad Williams, Anita Hill, Leah Wright Rigueur, and Daniel Kryder. My department has not issued an individual statement because we stand by our institutional response and believe that we need to listen and learn before making significant changes to our policies and our curricula. I say this as Chair of the Department and with deep respect for my colleagues at other institutions who have felt compelled to make statements of solidarity: statements are not enough from our field.


  1. Sportula and Sportula Europe. Just donate to them.
  2. Vanessa Stovall’s  “A Tale of Two Creons: Black Tragedies, White Anxieties, and the Necessity of Abolition.”
  3. Pria Jackson’s “Fight or Die: How to Move From Statements to Actions.”
  4. The Our Voices: A Conference for Inclusive Classics Pedagogy actually happened in this calendar year
  5. A personal account of how racism and ableism in Classics can drive someone out: Stefani Echeverria-Fenn’s “On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything
  6. The Queer Classicist on Racism in Classics
Black Lives Fucking Matter“, “A.C.A.B.“, and “Fuck 12” graffiti on a looted Target store on Lake Street in Minneapolis the morning of May 28, from Wikipedia

Reading Like a Scholar (i.e. Like a Boss)

Celio Calcagnini, Letter to Tommaso Calcagnini:

“For my part, whatever I read, whatever I think, I store it in the storehouses of my mind as if I were about to bring it forth for the use of human activity. And since I think that it is too difficult to excerpt everything separately, I put many things into a commentary, or write it separately on a little sheet. But in the margin, I make compendious notes, separate from the text, of everything which seems worth of some notice. If any of these things really stand out as particularly capital or excellent, I place them in the peak (or one might say the crown) of the margin. From this practice springs some utility, allowing me to reconsider several volumes within the space of an hour and a half. I once tried to wrangle Pliny’s Natural History into an epitome, since I always burned with wondrous desire for that author. But undoubtedly I acted the fool, because I ended up copying out almost everything in Pliny.”


Ego profecto quicquid lego, quicquid meditor, ita omne in arcanis animi recondo, quasi mox ad usum humanarum actionum expositurus. Et quoniam arduum nimis reor omnia seorsum excerpere, multa sane in commentarium refero, aut seorsum in pagella exscribo. Sed in margine compendiose omnia, quae digna sunt aliqua animadversione, sepono: quod siqua praestant, quasi coryphaea et optimatia in summa marginis coronide. Hinc ea mihi utilitas nascitur, ut vel sesquihora multa possim volumina recognoscere. Tentavi aliquando Plinii Naturalem Historiam in epitomen revocare, quando eius autoris mira semper cupidine exarsi: sed rem sine controversia ridiculam feci, qui omnem ferme Plinium exscripserim.

An Assessment of Byzantine Scholars

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“John Tzetzes, that most unpleasant man, pretended to wider reading than he possessed and was a complete failure as a critic; but he had some advantages that we have not. The three princes of the church, Eustathius of Thessalonica, Michael Choniates of Athens and Gregory of Corinth (c. 1200), rank much higher. From Acominatus we learn that, apart from the Acropolis, the ancient monuments of Athens were already in his day as ruined, and her ancient traditions as forgotten, as when exploration began in the seventeenth century. The amount of material on Homer amassed by Eustathius is astounding, and his commentary, one of the first printed books, dominated Homeric studies for years; we possess it in the author’s own hand. At home it would not have found a public, even if the disastrous Fourth Crusade had not brought about a general decline and made havoc of the still ample heritage of ancient literature.

The damage was irreparable. Henceforth it was only small groups, mostly in monasteries, who exerted themselves to save the last remains.”

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Revising The Future of the Past

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 4.25

“An epidemic in that year provided a break from other problems.”

Pestilentia eo anno aliarum rerum otium praebuit.

Today Nandini Pandey has a smart piece out in Eidolon (“Classics After Coronavirus“) where she asks a group of people who see different perspectives of Classical Studies to think about what impact COVID-19 will have on the future of these disciplines. (And it is smart not because she asked me to write something for it, but because she got a group of really smart other people to write thoughtfully in the midst of a crises: check out the article for good prognostications by Joy Connolly, Sarah Bond, Amy Pistone, Del A. Maticic, Scott Lepisto, Michelle Bayouth, Mira Seo and Shelley P. Halley”).

It’s no secret around my house that I think about these things a lot. Really, I am one or two turns in life away from being straight-up prepper. And I may be breaking a little alarmist here, but I worry that COVID-19 is merely a dress-rehearsal for the ravages of climate change, which may well include new pandemics in additional to destabilized weather. Even more frightening, old pandemics and viruses could find new life our changing environment.

At least, this is what science fiction says: archaeologists in Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book resurrect the boubonic plague while plying their craft. It’s not all bad: Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio presents an ancient retrovirus that hastens the next stage in human evolution. But, really, apart from that, it gets pretty bad: the worst usually comes when man conspires with nature as in the famous apocalypse of Stephen King’s The Stand or the vampire trilogy by Justin Cronin (The Passage, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors) which centers, gulp, around academics playing with life and death in places like Cambridge, MA and New York City.

My point is not that we should keep hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but that I think my comments in the Eidolon piece do not go nearly far enough because, as I think Scott Lepisto is starting to say, we need radical change fast and we’re not talking about Classics. If there is a silver lining in this shitberg our current leadership is piloting straight towards, it is that we might just get hurt enough to change our ways, to avoid the worst of what could come.

Or, well, that’s what I say so I can sleep tonight. At the end of it, the fact is that we are more likely to see a civilization shifting cataclysm now than five years ago. And we should be thinking about what that means for the way we talk about the past.

So here’s a re-post from last year.

*     *     *     *

In the final book of Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Death’s End, when faced with an unstoppable extinction-level event, Cheng Xin and Ai AA go to the distant edge of the solar system to try to preserve some artifacts of human existence from the encroachment of two-dimensional space. When they reach the isolated moon bunker where many of the objects are stored, they come upon miles of inscriptions in the surface rock. Previous plans to preserve human knowledge had included etching human history and knowledge into the stone. Teams of scientists and data specialists could devise no method which ensured as long a future as the multilingual inscriptions in space.

