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Sunday, 15 July 2007


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Jonathan Dresner

One of the unfortunate effects of civilization -- and postmodernism -- is a tendency to be nice and understanding instead of vicious and precise.


Seth Benardete reviews Housman here.

There is a narrowness in Housman that does not just reflect a just appreciation of his own limits, but which contains as well a deliberate refusal to acknowledge anything great beyond his own expertise. The critic Edmund Wilson pointed out long ago how absurd Housman is when he applies Lucretius’ words about Epicurus – lucida tela dieï (brilliant shafts of sunlight) – to Bentley’s edition of Manilius. All the careful exactness of Housman goes along with a pettiness of spirit that at least at times is out of control and expresses a contempt for whatever he does not understand.


Frank Kermode review of the letters here, with a more qualified citation of Wilson's opinion than the one cited above:

It would be a shame if Housman were remembered for his bilious invective rather than his scholarship. And it seems like "precise" does not describe his style, although "vicious" is right on the money; H's talents as a witherer seem to have lain more in the direction of scathing exaggeration:

"Not to be silenced by the grandeur of the institution or its famous members, he did not conceal his contempt for the scholarship of the great Benjamin Jowett, Regius Professor of Greek and master of Balliol, calling his Plato ‘the best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek’."

Adam Roberts

To be fair, Jowett wasn't widely respected as a classicist in the C19th. There's a story of Swinburne helping him with his Plato ed., working in one room going over what Jowett had done so far, whilst Jowett was receiving visitors as Master of Balliol in another, and every now and again Swinburne would come hurring through crying with delight 'Another howler!'

Ginger Yellow

Are you familiar with Stoppard's play The Invention of Love? If not, find a copy ASAP. It's not only a superb play in its own right, interweaving Housman's academic relationship with Pater and Ruskin and his doomed one with Moses Jackson, it's also full of Housman's best lines. Review>here

Ancrene Wiseass

Uhhh . . . huhhh huhh huh.

You said "Fish-wit."


Off-topic: If you add a Digg-link to your posts, may I suggest you add a Reddit link also? (Rumour has it it's better than Digg. Both come with LOLCats, but Reddit in addition has the occasional phiLOLsopher.)


There can be no discussion of Housmanian savagery without Fragment of a Greek Tragedy. Can there?

Karl Steel

One of the unfortunate effects of civilization -- and postmodernism -- is a tendency to be nice and understanding instead of vicious and precise.

E.g., Lyotard on Habermas.


I believe it is, "...reprove their betters for using the brains which God has NOT denied them".

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