Sunday, 21 November 2021

Daybed Reading

 Apologies for the hiatus. Ever since I reported, 12 days ago, that I had been afflicted by a mystery bug but was over it (see 'Hedy Stuff'), I have been  nursing, with ill grace, what has to be described as a 'cold', that most inadequate of all quasi-medical terms. An unshakable cough, a staggeringly productive nose and the attendant sleeplessness and prostration have dogged me, in varying proportions, ever since that previous bug went its way.  There have been further complications too, but I don't want to turn this blog into a medical bulletin board.
  All this has, as you might imagine, somewhat reduced my reading, but I found solace in a volume of 'Familiar Essays' by Joseph Epstein entitled Once More Around the Block. I've enjoyed everything I've come across by Epstein and always found him wonderfully readable – 'full of matter', as Dr Johnson would put it, but unfailingly entertaining. So Once More was ideal reading for the daybed. Epstein muses elegantly on various themes – the pleasures of work and neighbourhood, bookshops and language snobbery (much to disagree with there) – but I think the essay I've most enjoyed so far is one on humour (of which Epstein has a great deal more than most contemporary writers). From this essay ('What's So Funny?') I pass on a couple of classic putdowns. This is Sydney Smith on the unstoppable talker Macaulay: 'He has occasional flashes of silence that make his conversation perfectly delightful' (I'm sure was can all think of others of whom that might be said). And here is Evelyn Waugh on learning that a benign tumour had been removed from the lung of his friend Randolph Churchill: 'It was a typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.' That's fine, if perhaps a little laboured, but my favourite of the putdowns quoted by Epstein was from Max Beerbohm (something of an Epstein hero), talking about William Morris: 'Of course we all know that Morris was a wonderful all-round man, but the act of walking round him has always tired me.' This is typical Max – the gentlest of putdowns but wonderfully deflating. He always implies (disingenuously enough) that the fault might be his that he cannot raise his appreciation to the level required by such a cultural colossus as Morris. Or William James, of whom he once wrote that 'I was insensible to his thrillingness' (the perfect word). I'm looking forward to reading the rest of these essays – and to finally shaking off this interminable 'cold'.
(Here are William Morris and Edward Burne Jones, as imagined by Max, sharing the settle at Red Lion Square)...


  1. "I was insensible to his thrillingness" is the quote from this that I will treasure in this time of celebrities who, at least to me, lack any skerrick of thrillingness. I do hope you regain your vim, if that's the word, before long. Feeling slightly sub-par is very unsettling.

  2. Thanks Zoe. I think glimmers of vim are reappearing, to be followed, I hope, by brio and gusto...