Any system of encoding and preserving knowledge—whether we are talking of raw, binary data or language—relies upon two challenges for legibility in the future. The first is a ‘key’—some type of instruction that might indicate to readers unfamiliar with language or code how to make meaning out of signs. The second challenge is medium—how do the materials which encode the information respond to the passage of time and elements.

Encrypted digital data in every form faces the danger of significant loss under even the best of conditions; changing software and computational paradigms can make accessing extant data even more difficult. The decryption of preserved digital data relies on the end-user being able to access functional hardware and manipulate the same original data protocol. Despite the ability to extend human life centuries through hibernation and the technology to create space ships which traveled at the speed of light, the humans of Cixin’s universe can find no better way to preserve the past than cold, alien stone.

The survival of the past into the future is something of a motif in science fiction, thanks to its longue durée perspective. Just in the past year, I have read of the ‘classicist’ in Adrian Tchaikovksy’s Children of Time series, a figure whose knowledge of the past and ability to use ancient programs makes him central to the survival of the human race. In many cases, such as the works of Isaac Asimov, the Earth we know and the past we cherish is entirely forgotten or mostly unsalvageable. But for every novel that imagines the preservation of knowledge over time—like Neal Stephenson’s Anathem—we have the more stark reality to deal with of strange re-uses of our reconstructed past as in Ada Palmer’s Terra Incognota series or generations of lost knowledge over time, as in Walter Miller Jr.’s classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

“The prophecy which was given to the Thessalians was ordering them to consider “the hearing of a deaf man; the sight of the blind.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ Θετταλοῖς περὶ Ἄρνης δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐκέλευε φράζειν: “κωφοῦ τ᾿ ἀκοὴν τυφλοῖό τε δέρξιν”  Plutarch, Obsolesence Of Oracles (Moralia 432)

A widely linked recent article alleges that the human race has around 30 years left, that by 2050 climate change will create a systems collapse that will end human civilization as we currently know it. Similar reports diverge at whether the extinction event that is the Anthropocene will also eradicate the human species or just result in a cruel, apocalyptic contraction. Even if we find the political will to radically change our behavior over the next few years, we are looking at the almost certain probability of widespread government collapses, severe famine and death in the ‘global south’, and widespread conflicts over resources.

Continue reading “Revising The Future of the Past”

Share Your Passages with the World

Timon [from Diogenes Laertius 9.112]

“Follow me now, you busybodies and sophists!”

ἔσπετε νῦν μοι ὅσοι πολυπράγμονές ἐστε σοφισταί.

This period of our confusion and isolation is exhausting and and we have found the opportunity to have this blog and its audiences to engage with and to be responsible to. Having something to do each day makes a big difference.

The way that I often cope with the world is through reading, through retreating to books and poetry. I imagine that many people do the same and would like to invite anyone who comes across this blog  to submit something to post for others.

We don’t want to create work, stress, or unwanted distraction for anyone, but we do want to afford the opportunity to reach out, to speak, to share something important to them.

Send us a translation of a passage that brings you comfort, rage, hope, confusion. Really, send us anything that makes you feel and we will try to get it posted in a reasonable amount of time.

Rules: for passages (1) it needs to be your translation (2) if there are serious problems, we will try to edit; (3) we can’t guarantee posting.

If you want to send a short essay or commentary, please: under 2000 words; nothing that targets other people and does others harm.

Plutarch, Table-Talk 9, (736e)

“Then he included an argument about the apt quotation of poetry, that the one which was most potent was not only charming but also useful.”

ἔπειτα περὶ στίχων εὐκαιρίας ἐνέβαλεν λόγον, ὡς μὴ μόνον χάριν ἀλλὰ καὶ χρείαν ἔστιν ὅτε μεγάλην ἐχούσης. #Plutarch

We especially welcome short reflections on teaching or reading the classics in isolation. In the past, people have also posted Latin and Greek prose compositions or satire. Reflections on teaching, our disciplines, or anything else are acceptable. We have many different examples on the essay list.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t send anything! We hope everyone stays safe, well, and kind for the duration.

Be there for each other, and that, our friends, is enough.

Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy 3.35

“The most sacred thing of all is friends, something not recorded as luck but as virtue, since the rest of the goods are embraced with a view toward power or pleasure.”

amicorum vero quod sanctissimum quidem genus est, non in fortuna sed in virtute numeratur, reliquum vero vel potentiae causa vel delectationis assumitur

Herodotus 5.24.2

“An intelligent and well-disposed friend is the finest of all possessions.”

κτημάτων πάντων ἐστὶ τιμιώτατον ἀνὴρ φίλος συνετός τε καὶ εὔνοος

Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio.: Geographicus Rare Antique Maps
From this site

Mark Pattison and Scholarly Misery

“The common cause is overmuch study; too much learning hath made thee mad.”
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

We scholars are all miserable, but from the historical list of sad sacks, none seems sadder than Mark Pattison. His name is much forgotten outside of academic circles and close readers of Middlemarch, and it is that oblivion which renders his case even more affecting. Perhaps he was just born to be miserable, but I think that one could make the case that Pattison read himself into his misery. The early pages of Pattison’s Memoirs reveal his youthful obsession with reading. Assuming that it is not mere backward telescoping, Pattison suggests that his bibliomania was, apart from a withdrawn self-loathing, the most consistent part of his character.

I had read much more than most boys of my age, but I did not seem to understand anything. […] I read enormously. Constable’s Miscellany, Murray’s Family Library, the publications of the Useful Knowledge Society, were coming out at that time; we took them all, and I read them. I read ten times as much as I remembered; what is more odd, I read far more than I ever took in the sense of as I read it. I think the mechanical act of perusal must have given me a sort of pleasure. Books, as books, irrespective of their contents, were my delight. […] I was already marked out for the life of a student, yet little that was in the books I read seemed to find its way into my mind. [Memoirs, pp. 37-8]

Pattison seems to have sensed from an early age that it was a scholar’s life which awaited him. Earlier in his youth, he had dreamt of an academic life [Memoirs p. 10], but feared that an affliction of the eyes would prevent him from achieving this goal. This malady led Pattison to refrain from reading at night, though he was still able to partake in literary and academic pleasure by listening to his father’s recitation. Eventually, the young Pattison was taken to an oculist in London, who determined that he suffered from an affliction of the eyelids, and need not fear for the loss of his sight altogether.

