The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tonson's Miscellany, volume II

Just a couple of random thoughts, observations, etc, etc.

-The main site I consulted for funny videos is sadly down at the moment. Actually, it's not so much down as it is completely overwhelmed by porn (, NSFW). Believe it or not, I'd rather have funny videos.

-Reading up on the influence of philosophical scepticism in the time of Dryden's (1660-1700), I read a very interesting quote by a thinker I had never come across before. The book was dealing with scepticism in the middle ages, where some "heretics" decided to separate faith from reason. A later exemplar of this was Pomponazzi, a professor of philosophy at the University in Bologna (late 15th-early 16th century), who says,

"I believe as a Christian what I cannot believe as a philosopher"

-turns out the term "witticism" is much older than I thought. I seem to remember reading that it was a relatively recent coinage (c. 1900), but I was reading Dryden's apology for his heroic play The State of Innocence, a massive operatic version of Paradise Lost which was never performed. In it, Dryden says uses the term "witticism" and qualifies it with "if I may use a new term!". This is news to me, though I have known for some time that it was Dryden who introduced many French words and phrases, such as ballet and a propos, into English.

-I made my monthly (or thereabouts) visit to Benjamin Books here in Ottawa on Saturday to pick up my copy of The Complete Poems of the Earl of Rochester (ed. Vieth). They were selling the original hardcover for 20 bucks CAN, whereas the reprinted softcover is about 23 bucks USD. As always, I looked around and found a few other gems:

-James Thomson's The Seasons and Castle of Indolence in one volume (7 CAN)
-Harold Bloom's The Visionary Company (3 bucks; this should be useful for my Romantic poem course)

I was tempted to pick up a few more titles, but I will wait until next month. I have my eyes on an old hardcover of the poems of Abraham Cowley (excluding his unfinished epic, Davideis, I believe). The asking price is 20 bucks, but considering how hard it is to find Cowley, much less an old hardcover, that sounds fairly reasonable. Heck, most penguins nowadays go for about 20 bucks (don't get me started on the crooked nazi criminals that Penguin Books have become!)

I'm off to read some lesser known poems by Andrew Marvell. He's not my favourite poet (Dryden is better and Waller flows more), and he is certainly difficult, but he has some wonderful lines. Then again, I like Samuel Johnson's poetry (despite its unpopularity), and most people find him difficult. One of his contemporaries, the great actor David Garrick, complained that reading his poems was like reading Greek (which he didn't know).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some good buys there. Do you mean the Benjamin Books closest to campus, or the one located in the Rideau Center? The separation of faith and reason in the context you describe reminds me a bit of Kirkegaard's understanding of transcendant vs. immanent god which I was introducing to my students the other day.

A fun blog, with some good personality. I'll have to stop by again in the future.

1:52 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good, finally got a comment to post, stupid technology. I'll have to discuss you're earlier posted ideas about Russian prose and English poetry with you. I think Whitman fits in nicely with the Prelude in terms of the spiritual impression it leaves. It explores and resolves the traditional psychomachia that we live in without resorting to simplification or cliche, but perhaps the most perfect use of Cleanth Brooks' language of paradox that I've ever read.


1:57 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...


first, who are you? :-)
yes, I'm referring to the Benjamin Books on Osgoode (about a minute's walk from my house).


Yes, I can definitely see the connection between Whitman and Wordsworth (esp. the Prelude). But, and don't get cross, I'm not crazy about Whitman.

3:20 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alas, Whitman often goes unappreciated, lol. I suppose the other obvious candidate for such a list of spiritually moving work in English is Shakespeare (I was originally going to spend my entire life studying Hamlet when I began my master's, before realizing that that way meant madness). And, since Tolstoy was your original Russian example, it suggests the classic aesthetic debate over the value of the Bard and Tolstoy's scathing rejection of him. I'll have to pick your brain about that one day. Oh, and the first anonymous poster was me too, just playing with the tech and accidently left out my name.


8:11 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Good to have you here, Jamie.

It may seem odd that the same person would like Tolstoy and Shakespeare, but Tolstoy's distaste for the bard was mostly the product of moral resentment (Tolstoy himself regretted ever writing Anna Karenina) and, I think, senility. Who knows, perhaps even invidiousness?

4:42 p.m.  

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