Henry Fielding on who gives a fack where [Columbus] was born (answer: not [Columbus])

Past performance is no guide to future performance, my dears.

I think the imminent mass emigration of young middle-class Greeks to London will be rather like the Argentine default a decade ago, when overnight Barcelona filled up with kids from Buenos Aires whose parents’ savings had been vaporized by the government: some of the best women I’ve met, and some of the most abject and ignorant men. The Greek kleptocrat sprogs in London have been demonstrating the inverse relation between historical chauvinism and knowledge of the classics for years now, and I guess there’ll be more of that now. My best case scenario for this new wave is kebab wars, but I think for many microwaved pizza will be a struggle.

An estimable young Gerona commie, Marina Pibernat Vila, got kicked off her party’s election list last month for calling the Cataloonies catalufos – no translation analysis necessary. Here she is talking about the same thing – about a mayoral candidate of the Catalan party which smells old and nasty: a village Rachel D., who can’t stop fiddling with his dreadfully Spanish-sounding surname, and who said that the Spanish are genetically incapable of transcending servility:

El entrevistador empieza preguntando a Ximenis por la catalanización de su apellido. Y él trata de ignorantes a quienes no saben que Jiménez es en realidad un apellido catalán, Ximenis. No sabemos, ni viene a cuento, el rigor histórico de lo que cuenta Ximenis, en cualquier caso, nos da igual. Lo más gracioso es imaginarse a un Jiménez independentista pasarse horas buscando la forma de probar su catalanidad y la de su apellido, remontándose para ello hasta la época de Jaume I, un rey catalán idolatrado por parte del independentismo por recordarles aquellas buenas épocas en las que la nobleza catalana se expandía a base de guerra santa imperialista, valga la redundancia. Al nacionalismo le encantan estas cosas sobre linajes medievales, tanto como manipular la Historia a su antojo. A mí me importa una mierda el origen de mis apellidos, Pibernat i Vila, que ciertamente suenan indefectiblemente catalanes, pero vaya usted a saber. Mi identidad no tiene nada que ver con una supuesta pureza nacional de mis apellidos; y compadezco a personar como “Ximenis”, que tanto invierten en probar la – en su caso – catalanidad de los suyos. Dan una penosa sensación de necesidad desesperada por formar parte del ideal nacional imperante.

[They kicked him out]

And here’s Fielding, who, having escaped from the nose of his corpse, has made A Journey from this World to the Next, and wants to resolve some of the questions that keep bitter and lonely old men busy:

Old Homer was present at this concert (if I may so call it), and Madam Dacier sat in his lap. He asked much after Mr. Pope, and said he was very desirous of seeing him; for that he had read his Iliad in his translation with almost as much delight as he believed he had given others in the original. I had the curiosity to inquire whether he had really writ that poem in detached pieces, and sung it about as ballads all over Greece, according to the report which went of him. He smiled at my question, and asked me whether there appeared any connection in the poem; for if there did he thought I might answer myself. I then importuned him to acquaint me in which of the cities which contended for the honor of his birth he was really born? To which he answered, “Upon my soul I can’t tell.”


I then observed Shakespeare standing between Betterton and Booth, and deciding a difference between those two great actors concerning the placing an accent in one of his lines: this was disputed on both sides with a warmth which surprised me in Elysium, till I discovered by intuition that every soul retained its principal characteristic, being, indeed, its very essence. The line was that celebrated one in Othello —
PUT OUT THE LIGHT, AND THEN PUT OUT THE LIGHT. according to Betterton. Mr. Booth contended to have it thus:—
Put out the light, and then put out THE light. I could not help offering my conjecture on this occasion, and suggested it might perhaps be-
Put out the light, and then put out THY light. Another hinted a reading very sophisticated in my opinion —
Put out the light, and then put out THEE, light, making light to be the vocative case. Another would have altered the last word, and read —
PUT OUT THY LIGHT, AND THEN PUT OUT THY SIGHT. But Betterton said, if the text was to be disturbed, he saw no reason why a word might not be changed as well as a letter, and, instead of “put out thy light,” you may read “put out thy eyes.” At last it was agreed on all sides to refer the matter to the decision of Shakespeare himself, who delivered his sentiments as follows: “Faith, gentlemen, it is so long since I wrote the line, I have forgot my meaning. This I know, could I have dreamed so much nonsense would have been talked and writ about it, I would have blotted it out of my works; for I am sure, if any of these be my meaning, it doth me very little honor.”
He was then interrogated concerning some other ambiguous passages in his works; but he declined any satisfactory answer; saying, if Mr. Theobald had not writ about it sufficiently, there were three or four more new editions of his plays coming out, which he hoped would satisfy every one: concluding, “I marvel nothing so much as that men will gird themselves at discovering obscure beauties in an author. Certes the greatest and most pregnant beauties are ever the plainest and most evidently striking; and when two meanings of a passage can in the least balance our judgments which to prefer, I hold it matter of unquestionable certainty that neither of them is worth a farthing.”

There’s a sterile debate about whether Jonathan Wild is a great novel, because, as with Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, some twots twirl their twitties and opine that it ain’t a novel at all. I’ve completely lost any idea of what a novel is or should be since reading Pío Baroja and his intro to vol. 14 (?) of Memorias de un hombre de acción, and it doesn’t bother me, but I’d love to have sat with Fielding on that slow boat to Lisbon.

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