The young Pattison’s anxiety for his eyesight was perhaps not unwarranted if he had already begun to read sufficiently to internalize the stock type of the half-blind scholar. Milton, one of his literary idols, famously went blind from a course of heroic reading. Edward Gibbon writes in his autobiography that he too abstained from biblio-lucubration out of a concern for his eyesight: “[I]t is happy for my eyes and my health, that my temperate ardour has never been seduced to trespass on the hours of the night.”

Gibbon’s abstention from reading at night is not his only similarity to Pattison in this field, as both men seem to have regretted the mode in which they read in youth. Though they had been unregenerate bookworms as children, as adults they lamented the lack of scientific or programmatic reading:

It was now that I regretted the early years which had been wasted in sickness or idleness, or mere idle reading; that I condemned the perverse method of our schoolmasters, who, by first teaching the mother-language, might descend with so much ease and perspicuity to the origin and etymology of a derivative idiom. In the nineteenth year of my age I determined to supply this defect; and the lessons of Pavilliard again contributed to smooth the entrance of the way, the Greek alphabet, the grammar, and the pronunciation according to the French accent. At my earnest request we presumed to open the Iliad; and I had the pleasure of beholding, though darkly and through a glass, the true image of Homer, whom I had long since admired in an English dress. After my tutor had left me to myself, I worked my way through about half the Iliad, and afterwards interpreted alone a large portion of Xenophon and Herodotus. But my ardour, destitute of aid and emulation, was gradually cooled, and, from the barren task of searching words in a lexicon, I withdrew to the free and familiar conversation of Virgil and Tacitus. Yet in my residence at Lausanne I had laid a solid foundation, which enabled me, in a more propitious season, to prosecute the study of Grecian literature. [Gibbon Memoirs of My Life]

This echoes Pattison’s lament that his early perusal of books was pleasurable but unprofitable. Of course, it would be hard properly to estimate the value which may have accrued to them later, as intellectuals, from this widely discursive mode of reading. Samuel Johnson ardently advocated reading solely from inclination, yet even he felt the need at various points in his life to draw up mathematical plans of systematic reading, which his biographer Boswell notes typically remained incomplete.

Gibbon’s stock of reading serves as Pattison’s comparison point for his own youthful study in the Memoirs. He notes that at fifteen, Gibbon had read far more broadly in history than he (Pattison) had read by eighteen. A modern reader, to whom it may be surprising that teenagers would be applying any substantial time to systematic reading of history, may find the difference of those three years to be a trifling thing when compared to the amount of study which these men later undertook. Moreover, this is a sentiment penned by an old man reflecting upon his stock of teenage erudition as set against another who had long been dead. Pattison had a sense of competition in him, and it played out on the field of learning. Something rankled Pattison, even in his advanced age, about the fact that he was behind in his studies before they even formally began. Reading, and the effort to catch up on the accumulation of erudition, were afterward to serve as the central motivational strand in Pattison’s life.

As a way of palliating his apparent loss in the field of study to the young Gibbon, Pattison writes:

As, however, to mere Greek and Latin, I had covered a surface vastly more extensive than even the best of the ordinary sixth form boy. I had read Sallust through, about a dozen speeches of Cicero, twenty books of Livy, Vergil through, Horace through, Juvenal through, Persius through, Caesar through, Terence through; in Greek, the Gospels and Acts, Xenophon’s Anabasis, Herodotus, Thucydides, some six or seven Orations of Demosthenes, Homer’s Iliad, Pindar, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Porson’s four plays of Euripides, seven plays of Aristophanes – all these not in scraps, but through. They had not been well read…” [Memoirs, 62]

Reading an author through is meant to inform the reader that Pattison did not simply read isolated excerpts from these works, as was (and still is) the fashion in ancient language instruction. Most of this early reading takes place with a lexicon or commentary in hand, and in the initial stages can be quite tedious and time consuming. Having not received a traditional formal education, Pattison’s reading at this point is impressive. Yet, while this is meant to set Pattison’s skill over and above that of the average student, he nevertheless cannot refrain from highlighting his own perceived failure to read the texts well. Moreover, this reading had done nothing for him personally, beyond giving him an “empirical familiarity with the languages, an enlarged vocabulary, and an idea of various and contrasted styles.” [Memoirs, 63] Yet, at such an age, what more could Pattison want? Had he truly bought into the Classical Education sales pitch that reading these works instills in one a sense of elegance, humanity, and knowledge of the world? More than anything, Pattison’s lamentations on his youthful buffet-style intellectualism reflect an ingrained habit of self-loathing. Satisfaction was ever out of his grasp, and after a lifetime of disappointment, he was unwilling to allow that his youth was anything but the seed of his future failures. Discussing his failure to advance socially during his first year at Oriel, Pattison writes, “As it was, my weakness of character was such that I came to the conclusion in the end that the fault or defect, whatever it might be, was in me.” [Memoirs, p. 47]

During the period in which he was beginning to prepare for his degree examination, Pattison’s chief problem lay in his inability to conceive of the proper system on which to make his way through the books. “What I had no power of conceiving was, how the books were to be studied so as to acquire the power of answering the questions upon them.” [Memoirs, p. 119] Throughout the Memoirs, Pattison laments the nature of the Oxford tutorial and examination system, which fostered superficial reading and a hasty cramming of facts and pre-digested interpretations of texts designed to make a sufficiently good show for the examiners. This is not wholly different from the dominant mode in education today, which most strongly emphasizes the acquisition of sufficient knowledge for success on standardized exams, but gives the student very little in the way of what could properly be termed education. Though Pattison on various occasions criticized this system, he nevertheless found himself forced to contribute to it as a cog in the relentless machinery of grinding. Lionel A. Tollemache relates:

Pattison was coaching an undergraduate in the Ethics. The pupil, perplexed by Aristotle’s reasoning, embarrassed his teacher by his importunate desire to understand it. At last Pattison said tartly: “Never mind understanding it, only get it up.” The pupil was naturally hurt by this unpleasant rebuke; which, however, probably meant that the time was short, and that, if the pupil insisted on discussing first principles, instead of merely learning the answers which would satisfy the examiners, he might be disappointed in his degree, as Pattison himself had been. [Recollections, p. 53]

As interpreted by Tollemache, it is Pattison’s own profound sense of disappointment which served to make these governing and formative decisions in his life. Much the same is often said of A.E. Housman, whose apparent coldness and savagery has been attributed by many biographers to his initial academic failure at Oxford and his amatory failure with Moses Jackson.

