The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Monday, July 11, 2005


I'm always struggling to read bits of The Anatomy of Melancholy. It has some of the craziest dazzling prose ever written, but it keeps on cancelling itself out through it's wild shifts.** Not so this chapter from Jeremy Bentham, which, like TAOM, sets out to list every pleasure and pain known to man, but in a short space. I always imagine pedants going up to Bentham and saying, "You know something pleasant that you forgot to mention is..." And him politely saying, "Yes. Of course. I'll add that to the next addition. Thank you for pointing that out."

**So when you read a quote from the Anatomy of Melancholy, you think "That has to be the best book ever." But you locate the passage quoted and find it dissolving into the 1,000 pages surrounding it. See for example Anthony Powell's quotation*** from it in the "Dance to the Music of Time"
I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies and sea-fights; peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, corantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of princes, new discoveries, expeditions, now comical, then tragical matters. Today we hear of new lords and officers created, tomorrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh: he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c. This I daily hear, and such like, both private and public news, amidst the gallantry and misery of the world; jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves; I rub on _privus privatus_; as I have still lived, so I now continue, _statu quo prius_, left to a solitary life, and mine own domestic discontents: saving that sometimes, _ne quid mentiar_, as Diogenes went into the city, and Democritus to the haven to see fashions, I did for my recreation now and then walk abroad, look into the world, and could not choose but make some little observation, _non tam sagax observator ac simplex recitator_, not as they did, to scoff or laugh at all, but with a mixed passion.

***Stretching to the very limit the lost convention of quoting other works in novels. What's beyond the limit? The last chapter of this.