Thursday, 11 September 2014


I’m currently reading – slowly, slowly and not in order – two books of lectures by Arthur Quiller Couch now: Studies in Literature (as mentioned last week) and Cambridge Lectures (1943 but with lectures going back to 1913).
They’re extremely dense, in the sense of lots of information per paragraph, and the Cambridge Lectures more so, although it's a lovely orangey pocket hardback from Everyman with wafer thin but still perfectly opaque pages (why are these slim volumes so rarely printed now? They're perfectly sized and balanced to read with one hand). I skipped out halfway through the inaugural lecture, which felt like a showcase for the speaker’s learning rather than something meant to educate, and jumped into one on jargon and use of the passive voice instead, which is clearly the one Helene Hanff quotes in Q’s Legacy.
It’s nice seeing these familiar bits – like lifebuoys in what Q would undoubtedly refer to as the οἶνοψ πόντος.
Actually that’s not fair - he at least does the reader the courtesy of offering a mini definition of the Greek when he uses it, and whenever he says something like 'of course you know the story of Apollo' he gives you a precis of the story of Apollo to preserve the polite fiction that you might perhaps have known it. His dry humour and anecdotes amuse me as well.
But the Latin and the Greek (Neither of which I can read, I googled ‘wine-dark sea’ to get the above), the long extracts of poetry from anything up to 650 years ago and the sheer volume of information; which coast Shelley died off, that most of Shakespeare’s plays were written under James not Elizabeth I, which poets came after Chaucer, are a slog. It’s a long catalogue of things I didn’t know I didn’t know interspersed with things I thought I knew but had wrong.

I have to say though that the relatively few I’ve read so far have given me a greater appreciation of the writers (especially Chaucer, trying to translate and express ideas in a language barely stabilised), a better understanding of History (both the History that was History to Q and what was contemporary to him) and a better appreciation of what study is and what clear writing is. That's remarkably good going for about 7 lectures. *

In other news I'm still walking, and here's a curious thing I noticed:

The left window is bricked up - but there's no proper window ledge as there is on the right, and the bricks are contemporary with the build of the whole house. So clearly this window was put in without glass, either to be glazed later, or just for symmetry with no intention of ever putting glass in. 

(See wikipedia entry on Window Tax for a possible explanation) 

No drawings worthy of the name yet. Work is the curse of the pottering classes. 

* another review mostly duplicated from Guardian website. Sorry. 

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