"Congratulations!" wrote a friend. "You won the grand prize for sending the best Christmas card I received this year. Grand prize consists of 3 Flammel texts down-loaded from the Internet's new alchemical library. You better get yourself plugged in brother... these times they are a changin'." I came upon the letter and texts again while searching through some old files.
I do appreciate a good alchemical treatise. The Flammel (one text an obvious forgery and described as such by the editor) was as fine a treat as I could have hoped to receive. Good ole Sol knows how to make a fine gesture from among his beakers and alembic.
There was work to be done, however. A thousand projects were pending. (Nothing, of course, was abandoned, only pending.) I'd had to set the texts aside for the time being. I've returned to them for a few brief moments, now and again, during some five years, savoring the pleasure that awaits me when the time arrives. Still, more important projects remain ahead of them.
In the British Poets Edition of the Poems of Thomas Gray (1853), for example, there appears the following note concerning line 73 of the "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard":
V. 73. "Far from the madding worldling's hoarse discords." Drummond. Rogers.1
I've promised myself for years now that I would look into the strange reference. At last there would seem to be a proper moment for it.
As I turn to it, however, I can not help but wonder if I will miss too much for not being plugged-in today. A mere URL away I could bathe in purported alchemical texts, learn the inside dope on the latest interactive poetry fad, read the Pakistani newspapers. There was a time when I might have found being "unplugged" fearful and the vestiges clearly remain with me.
Have you checked out
Virtual Grub Street's
Thomas Gray Page yet?
But there is no end to poetry fads and newspapers. There are no footnotes to the Flammel nor anywhere in http://www.colloquium. co.uk/alchemy/home.html for that matter. After years of pouring over scholarly volumes I have come to appreciate a well-crafted footnote as much as an alchemy text or a poem. I can hardly resist the gift of a good footnote, the thrill of the chase.
Take the books beside me, loaded into an omnipresent green canvas satchel. At the foot of page 70 of Michael Hunter's Aubrey, the following:
Robert Plot, Plinius Anglicus sive Angliae Historia Naturalis ac Artium (Society of Antiquaries MS 85), 2. This MS prospectus is addressed to the Lords, Knights and Gentlemen of Oxfordshire, and Plot evidently sent similar prospectuses to others; for example, in Royal Society Classified Papers 22 (I) 12 is a copy by Oldenburg of an almost identical one addressed to the Vice-Chancellor and University of Oxford.2
Smell that salt air! Feel the wind of it at your back! Navigator, a course for the English Pliny!
Or perhaps we are better pleased with an etymology. At the foot of page 16 of Neilson and Webster's Chief British Poets of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, then:
The MS. 'Glayre' may be our glare of an egg, practically equivalent to varnish, gum; or glare, brightness, shining; or the rare AS. 'Glaer,' glossed as 'electrum,' i.e. amber or a composition of gold and silver.3
A quick stop at the Oxford Etymological Dictionary and voila:
glair... white of egg. XIV. -- (O)F. glaire: -- medL glarea, obscure var. of *clarea (SB. Use of fem. of L. adj. clarus CLEAR), whence also Pr. Clara, glara, Sp. clara, It. chiara. Hence glairy1 viscid, slimy. XVII.4
The white of the egg is called the glair -- the clear -- of the egg. The glare of the sun on your windshield is related to the white of an egg.
There are several editions of The Pearl on hand (the poem glossed in the above note) and the matter will at least be better understood if not answered. We can only thank the editor for informing his readers of this knotty little question of translation.
Of course, there is also the footnote-aside, such as we find on page 79 of Dronke's The Medieval Lyric:
I should like to recommend to readers Robert Lowell's recent and delightful English version of this song (Imitations, pp. 6-7) with a caution, however, against one or two misconstructions of the original that it contains (cf. M. Wehrli, Deutsche Lyric des Mittelalters, pp. 435-9): st. 2 "which bunches were prettiest" instead of "which girl"; "our childishness was obvious" instead of "our young looks were radiant"; st. 4 "We came out with spots" (with over-eating strawberries) instead of "We got stains" (on our hands with picking strawberries); st. 5 "that snake would go to hell" is based on Kraus's gratuitous emendation of MS "ez" to "er".5
What's more plugged-in than a natural history of England from the first curator of the Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford, an etymology of the word "glair", a miniature review of Lowell's Imitations? How can I trust this editor naked of footnotes? I have no idea where his Flammel has been!
