February  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A young man's raw face flicked around the door.

"Good morning, Mr. Dangerfield."

"A fine spring morning, a double and some Woodbines."

"Certainly, sir.  Early today?"

"Little business to attend to."

"It's always business isn't it."

"O aye."

Some fine clichés there.  Should be encouraged.  Too many damn people trying to be different.  Coining phrases when a good platitude would do and save anxiety.

--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

February  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Gruffydd-Williams, on the other hand, seemed to show more positive characteristics.  The authoritative manner suited a man presumably possessed of a lot of authority; a part from his seat on the Council and on two or three of its committees, he had another and undoubtedly better one on the board of the Cambrio-Sudanese Oil Association, whose refinery makes its own peculiar contribution to several cubic miles of air west of the town.  And then, or rather first of all, there was his money.

--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis

February  27,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I loved Vienna right away, and I encountered there a friend it took me years to cultivate: the art of the rococo and baroque.  There's something fascinating about seeing something you don't like at first but directly know you will love--in time.  People are that way, all through life.  You come against a personality, and it questions yours.  You shy away but know there are gratifying secrets there, and the half-open door is often more exciting then the wide.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

February  26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Jeeves,' I said, 'a somewhat peculiar situation has popped up out of a trap, and I would be happy to have your comments on it.  I am sorry to butt in when you are absorbed in your Spinoza and have probably just got to the part where the second corpse is discovered, but what I have to say is of great pith and moment, so listen attentively.'

'Very good, sir.'

--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

February  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Besides, what did the great mass know of war in 1914, after nearly half a century of peace?  They did not know war, they had hardly given it a thought.  It had become legendary, and distance had made it seem romantic and heroic.  They still saw it in the perspective of their school readers and of paintings in museums; brilliant cavalry attacks in glittering uniforms, the fatal shot always straight through the heart, the entire campaign a resounding march of victory--"We'll be home at Christmas," the recruits shouted laughingly to their mothers in August, 1914.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

February  23,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Martland's word was as good as his bond, but his bond was mere Monopoly money.

--Don't Point that Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli

February  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Scholars and men of letters in Rome knew nothing for two centuries of what we mean by 'publishing'.  Down to the end of the republic, they made copies of their works in their own houses or in the house of some patron, and then distributed the manuscripts to their friends.  Atticus, to whom Cicero had entrusted his speeches and his treatises, had the inspiration of converting the copying studio he had set up for himself into a real industrial concern.  At the same time Caesar, no less a revolutionary in things intellectual than in things material, helped to procure him a clientele by founding the first State library in Rome, on the model of the great library which existed in the museum at Alexandria.  The completion of the Roman library was due to Asinius Pollio, and it soon begot daughter libraries in the provinces.  The multiplication of public and municipal libraries resulted in the rise of publishers (bibliopolae, librarii).  The new profession soon had its celebrities: the Sosii, of whom Horace speaks, who had opened a shop for volumina at the exit of the Vicus Tuscus on the Forum, near the statue of the god Vertumnus, behind the Temple of Castor; Dorus, to whom one went for copies of Ciceror and Livy; Tryphon, who sold Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria and Martial's epigrams; and rivals of Tryphon--Q. Pollius Valerianus; Secundus, not far from the Forum of Peace; and Atrectus in the Argiletum.

--Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino (tr. from the French by E.O. Lorimer)

February  20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Drunk?" said Alyosha.

They demurred at that.  They were in the habit of appraising accurately, not only as professional critics, but as fellow-artists, and their standard was high.  No, they said, not drunk--certainly not drunk.  "Wypimshi," they said, which can be well rendered as "not drunk, but having drink-taken."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

February  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I plumped for the buffet car this time.  A wrong decision.  at Liverpool, Exchange, there was an unusual notice on the barrier blackboard: 'Regret no catering facilities on this train due to vandalism.'  The sort of story you'd like to hear more about, really, and quite a collector's piece of connoisseurs of railway regrets, if not quite a match for a favourite of mine at Paddington once: 'Services subject to cancellation and delay owing to body on line.'  Where's the consideration, these days?  I was made late by that for a literary luncheon in Taunton, and had a struggle with my good-taste angel all the way down, debating whether to work it into the response for the guests.

--Accustomed As I Am by Basil Boothroyd

February  15,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You don't know what these blighters here are like.  Most of them are chapel folk with a moral code that would have struck Torquemada as too rigid.'


'The Spanish Inquisition man.'

'Oh, that Torquemada?'

'How many Torquemadas did you think there were?'

I admitted that it was not a common name, and she carried on.

--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

February  14,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Perhaps the best test of a man's intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.

