William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (Act II – the end)

Left alone with Millamant, Mirabell says he has something important to tell her which he meant to tell her yesterday but she was surrounded by all the fools who came to visit. Millamant says lightly fools are good for her health. Mirabell sulks, Millamant teases him and finally she tells him his big secret is that his “uncle” is really his servant Waitwell. He is all “how do you know?”, and she answers, well, indeed, how could I know this without the help of the devil, or maybe it’s the maid Foible herself who told me, make a guess. She lives with Mincing. Waitwell with his newly-wedded wife Foible enter. Foible tells him that she is going to tell Lady Wishfort she had an opportunity to see “Mirabell’s uncle”, and she had her portrait in her pocket, and he became immediately enamoured of her. Mirabell promises her that if they do well, they are going to get a fully stocked farm. She thanks him and says that now she has to rush off because Lady Wishfort can’t dress without her*, and she is afraid that Mrs Marwood, whom she has just spotted, may see her talking with Mirabell and tell on her. Left alone, Waitwell complains comically about how he finds it difficult to remember who he is when his personalities change so rapidly: married, knighted (because he plays “Sir Rowland”), and attended (by servants) in one day. But even when the charade is over, he is still going to stay married.

*It does not mean that Lady Wishfort was exceptionally lazy – dressing women in the18th c. was really time-consuming and required help.


Aphra Behn – “Oroonoko” (ctd.)

The English find it easy to pursue the slaves because they have to burn their way through the jungle, so they are easy to spot. Caesar sends all the women and children to the back, and the men start to fight, but they are disorganized. The whites have to fight mostly with their whips, because they are the most usable of their weapons, aiming at the eyes of their opponents and crying “Yield!” The women are scared and run to their husbands, begging them to yield. Soon all of them surrender, except for Caesar, Tuscan and Imoinda. They all fight bravely, even the heavily pregnant Imoinda, who shot Byam with her poisoned arrow and he would have died had it not been for his Indian mistress, who had sucked out the poison. The governor starts to negotiate with Caesar, offering him pardon and safe passage home when the first opportunity arrives. Caesar does not believe him and he says a lot of derogative things about the value of Christians’ words. His only regret is that he encouraged his fellow slaves to rebel, since they are apparently slave by nature. Trefry, believing that the governor’s intentions are sincere, volunteers to put himself in Caesar’s hands and manages to convince him to surrender. Caesar demands a written contract and he gets it, with Tuscan’s pardon also  written in. Then they walk peacefully to the plantation, where Caesar and Tuscan are seized and tied to the stakes. They cannot defend themselves because they are too tired with all the fighting and heat. Then they are whipped until they are almost dead. Caesar does not make a sound, but looks reproachfully at his torturers, especially his fellow slaves who not so long ago worshipped him like a god. After that his wounds are rubbed with pepper, to make it even worse and then he is tied down. Imoinda fortunately does not see it because she is locked up separately, not because her captors are so charitable, but because they do not want to induce a miscarriage and lose two slaves as a result.

Aphra Behn – “Oroonoko” (ctd.)

The journey continues peacefully, with Oroonoko treated as befits his position. But when they reach Surinam, he is put again in chains and sold together with all his friends, although the captain makes sure they are all parcelled out to different owners, so that they can’t conspire together. All Oroonoko can do is look disdainfully at the captain (who still has enough decency left in him to blush) and say now he knows what to think about the honour of Christians. He is sold to Mr Treffry (an actual historical figure, as the Helpful Footnote informs us, a Cornish overseer of the plantations belonging to Lord Willoughby  – and so a strong argument that Behn in fact spent some time in Surinam, as she claims), who, being a gentleman and a man of wit, immediately notices that Oroonoko is a man of rank and his curiosity is piqued when he realizes Oroonoko can speak English. So during the long three-day journey up the river he becomes very good friends with Oroonoko and swears he is going to get him back home, and Oroonoko believes him, even though he has no reason to believe the words of a white man, because he thinks Treffry is a man of wit and thus can’t be a knave. A lot of people come to the stops to look at Oroonoko, whose fame has already spread far and wide, and even when he asks Treffry for some regular clothes, so that his rich robe doesn’t attract attention, his innate nobility still shines through. Treffry, as the custom is, renames Oroonoko and calls him Caesar, and the narrator says his fame would be as everlasting as that of the original Caesar, had it not been for the fact that he came to “an obscure part of the world” and what is more, soon after that Surinam was taken over by the Dutch, most of his English inhabitants were killed or left the country, and so it was left to “only a female pen” to record Oroonoko’s fame. Mr Treffry planned to write his story, but he died before he managed to write it.