In his youth, Pattison was not the cloistered pedant which his ardour for reading and his life dedicated to study might suggest. During his first Long Vacation, he returned to his family seat in Hauxwell, where,

What was really of most use to me this vacation was the free air of the fields and moors, and the long solitary rambles during whole days, in which Nature insensibly penetrated the recesses of the soul, without my having yet become, as I afterwards became, passionate for the poetry of Wordsworth and of country life. [Memoirs, p. 110]

Walking, and especially extended country walking, was very much en vogue in Victorian England. Perhaps the most famous example of this fashion among the literati is Dickens, who was said to have regularly walked 20 miles a day. But this was not mere walking, it was rambling, and the hint of ecological paganism betrayed by the capitalization of Nature reflects the Wordsworthian spirit of the age. Nature as opposed to the ugly industrial and commercial life of the cities, or Nature as opposed to the relentless grind and cram of the university. Pattison’s early discovery of a joy in rustic and natural amusements would serve him in good stead following his loss in his first struggle for the Rectorship of Lincoln College, after which he withdrew frequently for periods of restorative rustication in Scotland and in Germany.

Disappointing as were his social adventures during his first terms at Oriel, Pattison learned a salutary lesson on the nature of professorial knowledge and authority from G.A. Denison, who “had a reputation as a scholar.”

When we went in to Denison, some one or two members of the class (a large one) did their piece well; to my flat amazement most of them stumbled over the easiest lines. When we came to the first lyrics,Φοῖβ’; ἀδικεῖς αὖ τιμὰς ἐνέρων, the tutor put the question, “What metre is this?” It went the round, no one had any idea; it came to me, and I remember the trembling excitement with which I answered, “Anapestic dimeter.” So much information was not far to fetch, for Monk had a note on the metre of the passage, and most of the class had Monk, but they had not read the Latin note. Denison gave me a look as much as to say, ‘Who the devil are you?’ He had evidently not been accustomed in his class to meet with such profound learning. I do not remember in the whole course of the term that Denison made a single remark on the two plays, Alcestis and Hippolytus, that did not come from Monk’s notes. [Memoirs, 65]

That is, what separated Pattison from his peers was the fact that he had read. Monk’s notes were the wellspring of all of Denison’s erudition, and in reading them, Pattison was able to achieve some parity with the professional scholar. One can detect the note of savage mockery in the comment, “He had evidently not been accustomed in his class to meet with such profound learning.” Yet, while it reinforced Pattison’s belief that reading was the key to real knowledge, this discovery nevertheless brought with it a new wave of disappointment. “In less than a week I was entirely disillusioned as to what I was to learn in an Oxford lecture room.” [Memoirs, 66] While reflecting on the rise of Oriel College in the 19th century, Pattison reflects upon the deficiencies of the university, where “A very little literature, and a modicum of classical reading, went a long way.” [Memoirs, 69]

Much of Pattison’s history of and attitude toward reading can be gleaned from his biography of Isaac Casaubon. Bibliomania and an obsession with reading may be considered marks of the scholar more generally, but it was Casaubon’s singular focus on spending as much time as possible in reading which serves as one of the points at which Pattison is able to anchor a projection of his own personality and concerns upon his biographical subject. He attempts to palliate Casaubon’s vexation with his wife at interrupting his studies by writing,

But over and above Casaubon’s constitutional fretfulness, we must make allowance for the irritability engendered by a life of hard reading against time. Casaubon thought every moment lost in which he was not acquiring knowledge. He resented intrusion as a cruel injury. To take up his time was to rob him of his only property. Casaubon’s imagination was impressed in a painful degree with the truth of the dictum ‘ars longa, vita brevis.’ [Isaac Casaubon, pp.28-29]

As it stands, this apology for Casaubon is at the same time a defense of himself. The scholar is reflected in the patchwork of classical allusion deftly woven together in this paragraph. The notion that all time is wasted which is not spent in reading is borrowed from Pliny, and the idea that time is one’s only property is taken from Seneca. The final thread in the allusive fabric is given by the old tag that art is long but life is short, quoted from Horace. Casaubon the obsessive reader is the paragon of the old scholarly ideal, entirely lost amidst his books. Just as figures like Machiavelli and Keats engaged in ritualistic sartorial preparation for their literary labors, so too would Casaubon comb his hair in preparation for the eminently serious business of communing with the ancients. The most heroic example of his scholastic fortitude is the result of his autopsy, which revealed that his bladder had been monstrously swollen as a result of denying the calls of nature during his protracted periods of reading and writing. Casaubon’s devotion to the life of the mind was enough to put Didymus Chalchenteros (Brazen Guts) to shame.

Pattison finds more similarities with his subject in Casaubon’s attachment to thoroughness in research. While it is true that the bibliography for any given subject was far more manageable in the 16th century than in the 19th (and certainly less unwieldy than in the 21st), this was counterbalanced by the comparative difficulty in obtaining books. Despite their relative inability, Pattison writes that Casaubon took no half-measures in his research:

From Casaubon’s commentaries we see that the style of his work demanded nothing less than a complete collection of classical remains. He wants to found his remarks, not on this or that passage, but on a complete induction. It seems easy for Bentley to say ‘Astypalaea of Crete does not once occur in ancient authors.’ But a lifetime is behind this negation. [Isaac Casaubon, p. 34]

This same bibliographic thoroughness can be glimpsed in Pattison’s advice to a friend that he would be prepared for writing after twenty years of reading everything on his subject. Recounting the primarily theological reading which he was doing in 1845, Pattison says that he was at that time meditating upon writing Medieval and monastic history, “with several other things, each of them a task for a life.” [Memoirs pp. 185-186] Yet it is unclear whether this relentless requisition of scholarly data was an innate characteristic of Pattison’s, or something which he learned through his own intense study of the great scholars of the past.

