Samuel Butler – “Hudibras” (ctd.)

But Hudibras, contrary to what people might say, is not a fool, the proof of which is that he can speak Latin and Greek and even some Hebrew. The thing is, he does not want to use his wisdom too often not to wear it out, just like some people save their best clothes for Sundays. But he is never afraid to show off his linguistic knowledge. He is also an able logician and rhetorician, because he never speaks but by using some metaphors and colourful language.His English is “cut on Greek and Latin”, like some articles of dress which were in fashion at the time and had coarser, cheaper cloth on the outside, but were slashed to show off the more expensive satin lining. So is Sir Hudibras’ speech a mixture of three languages, and like many Dissenters, he also loves to use some English neologisms. These new words are so hard Demosthenes could have used them instead of the pebbles he allegedly put in in his mouth to cure his stammer. And he is also an able mathematician because he can always tell whether a grocer tries to cheat him on bread or butter or when the clock is going to strike.

Isaac Newton – “A Letter… Containing His New Theory about Light and Colours” (fragments)

Isaac Newton explains point by point the conclusions his experiments brought him to. The colour of light is its innate feature, correlated with its refrangibility and there was nothing he could do during his experiments to change the colour of a ray of pure light. Of course there are also light rays which are combined of many different colours and so they may seem to be green, while in fact they are a mixture of blue and yellow. But white light is the combination of all of these, Whenever one colour in the spectrum predominates, it’s going to tinge the resulting colour, that’s why for instance the candle burns yellow and stars have different colours. Finally he writes something about the colours of the rainbow, which I am very sorry I could not understand. I told you I was a physics blockhead.

John Locke – “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (fragments)

Today I’ve got some serious philosophy, although the editors of the NAEL picked probably the most literary part of Locke’s Essay, that is “The Epistle to the Readers”. In this introduction Locke notices courteously that he hopes his readers are going to have at least half as much fun in reading it as he had in writing it. It’s not because he is so puffed up about its value, but because he really thinks the hunt for truth is a lot of fun, much more than the real hunting or hawking and much more profitable. He addresses his book to those who like to think for themselves and not to rely on the thoughts of others, but he also notices modestly that this book is not addressed  to those who already mastered the subject. He explains the origins of this project, which was apparently started by a discussion with a few friends on an unrelated subject and which was brought to a standstill. Locke and his nameless friends decide that before they discuss the subject, they have to “examine [their] own abilities, and see what objects [their[ understandings were or were not fitted to deal with.” He noted down some hasty thoughts before their next meeting and worked on them on and off for many years before creating the final version of this test.

John Dryden – “Epigram on Milton”, “Alexander’s Feast”

“Epigram on Milton” is, as befitting an epigram, a very short poem linking Milton to two great epic poets of the past, Homer and Virgil. The first is unsurpassed in loftiness of thought, the second in majesty, and since Nature could not go any further in any of these qualities, in creating Milton she combined the two.

“Alexander’s Feast” is another of these odes on St Cecilia’s Day, and again it has a musical setting by Handel. It’s a longer poem and so the resulting musical piece is a full-blown oratorio, so it’s more of a time commitment and for this reason I did the unpardonable thing – I broke it in two. So far it’s not as impressive as the previous one, IMHO, but maybe it’s precisely because I didn’t listen it properly from the start till the end. The poem is about Alexander celebrating with his mistress Thais his victory over Persians. There is a big party and the singer Timotheus sings a song about the legendary divine origin of Alexander, who according to an oracle was not the son of Philip but of Zeus himself, who visited his mother as a dragon. The listeners exclaim “A present deity!” and Alexander nods, pleased with the flattery. The next part of Timotheus’ song is about the god of wine Bacchus, who arrives greeted by the sounds of trumpets and hautboys (both instruments, I am sure, unknown in antiquity), but it gives the composer an opportunity for some fine musical effects. Wine-drinking is praised as “the soldier’s pleasure” because “sweet is pleasure after pain”.

John Dryden – “Absalom and Achitophel” (ctd.)

Absa lom falls for Achitophel’s designs, but Dryden does his best to exonerate him: he would really make a good king, what a pity his birth was not high enough, “[‘t]is juster to lament him than to accuse”. Achitophel starts plotting and attracts a motley crew: his party includes noblemen, who were really patriotic, but “thought the power of monarchy too much… /Not wicked men, but seduced by impious arts”. Then there are people who think about potential financial gains for themselves or who think monarchy just costs taxpayers too much. Then there is Jerusalem/London mob, hating Jebusites/Catholics, led by Levites/Presbyterian priests who were pulled from the ark/deprived of their livings. Then there are Dissenters, blinded by their religious enthusiasm. And finally there is Zimri, or 2nd Duke of Buckingham, with whom Dryden had a long-standing poetic feud. He describes Buckingham as an unstable man, constantly fleeting from one hobby to another, squandering his money on numerous hangers-on. But he is too volatile to be of any use, “wicked by in will, of means bereft” and doesn’t play a role in Achitophel’s plot.

John Dryden – “Absalom and Achitophel” (ctd.)

Achitophel, seeing the opening that Absalom’s admission about his ambition gave him, seizes it. If God gave you ambition, he argues, it surely means he wants you to be a king. I have already intrigued against his brother and made him appear obnoxious to everybody. (Dryden seems to skate skilfully over the fact that James II is, in fact, in the parlance of the poem a “Jebusite”.) The laws of succession surely cannot be binding if they are about to put on the throne a ruler so unpopular with his subjects. God said he loved your father and to prove it, he anointed him king; now it’s your father’s turn to show that he loves you. Besides, David’s brother already knows how popular Absalom is with people and looks on him with jealousy, so Absalom’s attack is essentially going to be a preventive one and in self-defense. Maybe actually David secretly wants Absalom to inherit the crown, but he is afraid to take back the word he gave to his brother, so he is like a woman who says “no” when she means “yes”. “Commit a pleasing rape” (ugh), urges Achitophel, take your father hostage and you are going to set the rules.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

Michael tells Eve that she shouldn’t mourn for her home, because her home is wherever her husband is. Adam, who’s recovered a bit by now, says that if he knew his prayers would change God’s mind, he would pray incessantly, but he knows it’s no use. But he is really sad to leave Paradise, because it’s full of hallowed memories for him, even if God won’t come any longer to visit, and he dreamt about showing his futures sons (again, not daughters) the places where he saw God and the like. Michael tells Adam that humankind was not meant to live forever in Paradise anyway; if they continued to live and multiply, Paradise would be like the capital where Adam would live like the king and his children would come to visit. (What future did God envisage for man if he wanted him to be fertile and at the same time immortal? Would he create another Earth for the spillover population or would he in time dematerialise some people and take them to Heaven?) But God is still going to take care of Adam and Michael is now going to tell him about the future of him and his children, but first he needs to put Eve to sleep, like she cannot take too much information or something. Have I mentioned Milton’s treatment of Eve makes me quite mad?