Our own note is supplied by the Reverend John Mitford , who was quite well-known, during his day, as an expert on the poetry of Gray and of Milton. Biographies of the two poets were written by the good Reverend as introductions for popular series such as The British Poets.
In the instance of Gray, he had already long been a scholar and annotator of the poetry, and, therefore, we have the excellent notes from which our present is excerpted. A cursory inspection of the corresponding volume of the Aldine Edition of the British Poets (1866) verifies that it is nothing more than a reissue of the earlier edition. Necessarily, then, the above note appears there also on the same page 104.
Why the annotator, who generally is so painstaking with his notes, has given us only the reference "Rogers", in some few scattered throughout, it would be difficult to ascertain. From the 1863 Chamber's Cyclopedia we learn the following of the aforesaid Rogers, known to us before only as a once popular English poet now justly gone out of style:
It was as a man of taste and letters, as a patron of artists and authors, and as the friend of almost every illustrious man that has graced our annals, for the last half-century and more, that Mr. Rogers chiefly challenged the public attention. At his celebrated breakfast-parties, persons of almost all classes and pursuits were found.6
The parties were held daily "during the season" in London.
The editions of Gray, at hand, are both inscribed "To Samuel Rogers, Esq." It seems only reasonable to advance the theory that the esteemed Mr. Rogers quoted the line from Drummond ex tempore, perhaps during one such breakfast, the Reverend being present in the company, hence, we find "Rogers".
That the line proves to be quoted without a fault would then attest to the retentive powers of the gentleman, for the annotator, had he verified it, would surely have provided his habitually precise information. Had the annotator been in possession of such we can not imagine a reason to suppress it. There could follow the same attribution to his host.
To the best of our knowledge, there had been printed editions of Drummond's works in the years 1852, 1833, 1832 (Edinburgh), 1810 and 1793 (a volume from The Works of the British Poets series published in Edinburgh) during the previous fifty years. Having our note from out of a volume published in 1853, it is unlikely that either Mitford or his host had the 1852 edition at hand. Still, the earlier editions, although twenty and more years old, are sufficiently spaced to assure us that, no matter when Rogers quoted ancient Drummond, the means were available to verify it.
We may confidently pursue our theory further and picture the Reverend Mitford insufficiently intimate with the famous Samuel Rogers to ask for more exact information. The formality of the inscription appended to the editions of Gray might suggest that Mitford was no intimate at the breakfasts. The other choice before us is that Rogers was himself unable, however much he would have been pleased, to do so.
One step more and we picture the closest volume of Drummond being at some distance away. Perhaps as far as Cambridge or Oxford. Even an exhaustive scholar could hardly be expected to go so far (the automobile not yet invented, much less the Internet) to verify a single source. By the time he might have found himself in the appropriate library all thoughts of the matter could certainly have been forgotten.
Whatever exactly was the reason, the reader is left to do the detective work which the good Reverend Mitford chose to forego. The Aldine went to press from the galleys of the earlier (British Poets) edition; if the information was available to repair the footnote, at that point, thirteen years later, there had been no opportunity.
Drummond, we may remember, was the William Drummond, of Hawthornden, who Ben Jonson visited during a trip to Scotland, in 1619. The Scot took the time to jot a memorandum of Jonson's conversation, in which we learn inter alia that "he cursed Petrarch for redacting Verses to Sonnets, which he said were like the Tirrant's bed, wher some who were too short were racked, others too long cut short,"7 and "That Shakspear wanted Arte."8 The memorandum is now a classic while Drummond's poetry is largely forgotten. Whereas we are not disappointed that Mr. Rogers has gone out of style, we are that the Scot never has been quite popular. The editions of his work cited above were scholarly editions, as the rule.
Drummond of Hawthornden was actually an excellent poet who rode the crest of the post-Elizabethan wave and a person having connections in the courts of James and Charles. He may have written the first sestinas in the English language. He was less rigidly classical (Jonson's definition, by the way, of "arte") than his visitor and experimented successfully, and at length, with the energetic Italian forms. He wrote Shakespearean sonnets contemporaneously with the Bard of Avon. His work occasionally prefigures the intellectual integration of the Metaphysicals.