As noted above, Casaubon resented interruption to his reading, and complains frequently in his diary about visits of his friends, pithily rendered in Latin as amici inimici (“My friends are my enemies.”) Pattison, too, was inclined to think that friendship was a dangerous thing, writing after a weeklong visit from a friend, “These visits of friends were then, as they are now, fatal to study.” [Memoirs, p.118] Like a thoroughgoing introvert, Pattison insists on the necessity of solitude, and chafes at the attentions of another unnamed friend at Hauxwell because the very presence of another person disrupts Pattison’s ability to focus. Here too he finds a parallel between his own case and that of Casaubon, who wrote in a letter [Ep. 213] Otium et quietem altam studia haec postulant, “these studies require leisure and deep tranquility.” [Also see Ep. 1023 Ea molimur in literis quae animi tranquilitatem desiderant.]

Pattison’s recollections of his vacations in 1833 and 1834 make for grim reading. While it is true that his Memoirs as a whole are suffused with sorrow and lamentation, there does seem to be something particularly depressing about a man complaining, decades later, that in his vacation, “There was more industry, more work, but as mistakenly laid out.” [Memoirs, p.136] Though he spent time on the necessary philosophical studies in addition to reading Herodotus, Pindar, and Thucydides in Greek along with Livy and Vergil in Latin, he notes that he “wasted time over outlying classics, which did not form part of the degree list.”

Surely, at the time that Pattison wrote these memoirs in the fading light of his senescence, the use or misuse of his vacations from Oxford was of little lingering practical consequence. Yet the fact that Pattison dwells so obsessively, as an old man, on each of the periods during which he either read less than he hoped or got less from his reading than his older self would deem appropriate suggests that these were registered in Pattison’s mind as serious failures which he was unable to get over. By his own confession, Pattison was never able to enjoy any satisfaction in the things which he did, but it may be that he traced his perceived failures in later life to his insufficient application to books at this time. A man in this frame of mind is eminently suited to sympathize with a scholar like Casaubon, who was engaged in “hard reading against time.” Even the formulation of the phrase reading against time suggests that the most important faculty which death deprives us of is the faculty of study. Thus, toward the end of his life, Pattison was perhaps more conscious than ever that he was reading against time, and could not help but regret that he had not applied himself more diligently to it in earlier life. Pattison is nevertheless sensible of the dangers of excessive reading, noting that “…accumulated learning stifles the mental powers…” [Memoirs, 78] This comment was of course written late in Pattison’s life, when it seems that accumulated learning through incessant application to his books had prevented Pattison not only from producing much scholarship of his own, but also from much interpersonal human experience.

The written word occupied such primacy of place in Pattison’s consciousness that he was not only “always reading something” [Memoirs, p. 117], but even had his first quarrel with his father through a combination of a disagreement concerning finances and the father’s concern about Pattison’s reading. [Memoirs, p. 111] Part of this centered upon an essay which Pattison’s father edited for his son, but in the main seems to have stemmed from Pattison’s eagerness to be done with a series of lessons in Tacitus which his father wanted to conduct with him:

Besides this instance of bad taste and bad temper I was restive over the Tacitus readings. My father expected me at a fixed hour every morning to read the Annals with him. It was true he could not be of any use to me, as he knew little of the language and nothing at all of the history. But it was the only thing he required of me, and I ought to have complied with a good grace, instead of coming unwillingly and finding excuses for shirking altogether. [Memoirs, p. 113]

For as long as he could remember, Pattison wanted to be a scholar. Naturally, such a man was able to say of his young self as he enrolled in Oriel, “I had come up all eagerness to learn.” [Memoirs 53] The following paragraph of his Memoirs reads “I was soon disillusioned.” Pattison’s disappointment in his education is a function of his unreasonable expectations (perhaps fostered by romantic ideals which he had developed in his autodidactic reading) and the tendency to scathing criticism which was occasionally directed to people other than himself. Of the group of young men with whom he roomed, he wrote that they had “no souls” and that they had “no inner life, no capacity of being moved by poetry, by natural beauty, who are never haunted by the ideal, or baffled by philosophical perplexities.” [Memoirs p.52] Haunted by the ideal is perhaps the best was to describe Pattison’s mental and spiritual life. So potent was the image of the ideal in his mind, and so pale an imitation of it did he experience in the outside world, it is no wonder that Pattison retreated inward to the life of pure intellection. Such a man may make a savage critic, though he may be prevented by this very spirit of criticism against the standard of the ideal from making any attempts at creative production himself. Here, Pattison’s case is paralleled by that of the Renaissance humanist Niccolo Niccoli, who was perhaps the foremost expert on Latin style in his time, and on that account never published anything in Latin: his knowledge was so great and the ideal so difficult to achieve that he felt palpably the likelihood of disastrous failure.

We know so much about Pattison’s reading because he kept both a commonplace book and a diary of his reading from his early youth. He himself points out that he had begun this project of recording his reading before he learned that his biographical subject, Isaac Casaubon, did the same thing. As a result, most of the memories in the Memoirs which are not anchored by specific pivotal moments in his academic career are anchored instead by a recollection of what Pattison was reading at the time. This was the sum total of his life. Not only did Pattison keep a log of his reading, he also formulated a systematic plan for his reading life:

As soon as I found myself settled at Hauxwell with a box of books, I laid out for myself a plan of reading. I have this scheme before me now, for in July 1833 I began a student’s diary on the same plan as I have kept up, with intervals, to the present date (December 1883). This diary only exceptionally mentions what I do, or see, or hear, it deals with what I read or write. […] My plan of study, allowing for a tone of pedantry which cannot be avoided when such things are written down, is not in itself a bad one. But looking at it as the road to Oxford honours, it has the fatal defect of requiring too much time. It is a scheme of self-education, rather than of the hand-to-mouth requirements of an examination. My scheme required years for its realisation; I may say that I have been all my life occupied in carrying out and developing the ideal that I conceived in July 1833, more than fifty years ago. [Memoirs, pp.119-120]

Here we see most clearly the Mr. Casaubon of Middlemarch, the pedantic bookworm buried under the mass of material being stockpiled for a work of erudition. Of course, it may be that Pattison was still engaged upon the task of reading according to his initial plan because the scheme of self-improvement and education is an infinite task, but Pattison himself also highlights his comparatively sluggish pace: “Neither then nor at any time since have I been able to read in an hour the same number of pages that other men can.” [Memoirs, pp.123-124]

Philology, as Nietzsche noted, is the art of slow reading. Anyone who has spent time learning ancient languages knows that meaningful reading fluency in them takes substantial time to develop for several reasons: the antiquity (and thus fundamental foreignness) of the languages themselves; the absence of native speakers from whom to gain immersive fluency/the wholly artificial way in which they are learned; most of what the student will read consists of extremely rarefied “masterpiece” literature, which was designed in many cases to challenge even native users of the language. As such, early training in ancient languages can, if embraced, foster a slow and meticulous mode of reading. Further, all ancient literature is beset by textual difficulties of some sort. When one reads an English translation of a Greek tragedy, it is easy enough to assume that the text is simply the text. But many portions of ancient texts are either corrupt in minor ways (which escape all but the most minute notice), or are so bad as to render some passages entirely senseless. Much of the scientific apparatus of philology was developed specifically for the purpose of solving these difficulties and making the text yield some sense.