--Henri Beyle in Books & Characters by Lytton Strachey

February  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The word "Life" seemed to affect Kennedy as the word "Death" affected me, and he accused me of "beastly, degrading cynicism" and took off his coat to fight me.  After that we didn't speak again till the tragi-comedy ended in the national hunger strike, and he took up his bed and returned to a hut where he could endure "Death's iron discipline" among loyal comrades.  Fortunately, he thought better of it and lived to be a distinguished parliamentarian of whom I could say complacently: "Yes, he and I were in gaol together," which rather like the English "He and I were in Eton together" but considerably more classy.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

February  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

What follows, however, feels curiously willed: to be sure, it is seen through Wilby's eyes (although the story, like the others, is in the third person, Trevor is one of our truly great masters of free indirect style, and we are, as it were osmotically imbued with Wilby's consciousness through syntax and diction), and hence we may take the story's conclusions as subjective if we choose.

--Signs of Struggle by Claire Messud reviewing Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor in the February 14, 2008 edition of The New York Review of Books

February  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe


That firewood pale with salt and burning green

Outfloats its men who waved with a sound of drowning

Their saltcut hands over mazes of this rough bay.

Quietly this morning beside the subsided herds

Of water I walk.  The children wade the shallows.

The sun with long legs wades into the sea.

--W.S. Graham

February  8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a very important book--that's what we say these days when wishing to draw attention to what we believe to be a good film, book, play, exhibition, we say that it's 'important', as, for instance, an 'important' new play by so and so (me, for instance), we usually say it in an important manner, our voices becoming grave, heavy, episcopal, so what exactly do I mean when I write that here is a very 'important' book about piles waiting to be written--I think I mean that piles might be found to have affected the course of history now and then--no doubt Richelieu, given his steely mind, his patience and his ambition, would have made the decisions he made if he'd been piles-free, but Napoleon at Borodino, a few hours before the battle, which led on to the disaster of Moscow, lingering in his tent, hoping his piles would quieten down so that he could be out and about on his horse, which he couldn't bear to mount--you see how one could go on from there--for want of an ointment--there's one currently on the market called Anus-oil, or very nearly that-which is quite soothing, I believe--for want of a tube of Anus-oil the battle of Borodino was lost--drawn, actually, I think, but a strength-sapping draw, and so the unplanned diversion to Moscow--the rest is history.  Yup.

[N.B.:  This is masterful comic writing.  Indeed, that interminably long first sentence, matching in form its subject matter is a grammatical example of the first law of aesthetic proportion (what artistic Neanderthals, who could curse at us in antique meter, be it Latin or Greek, such being apotheosized in the being of John Ruskin, would call 'beauty') being a close correspondence of "fit to use."  This example might even be described as "important," but, like the Allies' Operation Market Garden, such an adjective might be "a bridge too far," or, perhaps, in modern political-speak, "a bridge to nowhere."  Actually, it's a bridge to somewhere--the masterful juxtaposition of that sentence smack dab against that one-word comic yelp that even Ol' Ezra (Pound that is, not grams and kilos, but good solid measure--nuts too--but such are the finer poets) would blanche from barking.] 

February  7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Oh, yes.  So books.  What books?  I left London in such disarray that I couldn't believe we'd get to the airport, let alone to Barbados and the Coral Reef--when it came to packing books I flung what was nearest to hand on to the bed for Victoria to pack, and then, of course, when she was unpacking them and I saw from our balcony all those ideal spots for reading--on the lawns, on the beach, in the bar where I'm writing this, on the balcony itself--well, there's a biography of Cardinal Richelieu, the only book I brought with some deliberation.  I picked it up with pleasure until I twigged that I didn't want it at all, the book I'd chosen with a degree of consideration was the wrong book, I'm not in the slightest bit interested in Cardinal Richelieu (well, I am--but only the slightest bit), the chap I'm keenly interest in is Talleyrand, now and then Bishop Tallelyrand, who began his political career by taking holy orders, receiving Voltaire's blessing almost simultaneously, and went to survive the catastrophes of France, in fact could be found near the centre of the catastrophes of France from the end of the Ancien Règime through the revolution, through the Empire, then through the Restoration, then through the Republic--he should have been executed once or twice every decade--'a shit in silk breeches,' Napoleon called him, perfectly accurately, it seems to me, but Napoleon ended up on St Helena, in the custody of a mean-spirited (or strait-laced, depending on your point of view) English civil servant while old Talleyrand was around to welcome Louis XVIII, Napoleon III, how did he do it, is what I want to know, how did he get away with it, playing with fire almost all his life, burning everybody but himself?  Now this is a pathetic account of Talleyrand's life, everything I know about him has gone into a fog, which the book on him would have dispelled if I'd brought it, rather than the book on Richelieu, about whom I'm content to remain in a fog--in fact, apart from a general outline of his life, much muddled by my having seen four or five film versions of The Three Musketeers, about the only hard fact I remember is that he suffered from piles, towards the end of his life could scarcely rise from his bed, and when compelled to do so by reasons of state, would have to be carried.