Happily, some years later, there was another popular series which included two volumes of the English poetry of William Drummond (The Muses Library, 1894). The set was published by Lawrence and Bullen, in London, and by Charles Scribner's Son, in New York.
The volumes are edited by one "Wm C. Ward". Among the inconsequential facts of biography, we may be amused to find that:
On the 29th of September 1626 letters patent "to Mr. William Drummond for the making of military machines" were issued at Hampton Court; and the patent was sealed at Holyrood on the 24th of December 1627. After [noting] that "our faithful subject, Mr. William Drummond of Hawthornden, has expended very much time, labor, and money in the devising and fabricating of various machines, which may be of use and profit to the State in the affairs both of peace and war,...9
Among the items, we are informed, were a ship, called "Leviathan," to break through the heaviest harbor chains and set fire to other ships, a war-elephant, a "Box-Pistol," "Pike-Arquebuss," "Fiery Waggon," etc.
Thus Drummond joined the host of other notable artists and scientists from that age who sought some part of their living by supplying kings with terrific engines of war. The Scot must have been a fascinating man in line with the best of the Renaissance.
By the inelegant method of scanning all of the rhyme-words of all of the lines of this edition, we come, in volume 1, on page 82, to the poem in question. It is the sonnet beginning, "Dear wood, and you, sweet solitary place". The last six lines require our attention:
What sweet delight a quiet life affords,
And what it is to be of bondage free,
Far from the madding worldling's hoarse discords,
Sweet flow'ry place, I first did learn of thee:
Ah! If I were mine own, your dear heart resorts
I would not change with prince's stately courts. 10
A hundred years apart, both Thomas Gray and Samuel Rogers lingered over these lines.
Of course, line 73 of the "Elegy" is "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife". The Reverend Mitford's note brings to our attention that the correspondence between the two lines is too striking to be coincidence. Gray lived as a fellow of Cambridge University for most of his adult life. The fact would certainly have placed at his disposal the 1711 Edinburgh edition or the London edition of 1656 "printed for Richard Tomlins at the Sun and Bible, neare Pye-Corner."11
It is only recently that we have become in the least squeamish about this kind of close literary borrowing. It had been an honored aspect of the art of poetry until poets ceased to read much poetry from which to borrow. Gray and his fellow poets were only upping the ante with a new style of allusion such as we find before us here.
Among the benefits, to us all, of this kind of borrowing, is that the original line or idea may be broadened and improved as it is in this instance. In a later stage of development it might come to be intended that the original work be co-opted somewhat. Perhaps the present example is ahead of its time in this regard.
On page 99 of our Gray we find an entire stanza taken from Richard West. The stanza quoted, in Mitford's notes, is from the "Monody on Queen Caroline":
Ah me! What boots us all our boasted power,
Our golden treasure, and our purple state;
They can not ward the inevitable hour,
Nor stay the fearful violence of fate.12
And, in the hand of Gray, is transformed to:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.13
Gray (vastly the superior poet) has dropped the ejaculation "Ah me!" and has given the first two lines a tension of plosives and abrupt clauses. The final lines then expend the pent up energy in sonorous declamations which otherwise might seem as contrived as their originals in West.
Richard West is still less well known than Drummond. In fact, all that he is known for is having been a dear friend of Gray and having died at just the right time to inspire the final version of the "Elegy".
The "Elegy" had been begun at least the year before and possibly as early as 1742. Gray wrote the stanza we've cited expecting to compliment his young friend by having thought his lines worth borrowing. He may also have expected West, as a result of such attentions, to consider such matters as how half-lines and heavy caesura improve the expression of the sentiment. That is to say, he may have intended a poetry lesson.
Prior to West's sudden death, in 1747, the poem consisted of the first ninety-two lines, as we know them now, combined with another ending. The lines of the ending were not exceptional for Gray. The poet had put it aside for further revision when time and inspiration would permit.
After his friend's untimely demise, at twenty-six years of age, the distraught elder poet entirely changed the ending to that which we read now, in which a vague figure goes "Now drooping, woeful-wan, like one forlorn".14 That figure is his friend generalized into a melancholy youth who may appreciate the stones of the graveyard. The epitaph at the end of the poem is his as well.