Pattison was afforded training in the classical languages. From his own account, it seems that it fell short of the lofty standard set by scientific German philology at the time, but he nevertheless learned something of critical method and analysis of the text. His comment about his slowness in working through texts seems to suggest a kind of methodical reading. Yet, for all of that, Pattison was not a particularly good reader. Anthony Grafton has noted Pattison’s “inability to quote a document accurately, his ineptitude at establishing dates, and his incompetence at summarizing plain German accurately in English have led me to wonder whether he deserves the authority he still enjoys in the English-speaking world.” [American Scholar, Vol. 52, No. 2] Grafton wrote this scathing indictment of Pattison nearly forty years ago, and it is not clear that Pattison today enjoys much “authority,” even in scholarly circles.

Pattison’s inability to achieve any meaningful scholarly feat was well summarized by Housman’s comment [that Pattison had surveyed the whole of human existence and turned away in revulsion]. It seems that it was Pattison’s insistence on surveying all relevant material which kept him from producing anything of his own. Where Housman sees in Pattison a nausea induced by the horrors of human existence, others may see a kind of scholarship so meticulous and exacting that it never gets off the ground. Pattison boasted that he lived his entire life for study, and we learn from a friend that,

“He suggested that I should edit Selden’s Table Talk. The preparation was to be, first to get the contents practically by heart, then to read the whole printed literature of Selden’s day, and of the generation before him. In twenty years he promised me that I should be prepared for the work. He put the thing before me in so unattractive a way that I never did it or anything else worth doing. I consider the ruin of my misspent life very largely due to that conversation.” That this severe judgment on the Rector may not be taken too literally, I will quote from the same letter, “He was one of the best friends I ever had. He was not in the least donnish when one came to know him.” [quoted in Tollemarche, Recollections of Pattison p.5]

Pattison’s devotion to reading puts him in company with his biographical subject and spiritual inspiration, Isaac Casaubon, who constantly complains in his diary that he has spent insufficient time with his books. Amici adhuc libris silentibus. Ita vita perit. “My friends are still here, and my books remain silent. Thus my life is wasted.” Elsewhere, Casaubon remarks Amici inimici, “My friends are my enemies,” because they have kept him from his reading. Elsewhere in his biography of Casaubon, Pattison notes that “Research is infinite.” [IC, p. 54] A.D. Nuttall, in his Dead from the Waist Down, examines at length the identification of Pattison with the Mr. Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. While traditionally the ascription is thought to be based on Pattison’s apparent later sexlessness and possibly loveless marriage, there is much to be said for basing the identification on Pattison’s endless amassing of material with no discharge.

Pattison’s devotion to the life of study and reading for its own sake brought him into sharp opposition with Benjamin Jowett, the Master of Balliol College. Logan Pearsall Smith recounts a conversation which he had with Jowett on the topic of Pattison’s university ideals:

This ideal of endowment for research was particularly shocking to Benjamin Jowett, the great inventor of the tutorial system which it threatened. I remember once, when staying with him at Malvern, inadvertently pronouncing the ill-omened word. “Research!” the Master exclaimed. “Research!” he said. “A mere excuse for idleness; it has never achieved, and will never achieve any results of the slightest value.”

Jowett’s haughty dismissal of research would be well received by a modern day university administrator. Indeed, the disdain for apparently idle study is the prevailing mode not just among the administrative class, but contemporary society more broadly, which has come increasingly to expect concrete physical or pecuniary results issuing from labor of all kinds, and which fancies that it sees through the mystic veil of erudition now that access to knowledge has been entirely democratized by the search engine. But Jowett’s attitude reflects his own limitations. True, there was an old college rhyme composed upon the professor’s erudition:

Here come I, my name is Jowett.

All there is to know I know it.

I am Master of this College,

What I don’t know isn’t knowledge!

Yet, this rhyme is surely more reflective of Jowett’s magisterial air as observed from below by his pupils, and not a meaningful reflection upon either the breadth or depth of his scholarship. Today, both Jowett and Pattison are largely forgotten, but Jowett can claim a greater degree of posthumous fame thanks to his still-readable translations of Plato. Jowett’s high-minded ideals for a broadly humanist university may seem inspirational today, but Jowett’s scholarship earned the scorn of A.E. Housman:

The Regius Professor of Greek throughout Housman’s time was Jowett, and from the single lecture of Jowett’s which he attended, Housman came away disgusted by the Professor’s disregard for the niceties of scholarship. [A.S.F. Gow, A.E. Housman: A Sketch (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press) p.5]

If Jowett seems to strive after an early Renaissance ideal of forming a Ciceronian man of learning, taste, and action, then Pattison hearkens back to the impossibly knowledgeable scholars of the age of erudition in the 16th – 17th centuries. Pattison wished to write a biography of Joseph Scaliger, but found himself unequal to the task. Turning instead to Isaac Casaubon (to whom alone Scaliger said he must yield), Pattison wrote his largest and most comprehensive work of scholarship. This age of erudition seems to have ended with the generation of Richard Bentley and Leibniz, supplanted by the free-thinking of the Enlightenment, which scorned the amassing of knowledge and citations from written works in favor of a notion of scientific and philosophical progress.

As should be sufficiently clear by now, Pattison found a genial subject in Casaubon because so much of his own personality and experience could be mapped so readily onto that of his subject. Both men exist only in their writings now, though both are entirely forgotten by the educated public. Because Pattison is the authority on Casaubon, and because they share a kind of spiritual kinship, it can be difficult to determine at times from their writings alone where Casaubon ends and Pattison begins, down to the abiding sense of failure which each of them felt toward their ambitious projects. As such, it will be useful to examine the figure of Isaac Casaubon in order better to understand the man on whom he exerted such influence over the distance of centuries.

