Thursday, September 24, 2015
the learned gentleman?
September 24. The British Library informed me, via facebook this morning, that today is the birthday of Horace Walpole. We must mark the occasion somehow - why not with words. But little praise - he disliked it so, and often took his friends (and enemies) to task for calling him intelligent or learned:
"Pray, my dear child, don't compliment me any more upon my learning; there is nobody so superficial. Except a little history, a little poetry, a little painting, and some divinity, I know nothing. How should I? I, who have always lived in the big busy world; who lie a-bed all the morning, calling it morning as long as you please; who sup in company; who have played at pharaoh half my life, and now at loo till two or three in the morning; who have always loved pleasure; haunted auctions - in short, who don't know so much astronomy as would carry me to Knightsbridge, nor more physic than a physician, nor in short anything that is called science. If it were not that I lay up a little provision in summer, like the ant, I should be as ignorant as all the people I live with. How I have laughed, when some of the Magazines have called me the learned gentleman! Pray don't be like the Magazines." (Volume III p.288)
He couldn't completely deny, though, that he was in fact smarter than the average bear, simply because he read books. Often. And couldn't help picking up something along the way. In particular his wide-ranging nimble vocabulary, which continues to delight me as a reader. Serendipity we have already discussed. Likewise junkettaceous. Other words he invented deserve mention (or re-mention, if I mentioned them already) and should, I think, become common parlance. Shall we write these first boldly just because we are able to do so? Yes. It amplifies their singularity and magnificence:
immachinality (relative helplessness where technology is concerned)
writative (as opposed to talkative)
dogmanity (as opposed to humanity)
turnippery (a country establishment, where turnips reside)
bookhood (Shall we use this in a sentence...? "...a gentleman, who has a better opinion of my bookhood than I deserve." Volume V p.390)
robberaceously (Again? "...the door rattled and shook still more robberaceously." - it was not a robber, but rather an earthquake - Volume V p.362)
betweenity (One more - I can't resist, it feels so pertinent! "I did not use to love September, with its betweenity of parched days and cold long evenings, but this has been all lustre and verdancy: I am sorry it is at its end." Volume VI p.489)
Some of his words had me reaching for a dictionary, in confusion:
And others I recognize and simply admire - writing them out, both in my diary and here, is a pleasure:
Torpid - what a great word! O Horace Walpole, I will miss you, when I no longer visit you regularly on the page. Which time approacheth, for I am still mired deep in Volume VIII of his Letters. I don't want to finish, so I am putting off the inevitable, and besides, the summer backlog of to-be-read books grows ever more insistent. Yes, it's true, I have been reading Other Things. But those are for some future discussion. For today, happy birthday, friend of letters - I won't say learned gentleman - thank you for your words, alive forever on the page.