Of course, we are simplifying. The vague figure is as much the companion of the "uncouth swain" of John Milton's "Lycidas". Such is the license we allow poetry.
As for the lineage from Milton, Mitford seems inexplicably to have failed us. For example, in his notes on line 7 of the "Elegy", he quotes every influence but the original. The line reads as follows:
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,15
and has its prototype in Milton's,
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,16
from out of "Lycidas". The Reverend's citation of Collins's "Ode to Evening", in his footnote, is informed, for,
Or where the beetle winds
His small, but sullen horn,17
is both influenced by the line we've quoted from "Lycidas" and is an intermediate step towards Gray's line.
Again, the citation (with which Gray was unquestionably familiar) is from Collins's "Ode to Evening". The ode was published during the composition process of the "Elegy", and it is also quite possible that Gray had it in manuscript earlier still, the habit of handing around manuscripts being common at the time.
Both poets were more or less intimate with the Mr. Whartons -- brothers Joseph and Thomas -- who served as go-betweens for the literary figures of the day, and whose father, Dr. Wharton of Oxford, was sometimes a poet. Certainly "So the bee ranges o'er the varied scenes",18 from a wonderful sonnet of Dr. Wharton, reveals a general stylistic trait handed down from Milton (as well as an emotional attachment to the rustic life which Milton did not share).
It would be difficult to argue that any line, from any poet, was so directly the prototype of line 7 of the "Elegy" as this one from the elder Wharton. At any rate, flies, beetles, hummings, dronings, etc. were everywhere in the poetic countryside for years to that point and the only real question would seem to be how anyone ever avoided them, poetically or otherwise, pesticides being almost as far in the future as Internets.
We may wonder whether Thomas Wharton's,
But when the curfew's measured roar,
Duly, the darkening valleys o'er,19
As studious still calm peace to keep,
Beneath a flowery turf they sleep.20
from his "The Hamlet", were written before or after the "Elegy", for one surely was a source for the other. Thomas, however, was not yet twenty years of age when the "Elegy" was begun, and "The Hamlet" is absolutely inferior to it: it would seem all but certain that the younger man's poem was derivative.
The seventh line of the "Elegy" is only the first of many indications that, even before the death of West, Gray was writing with "Lycidas", the most famous elegy, to that point, in the language, very much in mind. With the death of his friend, the earlier elegy became a still more exact model, for it had been written to eulogize the passing of Milton's young class-mate Edward King.
It might be said that the "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard" was a conscious attempt to write an elegy to rival "Lycidas" without indulging in the high Pagan imagery which Milton had loved too much to surrender in his youthful productions. Gray was one of the first English poets to consciously avoid classical imagery and themes in his English poems (however much he was a superior classical scholar).
Such a dialogue between works is the rule rather than the exception. In the words of Guy Davenport, "The genetic components of a work of art are responses, both of agreement and modification."21
When Richard West died, the relationship between the poems was heightened. Miltonic personifications such as,
...cowslips wan that hang the pensive head...22
and the "day-star" which,
...yet anon repairs his drooping head...23
became an actual person:
Now drooping, woeful-wan, like one forlorn,
Or craz'd with care, or crossed in hopeless love.24
Gray was almost as intent to avoid the Miltonic habit of personification and this was a fine way to do so without losing the concomitant effects.
West, then, watched the "simple annals of the poor," and, himself, in turn, was watched by the "uncouth" or "hoary-headed" swain who will sing a simple song of him for epitaph. More generally, some mild and melancholy young men watch from atop nearby hills, from the forest edge; shepherds who know, like their counterparts, how "to sing and build the lofty rhyme."25
Where Gray is intent to part with Milton is in his unrealistic and aristocratic imagery. This, he clearly feels, is outdated. Mild young men, poetry, nature, unrequited love, early death, and elegies still remain with all their magic but with none of their pagan machinery. The reality is as lovely-sad as once was the fantasy. The agreement/contrast with "Lycidas" is an integral part of the "Elegy" (as is, in a lesser way, the agreement/contrast with Drummond's bower).