Casaubon and Scaliger lived at the close of the Renaissance. Historically, we think of this as the Early Modern Period, but intellectually, it can be termed the Age of Erudition. Pattison sums up the spirit of the age:

The creative period is past, the accumulative is set in. The prophet is departed, and in his place we have the priest of the book. Casaubon knows so much of ancient lore, that not only his faculties, but his spirits are oppressed by the knowledge. He can neither create nor enjoy; he groans under his load. The scholar of 1500 gambols in the free air of classical poetry, as in an atmosphere of joy. The scholar of 1600 has a century of compilation behind him, and ‘drags at each remove a lengthening chain.’ [IC, P. 110]

Though much of Pattison’s biography of Casaubon is taken up with religious and theological controversy, the preeminent obsession throughout the book remains Casaubon’s reading. Indeed, Pattison sees Casaubon’s reading as his defining characteristic: “Casaubon, indeed, was what he was by his incessant reading, seconded by capacious memory.” [IC, p.104] Memory takes second place to the continuous application to books, and the faculty of critical thought is elided entirely. Perhaps the scholar seems an anachronism in the modern world, where even the most poorly educated person has access to an infinite wealth of instant information. All of the information there was in Casaubon’s day was, however, largely unsifted and unsystematized. A more original thinker may have chafed at the sheer amount of data collection in which scholars like Casaubon engaged, but the freewheeling adventures of human reason undertaken in the Enlightenment were in large part made possible by the tedious act of collection, systematization, and indexing which the scholars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries completed.

Pattison attributes Casaubon’s preeminence as a scholar to his reading habits, yet in the biography as elsewhere, he himself acknowledges the dangers of reading to excess. “The use he made of the library was one, which no librarian ought to make – it was to read the books.” [IC, p. 104] Reading the books may seem innocent enough, but the nature of Casaubon’s reading meant that this would constitute an enormous distraction from his duties as a librarian and from his other scholarly work.

One can see the figure of Eliot’s Mr. Casaubon in the Casaubon recorded by Pattison. After presenting a detailed list of Casaubon’s projected editions, commentaries, and other works, Pattison writes,

Of all these schemes, and of others not a few, hardly any traces remain among the papers, because hardly anything was ever put on paper. He deceived himself into thinking that he had made progress in writing, when the material was heaped up only in his memory. He got at last the habit of putting by any topic as it came up, with the remark, “this we have discussed elsewhere at length.” The distinction between what he had read, what he had noted down, and what he had printed, became obliterated in his mind. [IC p.433]

Elsewhere, Pattison suggests that Casaubon found writing unpalatable because of the “necessity pressing on his mind, that his criticism, if it were to be worth anything, should exhaust the authorities.” [IC, p. 421] We hear again echoes of Pattison’s advice to spend twenty years in research before publishing. Both Casaubon and Pattison found themselves wholly oppressed by the project of conducting thorough and complete research. “When he had written, he was dissatisfied with the result.” [IC p.422] This is virtually indistinguishable from Pattison’s remarks in his Memoirs that he is never fully satisfied with anything that he has done. He adds, “It is better to write nothing than to produce incomplete work. And research is always incomplete.” [IC, p. 422]

For one who read as prodigiously as Casaubon, the fact that research remained ever incomplete seems astounding. Here was a man who rose early every day and tried whenever possible to read the whole day through. Throughout his Ephemerides, Casaubon rejoices on days when he has been afforded the luxury of uninterrupted reading, and laments when friends or business have taken him away from his books.

After six hours’ reading and writing at this pace in the library, there must be recreation. This he takes, on his return to the deanery, by more reading, but of a lighter sort, such as Wake’s ‘Rex Platonicus,’ or by taking lessons in rabbinical hebrew [sic] from a young man of that persuasion. [IC p.365]

One must not think of this as reading in the relaxed or recreational sense which most people understand today. Rather,

“Reading is not an amusement filling the languid pauses between the hours of action; it is the one pursuit engrossing all the hours and the whole mind.” [IC, p.436]

If Casaubon was reading this much, why did he feel the need to do so much more before publishing? One may be tempted to accept Pattison’s explanation that every project requires just a bit more research before being ready to ply pen to paper, and this perfectionist impulse is no doubt some part of the reason. Yet it also sounds like rationalization. Today, scholars and other professional writers are well aware of the temptations and pitfalls which beset their work: one cannot even innocently turn on the computer to use a word processor without some temptation to check e-mail or see the latest on social media. Distractions and other modes of procrastination may have been in shorter supply in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the urge which underlies doing something for a few minutes before sitting down to the serious task of production must have been just as strong. Casaubon, and Pattison after him, must have found something particularly salutary and gratifying in the very act of reading, doing the research, satisfying one’s own curiosity. Each of them shows signs of being deeply introverted and more attracted to the pure pleasure of reading and research than the accolades or gratification of vanity which may result from publication.

In short, it seems that for Casaubon and Pattison alike, research was an end in itself. “Learning is research,” Pattison writes [IC p.453], and,

To the great, the fashionable, the gay, and the busy, the grammarian is a poor pedant, and no famous man. The approbation of our fellows may be a powerful motive of conduct. It is powerful to generate devotion to their service. It is not powerful enough to sustain a life of research. No other extrinsic motive is so. The one only motive which can support the daily energy called for in the solitary student’s life, is the desire to know. [IC, 437]

Pattison explains that Casaubon was a man torn between his Classical reading and texts of theological or ecclesiastical import. This had in particular to do with his unique position as Royal Librarian in Paris. Casaubon had been granted a pension by king Henri IV, and it was understood that the primary purpose of this pension was not to compensate him for any specific labors which he might undertake (valued as those might be), but rather, to entice him from the Calvinist to the Catholic faith. Ultimately, these efforts at pecuniary persuasion failed, and the learned Jesuits of Paris in particular realized that they would have to try a different approach with an erudite man like Casaubon: they would have to engage him in the field of a learned controversy. Having announced that he would be susceptible to conversion if reading in theological and patristic texts would validate it, he began a course of ecclesiastical reading which took considerable time away from his Classical projects. One cannot wholly understand Casaubon without understanding the religious conflict of his time and place, with much of his productive work being undertaken in times still riven by the conflict between Catholics and Protestants brought to something of a head in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. [IC, 186-187]

