Tuesday Morning Read


¶ In the Decameron, IX, viii, another anecdote that, more than most of Boccaccio’s occasional reports of everyday retaliation, smacks of “you had to be there.” Duped by the promise of a delicious meal, Ciacco the glutton avenges himself by setting up Biondello for a beating at the hands of an ill-tempered wine merchant, Messer Filippo. The anecdote hangs on an inappropriately familiar use of slang. Oddly, given the comprehensiveness of his notes overall, McWilliam nods here, and I had to turn to the notes in the Italian text for a little enlightenment. Like I knew what I was doing.

¶ In Aubrey: Moore, Moray, More, Morehouse, Morgan, Morton, Mouffet (an expert on insects), Murray, and Myddleton. The first two gents were members of the Royal Society. What is the word that I want to describe Aubrey’s learning? Aware, on some level, that the future of science would be founded upon mathematics, Aubrey nonetheless retained a medieval credulity for marvelous stories.

I remember Sir Jonas [Moore] told us that a Jesuit (I think ’twas Grenbergerus, of the Roman College), found out a way of flying, and that he made a youth perform it. Mr Gascoigne taught an Irish boy the way, and he flew over a river in Lancashire (or thereabouts), but when he was up in the air, the people gave a shout, whereat the boy being frightened, he fell down on the other side of the river, and broke his legs, and when he came to himself, he said that he thought that the people had seen some strange apparition, which fancy amazed him. This was in 1635, and he spoke [about] it in the Royal Society, upon the account of the flying at Paris two years since. See the Transactions.

The imprint of the Icarus legend is palpable, but I wonder if Auden knew this account when he wrote “École des Beaux Arts.”

¶ In Merrill, ruminations among the poems in A Scattering of Salts, the poet’s final collection. “Home Fires” seems to be a poem worth getting to know better, although I can’t say just why.

My house is made of wood so old, so dry
From years beneath this pilot-light blue sky,
      A stranger’s idle glance could be the match
That sends us all to blazes — Where was I?

Ah yes. The man from Aetna showed concern.
No alarm system — when will people learn?
      No outside stair. The work begins next week.
Must I now marry that I may not burn?

¶ Clive James on Croce: Much too brief, at least for me. “He thought that there must be something wrong with an overarching concept if a necessary mental activity withered in its shadow.” That’s as good as saying that there’s bound to be something wrong with any overarching concept, an opinion that I share.