Milton had done somewhat the same thing with his poem. Theocritus and Virgil are all throughout it in ways which the poet has nonetheless made his own. The Miltonic style of allusion and imitation is the classical style and had already be common among poets for centuries.
With Gray the style of the allusion itself has also changed. Milton borrowed from classical forms and traits, by and large, but only in the most general terms from the substance of earlier works. Having a capable mythological dictionary at hand the reader is prepared.
In Gray individual lines are far more frequently alluded to and the work of moderns (even contemporaries) as much as that of Greeks and Romans. His idea of influence is greatly expanded from that of his predecessor. Subsequently, it is more demanding. Notes are often necessary for more than a superficial reading. We are provided a road-map such as we are following now.
And it may not be a coincidence that Drummond's "Dear Wood..." would seem to bear the same agreement/contrast relationship, of which we have spoken, with Shakespeare's sonnet, "When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes".26 The young Scotsman was demonstrably familiar with the circle of poets. His sonnet is Shakespearean in form and virtually shares the same last line. Sonnets were circulated in manuscript among familiars and replies such as we may find in "Dear Wood..." were common. Or the reply more probably would have been to the poem after it appeared -- he being but twenty years of age at the time Shakespeare's sonnets were published.
The line with which we began, then,
Far from the madding worldlings hoarse discords,27
and the author's embrace of his solitude, would answer Shakespeare's frustration at his rough handling in the marketplace of life. In its turn, it would be adapted by Gray, would become a part of the then new tendency to praise in more realistic terms the rustic life where "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen".28 The romantic picture of the poet as melancholy lover of solitude would then strangely pivot also upon this obscure sonnet.
Looking forward, rather than backward, from Gray, we find in the poetry of George Crabbe a direct inheritance from the "Elegy". We find the peasant poets Burns and Clare. Each after their own fashion, and to their own degree, we find Hardy, Frost, Sandburg, Masters, Robinson and others.
"Lycidas", on the other hand, was absorbed as a part of romanticism -- thenceforward to be the periodic reaction to realism. The great romantic, Keats, thought Milton by far the greatest English poet and imitated him at every opportunity. Another of our great funerary odes is descended, yet again, from "Lycidas"; "Adonais", Shelley's ode upon the death of Keats, is appropriately an adaptation of the poem (and its Latin originals).
The rest of the poetry, in the broad movements to which we have referred, is lost, or, more exactly, placed in the rare document collections of various libraries and museums, to be consulted from time to time by persons pursuing their doctoral theses. Many will be found to contain an illuminating line or reference. Eventually, they appear, that is to say, in the notes of some new Reverend Mitford and start us to evaluate yet again what exactly it all means.
Gray's "Elegy", of course, is the first masterpiece, in the modern English language, of the poetry of the common man. It is both cause and result of a growing democratic turn of mind. That same turn of mind, however, has come to reject the very idea of literary influence of the kind that made the poem possible. The quatrains in which the poem is written are all but anathema. The efforts of a thousand Mitford's are beneath notice, the poetry lesson we might glean from them oppressive and overly demanding. The modulation which evolved from centuries of such cross-pollination (inevitable with all those dronings about) and elitist dabbling has all but disappeared.
It is a point well taken that Gray himself was a highly cultured man -- that is to say, a man of reflection and aristocratic tastes -- and that may account for some portion of our modern disdain. He could never have chosen to share the "straw-built shed"29 or to write rustic verses. That he could not, however, detect in the contrast with his personal predilections an irony mortal to the "Elegy" is no more disingenuous than the fact that we today can not detect an irony in exalting what is most common in the common man.
The Internet is certain to be dominated by the same influences until it has been part of the landscape for a considerable time -- decades, at least. Just as www.colloquium/alchemy has supplied me three reputed Flammel texts, who may not have had the least wherewithal to read them to the full, I am sure that www.colloquium/elegy would be ignorant of Drummond's sonnet and war elephants, Rogers' breakfast club, the Doctor Warton's sons and sonnet. Its very ease and popularity will to some degree make all of these less accessible; what will not be on the Internet will be too far outside of our collective field of vision to be worthy of attention -- often even of maintenance.