Consequently, Pattison spends much of his time in the book explicating the religious conflict of the time and Casaubon’s place within it. He concludes that this turned Casaubon into a man “of divided interest” [186], but this could just as easily be said of Pattison himself. As an old man, Pattison laments the “hours I wasted over religious books…” [Autobiography 173] Casaubon took up residence in Paris in 1559, and was for eleven years pressed for his conversion to Catholicism until he went to London in 1610. These invitations to conversion were lamentable distractions to his work, but they also served to change the nature of his studies. Pattison notes that, beginning with Casaubon’s employment as librarian, he would relax from laboring upon his edition of Polybius by spending some time in “controversial reading” [IC p.186]. Pattison suggests that this can be attributed to a certain “double mindedness” in Casaubon, tearing him between the study of pagan and Christian antiquity, and between “the biblical and the ecclesiastical” fanaticism.

Casaubon’s involvement in religious controversy is paralleled in Pattison’s life. In 1838, Pattison found himself drawn to the Tractarian movement [p. 172] under the influence of Newman. Just as Casaubon was in some measure tempted away from his Huguenot upbringing during his years in Paris (1600-1610), so too was Pattison drawn toward the Catholic faith in the 30’s. In both cases, it may be argued that the refusal of conversion hampered their worldly advancement for some time, though this may have been beneficial on the whole to the cause of their studies.

Pattison, like Housman after him, loved to pass judgment upon other scholars, and seems to have enjoyed a remarkable capacity for sizing up the work of others, even though he was not himself the most productive of the laborers in Academus’ garden. Casaubon’s contemporaries rated him highly. Thus, Scaliger says that he yielded in his study of Greek to Casaubon alone, and felt that he himself was the only person capable of appreciating Casaubon’s work. [IC, p. 238] “For whom should he write, now Scaliger was not there to read?” [IC, p. 238-239] Yet Pattison, with the advantage of centuries, is able to identify the shortcomings in Casaubon’s scholarship readily enough, noting especially his deficiency in Greek composition. Moreover, as Casaubon himself acknowledged, his limits were in great measure fixed by a lack of easy access to the requisite books. [IC, p.361] What does constant reading avail a man who cannot read everything he needs? Similarly, Ladislaw notes in Middlemarch that Mr. Casaubon could have spared himself many a learned investigation if he only knew German. An entire fount of erudition lay untapped, effectively hamstringing the effort of the diligent accumulator of facts.

And it is as an accumulator of facts that he achieved his fame. Casaubon’s mind was amply furnished with erudition, but he made no serious efforts at textual criticism. Though he had access to variant manuscripts for the authors on whom he worked, he nevertheless avoided getting bogged down in the finer points of evaluating the texts. “As he wanted to read, not to collate, new material was what he looked out for…” [IC, p. 363] That is, Casaubon was not interested in “settling hoti’s business” [Browning, Death of a Grammarian] but of stocking his own mind. His scholarship was of a fundamentally selfish type: geared not toward the production of knowledge or the advancement of classical understanding, but to the creation of the learned man. Few people outside of scholarly circles have even heard of Isaac Casaubon, and even within them, there are few who read anything which he wrote. It is tempting, therefore, to suppose that he produced little as a scholar, but this is to misunderstand the product of his learning. His mind itself was the product, and he was ever in the process of improving it further. The old tag nulla dies sine linea became with Casaubon nulla dies sine lectione. Thus, Casaubon was renowned among the greatest scholars of his generation who could recognize in him the vast stock of accumulated learning which had taken a lifetime to acquire, but the product of all of his labors ceased to exist when he succumbed to illness in 1614.

As was Isaac Casaubon’s learning, so too was Mark Pattison’s. He was a fantastically learned man, and this was recognized by his contemporaries, but he too has been largely forgotten. Indeed, his biography of Casaubon and the fashionable identification of Pattison with the Mr. Casaubon of Middlemarch are his chief claims upon modern attention, and these admittedly count for very little. Having retreated within himself to a world of isolated but self-improving erudition, Pattison produced very little scholarship because he was too busy making himself a scholar. Pattison criticizes Richard Kilbye, an English contemporary of Casaubon who was also a Rector of Lincoln College, by describing him as, “a fair specimen of the academical professor of his time; with some reading, but without learning or even the conception of it as a whole…” [IC, p.367] Pattison’s conception of the ideal scholar was the model against whom he criticized all living claimants to the title. Yet it was that vision which kept him ever engaged in the pursuit of unattainable perfection, and a life of perpetual and apparently unproductive disappointment.

MacDonald, Alexander, 1839-1921; Mark Pattison (1813-1884), Rector (1861-1884)

A Horror of PhD Theses

Edmund Wilson, T.K. Whipple:

I believe that those years at the Graduate School were, apart from his interest in the Lit, rather a barren time for T.K. I think of him always as enmeshed in two interminable Ph.D. theses: one on the influence of the Greek orator Isocrates on Milton’s prose style, the other on the seventeenth-century epigram. There was something rather nightmarish about it: at first there had been only one thesis, which he was never able to finish, and then presently there were two, and I felt that the whole thing was hopeless. I used to go over to see him in the Graduate School, a sumptuous Gothic creation which had just been erected by Ralph Adams Cram in the middle of the Princeton golf links and which was then being broken in. T.K. would invite me to a dreary enough dinner in the immense medieval dining hall, where the faculty sat on a dais and the students filed in in black gowns to the boom of a fugue of Bach from a hand-carved organ loft.

The Graduate School was a luxurious affair, and there was something about that life he liked. But, as a man from Kansas City, he couldn’t help being funny about the suits of armor in the halls; and I never went over to see him without a feeling of desolation. I would traverse the enclosed court, where the new gray stone in its rawness did not in the least remind you of the stone of Oxford or Cambridge. I would ascent the monastic stair, knock at the oaken door, and find T.K. inert in his Morris chair, imprisoned amid the leaded windows, unable to bring himself to get through any more volumes of seventeenth-century epigrams and unwilling or without any appetite to read anything more stimulating. It was as if he had succumbed to some terrible doom from which he was powerless to save himself and from which nobody else could save him. The whole spectacle gave me a horror of Ph.D. theses from which I have never recovered.