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

[N.B.:  It was from reading this passage which made me intensely curious about Talleyrand--but what book could Simon Gray be referring to?  Well, thank goodness for google, because after a little meandering about it became clear that he must have been referring to the magisterial biography, Talleyrand, by Duff Cooper.  What a cracking read!  As for the biography of Richelieu, Gray was almost certainly not referring to the one by Hilaire Belloc, but that's a cracking read too.] 

February  5,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Well, I paid you.  Read my future."

"Tomorrow will be like today, and day after tomorrow will be like day before yesterday," said Appollonius.  "I see your remaining days each as quiet, tedious collections of hours.  You will not travel anywhere.  You will think no new thoughts.  You will experience no new passions.  Older you will become but not wiser.  Stiffer but not more dignified.  Childless you are, and childless you shall remain.  Of that suppleness you once commanded in your youth, of that strange simplicity which once attracted a few men to you, neither endures, nor shall you recapture any of them any more.  People will talk to you and visit with you out of sentiment or pity, not because you have anything to offer them.  Have you ever seen an old cornstalk turning brown, dying, but refusing to fall over, upon which stray birds alight now and then, hardly remarking what it is they perch on?  That is you."

--The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

February  4,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was Queen Anne who patronised not only Corneille but also the great apostle of the poor Vincent de Paul, later canonised, known then as 'Monsieur Vincent'.  By making him in 1643 her director of conscience, the Queen indicated her approval of his aim: this was to tap the charitable instincts of ladies who wanted to do good but did not want to become cloistered nuns.  It was incarnated in an organisation known as the Daughters of Charity.  Appearing at court in an old soutane and coarse shoes, Monsieur Vincent was a striking philanthropic figure, concerned to support the poor.

--Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

February  2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Throughout most of 1932, the middle-aged Rector of Stiffkey (pronounced "Stewky" locally) had provided the British press with an unending source of anti-clerical entertainment through his escapades with battalions of  teen-age waitresses in London teashops.  Defrocked, he ended his career in a lion's cage in 1937, where he was billed to give a lecture.  The lion objected.

--To Lose a Battle by Alistair Horne

[N.B.:  Alistair Horne is both a great writer and historian.  This book, To Lose a Battle, about France's humiliating defeat in 1940 at the hands (or should that be turrets) of the Nazi panzer tanks was read by the Israeli military establishment with regards to tank tactics that later proved quite successful in Israel's numerous wars with the neighboring Arab states.  Another book of Horne's, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, has been the focus of intense scrutiny by the American military establishment and President George Bush as it relates to the insurrectionary war in Iraq.  I have chosen the squib above, which formed a footnote, not for any of these reasons, but because it highlights Horne's voracious curiosity regarding all sorts of telling ephemera (close to an oxymoron, that).  This squib also highlights Horne's wit.  "Stiffkey," alone, is humorous enough, but to emphasize it by the pronunciation that, at least locally, would seem to drain it of amusement actually serves to heighten the mirth. And that last sentence is an absolute proof that brevity is the soul of wit.] 

February  1,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish array of monstrous clubs and spears.  Some were thickly set with glittering teeth resembling ivory saws; others were tufted with knots of human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast handle sweeping round like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a long-armed mower.  You shuddered as you gazed, and wondered what monstrous cannibal and savage could ever have gone a death-harvesting with such a hacking, horrifying implement.  Mixed with these were rusty old whaling lances and harpoons all broken and deformed.  Some were storied weapons.  With thin once long lance, now wildly elbowed, fifty years ago did Nathan Swain kill fifteen whales between a sunrise and a sunset.  And that harpoon--so like a corkscrew now--was flung in Javan seas, and run away with by a whale, years afterwards slain off the Cape of Blance.  The original iron entered nigh the tail, and like a restless needle sojourning in the body of a man, travelled full forty feet, and at last was found imbedded in the hump.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

[N.B.:  One sign of a great writer (and, alas, a bad one) is the impunity with which they break basic "rules" of the writing craft.  Here, Melville switches to the second person in the middle of the paragraph and then back.  Creative-writing instructors and their widget writing tadpoles should not try that at home--indeed, they are warned against it in the same breath that they should "show and not tell."  And so the great literary behemoths of the writerly deeps lie content with nary a modern novelist's harpoon grazing their tails.]