Fascinating stuff, this Flammel, but is it actually Flammel? The original French texts, which the editor tells us existed side-by-side in the volume from which he has supplied us, are nowhere at hand. Is the translation exactly literal: somehow free of the doubts that compel our best translators to engage in some limited discussion of the original terms?
The answer, of course, is that these matters would be impractical to attend to from an Internet address. The staff likely is small -- perhaps a single individual, him or herself isolated from the bulk of previous scholarship -- and of limited knowledge in these areas.
It is important to remember, as well, that the miraculous Internet is a commercial venture, throughout more and more of its collective circuitry, laden with all that the fact infers. The requisite time to reproduce a French text and/or footnotes costs money. Most of the already limited audience is unlikely to download old French texts. At some point, there will need to be an audience sufficiently large, in modern market terms, to justify the investment of time and money necessary to maintain a meaningful colloquium/alchemy or colloquium/elegy. This has historically proven to be a highly suspect way to maintain balance and quality.
It is just such a balance which provides the reader an exceptional experience in the "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard". It is such a balance, in the society at large, that the elegy seeks to improve upon in the osmotic fashion by which the best poetry improves.
The poor lack the resources to do exceptional good or ill. Knowledge,
...to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll30
Theirs is an obscure life of "useful toil" and "homely joys" and one where poverty freezes "the genial current of the soul". It is this which recommends them and excuses what is less than laudable in them. They are decidedly favored in the passages of this poem.
Thomas Browne's Religio Medici is cited as a possible source for the previous lines, the author a near contemporary of Drummond, a doctor and the son of a moderately well-to-do mercer. Gray himself was the son of a scrivener. A mere fifty years before Browne wrote, sons of mercers and scriveners could have little hope of attending university. Fifty years later, we receive more realistic depictions of the life of the common man.
Among many wise observations upon the subject of knowledge, Browne also reminds his readers (in another work, Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Epidemic of False Beliefs) that "...though Universities be full of men, they are oftentimes empty of learning."31 This is amongst the implied forms of idleness against which Gray counter-poises the peasant's "useful toil". The point would seem to adhere more to the unrestrained Internet University than most.
In the "Elegy" the outcome of this lack of knowledge is a simple, sturdy, loving people: "mute, inglorious" Miltons; Cromwells "guiltless of their nation's blood."32 It is somewhere between the sturdy peasant and the Cambridge fellow, then, we should detect the "madding crowd," the "hoarse discord". It would not be unfair to say that it is that very marketplace, of which we speak, filled with busy-ness and barely restrained self-interest, with jockeying for position; filled with enough learning to write out bills-of-lading and a propensity for commanding all that is necessary from knowledge's "ample page" at a mere glance. In short, the madding crowd is populated with our university's dean, don and student.
It is obvious from Drummond's and Gray's lines that there is never enough that is "mute" about these Miltons, nor guiltless about these Cromwells, for us to approve. We may add that their primary attribute is possessiveness (which they style their primary virtue): it is their market, their information, their Internet, theirs to do with or withhold as they see fit.
With the latest discoveries in many fields presented on-screen, by subscription, rather than in books and journals of a well appointed public library, the unaffiliated scholar (or amateur) may well need impossible amounts of investment capital merely to keep current. Without the kind of societal support which is periodically removed to satisfy an absolute hegemony of the marketplace, vital information, for citizen and scholar, can become a product available only after one has effectively bought into a prevailing perspective (the point-of-view of the "madding crowd") in order to be able to afford or to qualify for it. In the ultimate land of free enquiry, information, once again, might be restricted for reasons having nothing to do with the inherent quality of the enquiry itself.
Thomas Gray was not an exceptional classicist and poet because he had the Cambridge University library near at hand so much as because he had the time and sufficient societal support to linger over that library toward whatever end it might achieve. He was outside of the crush of the marketplace: "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife".33 A modest amount of comfort and recognition were his nonetheless.
William Drummond, of Hawthornden, on the other hand, was not a brilliant amateur because he had rooms so much as because he had disposable income and the energy which the marketplace, at its best, represents. He had the habit of the best minds of the day. Everything he saw fascinated him, nothing seems to have daunted him. Every conversation was witty, liberal, untainted by the must of scholarship.