Aphra Behn – “Oroonoko” (ctd.)

The old king has some compunction about stealing Imoinda from his grandson, especially since Imoinda can’t stop herself from talking about him. If she talked so about any other man, she would end up being executed, but the old king still loves Oronooko and is very proud of him, so he can’t help being flattered hearing him being praised even by his youngest wife. The courtiers sent to see how Oroonoko is doing, trying to do him a solid, return with the reports that Oroonoko totally got over Imoinda and now amuses himself with “his mathematicians, his fortifications, his officers, and his hunting”. The king, who must be very gullible to believe that any straight young male prefers the company of mathematicians to the most beautiful woman in the country, believes them, especially since Oroonoko manages to hide his emotions when he is invited to the court. The king also tells Imoinda about how Oroonoko is over her, at which she is heartbroken, but doesn’t stop loving him.

The king, being perfectly certain that there is no risk from Oroonoko, invites him and some other friends to a party in the Otan, and when Oroonoko sees Imoinda, he can’t hide his feelings anymore – he blushes and grows pale (yes, it can happen to black people, too, adds the narrator), but fortunately Imoinda manages to divert the king so he doesn’t notice anything amiss. Through looking at each other they express a whole range of emotions like being profoundly in love with the other, being a bit angry that the other apparently has forgotten them etc. When Onahal, one of the king’s older wives, opens the door to the bedroom, Oroonoko almost faints at imagining what is going to take place there, but his friend Aboan supports him. The king goes inside with Imoinda and the door is shut. (It’s a kind of weird party when between appetizers and the main course you leave your guests for a while to have sex, but what do I know.) Oroonoko rolls on a carpet moaning in agony (literally) and Onahal can’t help noticing that. She and Aboan try to comfort him. She tells him that if he knew the king as well as she does, he would not be tormented by jealousy. Is she trying to tell him that the king can’t get it up or only that he is not awfully good in bed? Nevertheless, Oroonoko is a bit cheered up and is so nice to Onahal that she starts to take his side a bit. The king invites everybody now to his bedchamber and orders his younger wives, including Imoinda, to dance for them. While they perform, Onahal has a conference with Aboan in a window recess. Onahal, like all older wives retired from their wifely duties, as the narrator explains, was the minder of the younger wives, and being naturally jealous, was very severe with them. (They are a bit like the Aunts in The Handmaid’s Tale).

Aphra Behn – “Oroonoko” (ctd.)

Oroonko is not only a perfect gentleman but he is also very handsome. Here the narrative gets a bit complicated, as the narrator jumps to the moment when she first saw him, but without telling readers exactly when it was and under what circumstances. I guess it’s just the teething problems of the novel as a genre. She is also a bit guilty of implicit racism, even though she tries very hard not to, because the greatest compliment she can pay Oroonoko is to say that he is exactly like the best of white men, only coloured black. Even physically, he is very much like a white man, with a Roman nose and lips which are not thick, so it’s a little bit like his a negative image of a white man. (The young’uns won’t know what I’m talking about.) Oroonoko decides to go to pay his respects to the only daughter of the dead general Imoinda, what with his dying for him and so on. Imoinda is of course also divinely beautiful and virtuous (the narrator claims she saw white men throwing themselves at her feet), and they immediately fall in love with each other. Oroonoko, having left one hundred and fifty slaves he captured during the war with her, returns to his grandfather’s court, but all his warriors cannot stop themselves from singing Imoinda’s praises, so she is talked about in the whole court. I have a feeling nothing good can come out of this. But for the time being, Oroonoko returns to Imoinda. His love is the honourable one, stresses the narrator, but what’s honourable love in the country that practises polygamy? Here we see Behn navigating a difficult course between the conventions of the romance and her acknowledgement that she is writing about a different culture (even though she makes it suspiciously similar to any European court.) The dishonourable thing in this country is to abandon a woman and leave her without support, a thing too common in Christian countries which “prefer the bare name of religion, and, without virtue or morality, think that’s sufficient.” Nevertheless, Oroonoko vows to Imoinda that she is always going to be his only wife, even when she gets old, because “he should have an eternal idea in his mind of the charms she now bore, and should look into his heart for that idea when he could find it no longer in her face.” She accepts him and they decide Oroonoko’s grandfather should be the first to be told.

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.