The invention of the printing press, some two hundred and fifty years before, was slowly, over centuries, freeing such minds from their limitations. Not only monks were literate and possessed of texts of discovery, but also minor noblemen and even some commoners. There remained much to be accomplished. In time it would be discovered that, beyond moveable type, the unhindered flow of information was necessary in order to have a true free-market in ideas. But the new medium released profound democratizing forces that we rediscover in Gray's "Elegy" and its predecessors.
Sir William was further at liberty to fail, if his pocketbook and investors could redeem that failure. None of his military patents was ever built. The effort of a thousand Drummonds, of Hawthornden, was essential even should they fail. Each patent was more data -- each record kept, a medieval Internet site.
Those medieval Internet sites -- those new-fangled printed books -- were essential even should they be filled with stories of two-headed men living in a new land called America. A book on navigation which warned of the terrible beasts lurking at the edge of the world still could be quite helpful in teaching celestial navigation between mainland and monster. A text of Drummond or Flammel without footnotes still might be well enough made to bring a wonderful variety of human experience within the reader's grasp.
Furthermore, it is only at about the time of Gray's "Elegy" that footnotes and bibliographies would become commonplace. The considerable good these texts did they did without such paraphernalia. It was the thousands of other texts (or sometimes portions of the same texts), that resulted in poisonings, maimings, malnourished children, ships run aground, poor writing, bogus history, etc., which led to the adoption of standards. The vast new population of acolytes in the realm of learning were unlikely to have the time to develop a substantial background from scratch. Those who sought to do so in earnest were faced with a deluge of titles before which they were overwhelmed. Few persevered. The rest remained a step behind, the validity of their knowledge assured by bibliographies and footnotes and their willingness to use them.
Unleashed at the same time was the busy-ness man, of whom we have spoken, who, having little time and less inclination for thorough, legitimate knowledge, was an instant expert on any subject he needed or wanted to command in order to guarantee the perfection and universal application of his product. Conveniently, to require standards from him was soon to be "undemocratic". Millions died, were maimed, lost their money, and were sentenced to unexplored lives for the sake of busy-ness.
After centuries, the end result was demonstrably that these books, these markets, these successes, these failures, these elegies brought about the considerable limitation of an oppressive class-system. Markets and education offered much fuller lives to the common man and a literature to provide the raw materials for wonderfully subtle variation.
But it is a mistake to believe that greater democracy was contained in the seed of moveable type -- that knowledge and legitimate methods were certain to prevail as a matter of course. Both were won (to the degree which they have thus far been won) through constant vigilance, constant application. Busy-ness, and the sense that the tremendous power that has been achieved is its own validation, leave the final denouement in doubt as much now as at the first.
I have long since begun my journey through the Internet. It is an invention which, over decades (or centuries), should prove to be every bit as epochal as the invention of movable type. As bumptious and exasperating as the process is bound to be, I am now a part of all that -- yet another wonderful renaissance.
Yet I do not confuse down-loading with acquiring knowledge or its benefits any more than I confuse flying a virtual-reality patrol-craft along the canals of Mars with F-15 flight training. We are, after all, "plugged-in" when legitimate knowledge is available in a thorough form. At that point, war-elephants, and various other bric-a-brac, are not only amusing trivia but meaningful context.
Our "democratic" demand that learning be either simple entertainment or the proprietary domain of some vaguely troubling profession is "unplugged" no matter whether it be supported by an Internet. Gray's "Elegy" is a vital document, a compendium of poetic style and subtle emotional response, and, foremost, a living work. Mitford's notes expand our reading of it: reveal it as a particularly meaningful strophe from out of a much longer collective elegy. That brand of democracy which eschews its rigor as outdated or "elitist" is its own worst enemy, for it leaves its foundations to disrepair while building ever more tenuous towers on top of them.
Even Drummond -- the gentleman marketeer -- however much he was pleased with his bustling world, found it necessary to escape the "worldling's hoarse discords" in order to be truly free. Neither his poetry nor war-machinery would have been possible otherwise. Gray, after him, shared the experience and passed the wisdom along inter alia in one of the world's great elegies.
We must now gather our Internet papers and our handful of books and seek out our own bower, "at the foot of yonder nodding beech,"34 where we, too, can do meaningful work in actual reality, listen to the birds that remain, hear the beetle wheel his droning flight, become associates of ourselves and our world. And however much we are computer-literate we must moreso be knowledge-literate -- an often tedious, and always less fashionable, experience. In a phrase, "We better get ourselves plugged-in, brother." That is, after all, what life is supposed to be about.
Chamber, Robert, ed. Cyclopedia of English Literature; A History, Critical and Biographical, of British Authors, from the Earliest to the Present Times. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincot and Co., 1863.)
Davenport, Guy. Every Force Evolves a Form. (Berkeley: North Point Press, no date.) Copyright 1987 by Guy Davenport.
Dronke, Peter. The Medieval Lyric. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1969.
Endicott, Norman J., ed. The Prose of Sir Thomas Browne. (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967.)
Harrison, G. B., ed. Ben Johnson: Discoveries (1641) [and] Conversations with William Drummond (1619). (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, Ltd., no date.) First published as Bodley Head Quarto, 1923.
Hunter, Michael. John Aubry and the Realm of Learning. (New York: Science History Publications, no date.) Copyright 1975 by Michael Hunter.
Mossner, Ernest C., ed. Justa Edovardo King. (New York: Published for THE FACSIMILE TEXT SOCIETY by Columbia University Press, 1939.) Reproduced from the original edition of 1638.
Mitford, John, ed. The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1853.
Neilson, W. A. and K. G. T. Webster, eds. The Chief British Poets of the Fourteenth Century and Fifteenth Century. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, no date.) Copyright 1916 by W.A.N. and K.G.T.W.
Onions, C. T., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1976.
Rowse, A. L., ed. The Annotated Shakespeare. 3 vols. (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc, no date.) Copyright 1978.
Ward, William C., ed. The Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden. (London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1894.
1) The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray, 104, note V.73.
2) John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning, 70, n. 3.
3) The Chief British Poets of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, 16, n. 4.
4) The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 400.
5) The Medieval Lyric, 79, n. 2.
6) Cyclopedia of English Literature, II. 274.
7) Ben Jonson, "Conversations", 5.
8) ibid. p.4.
9) The Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden, I. lxviii, lxix.
10) ibid. I. 82.
11) ibid. I cxxii.
12) Gray, I. note V. 33.
13) ibid. 99. "Elegy", l. 36.
14) ibid. 95. "Elegy", l. 7.
15) Justa Edovardo King, 21.
16) Gray, 95, note V. 7.
17) Cyclopedia, II. 36. Because the sonnet "Written after seeing Windsor Castle" is all but impossible to find, I quote it here in full.
From beauteous Windsor's high and storied halls,
Where Edward's chiefs start from the glowing walls,
To my low cot from ivory beds of state,
Pleased I return unenvious of the great.
So the bee ranges o'er the varied scenes
Of corn, of heaths, of fallows, and of greens,
Pervades the thicket, soars above the hill,
Or murmurs to the meadow's murmuring rill:
Now haunts old hollowed oaks, deserted cells,
Now seeks the low vale lily's silver bells;
Sips the warm fragrance of the greenhouse bowers,
And tastes the myrtle and the citron's flowers;
At length returning to the wonted comb,
Prefers to all his little straw-built home.
Not only is the congruence to this one line, but the "straw-built home" would seem to put the matter beyond doubt.
18) ibid. 38.
20) Every Force Evolves a Form, 77.
21) Justa, 24.
22) ibid. 25.
23) Gray, 108.
24) Justa, 20.
25) Gray, 101.
26) Shakespeare, 159. The sonnet referred to is XXIX.
27) See note 1.
28) Gray, 97 "Elegy", l. 18.
29) ibid. 101, "Elegy", l. 49-50.
30) The Prose of Sir Thomas Browne, 122.
31) Gray, 102. "Elegy", l. 60.
32) ibid. 104.
Gilbert Wesley Purdy's work in poetry, prose and translation has appeared in many journals, paper and electronic, including: Jacket Magazine (Australia); Poetry International (San Diego State University); Grand Street; the Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Pedestal Magazine; SLANT (University of Central Arkansas); Orbis (UK), and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. His work in journalism has been cited by MSNBC, Newsweek, and Americas.Org. His Hyperlinked Online Bibliography is now also hosted at BlogSpot.
- The Thomas Gray Page.