Sunday 13 March 2022

'He found in stones the sermons he had already hidden there'

 On the recommendation of a blog friend, I recently bought a pleasingly plump, long-out-of-print volume called The Frank Muir Book, the work of that fine humorist and writer (whose autobiography, A Kentish Lad, is well worth reading). Subtitled 'An Irreverent Companion to Social History', The Frank Muir Book is a treasure house of quotations, many of them indeed decidedly irreverent, compiled from a wonderfully wide range of sources and linked by Muir's witty and concise commentary. The quotations are arranged in six categories: Music, Education, Literature, Theatre, Art, and Food and Drink. It's a perfect bedside book, ideal for dipping into, but in practice I have been so drawn into the Literature section that I am reading it sequentially (and slowly, in bed), all the time coming across unfamiliar and surprising material. For example, here are four quotations, all new to me, embedded in the pages dedicated to Wordsworth: 

'In Wordsworth's poetry [writes Muir] nature was not a painted backdrop, or a colour photograph, but an experience. He had a great number of experiences in the Lake District:

   Wordsworth went to the lakes, but he was never a lake poet. He found in stones the sermons
   he had already hidden there. 
                                    Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying

Classicists found little pleasure in Wordsworth's nature poetry:

   Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges,
   And propt with rotten stakes from rotten hedges.
                                    Walter Savage Landor

And William Blake nearly died from the effects of a preface: 

   What appears to have disturbed his mind, on the other hand, is the preface to The Excursion.
   He told me six months ago that it caused him a bowel complaint which nearly killed him.
                                    Henry Crabb Robinson. Letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, Feb. 1826

.... He lived with his wife, but his intimate was really his sister Dorothy who, after a slight leaning towards Coleridge, became almost morbidly devoted to her brother, and vice versa.
   Wordsworth was a sturdy, clumsy figure with a large nose and burning eyes; he had no sense of smell:

   The languid way in which he gives you a handful of numb unresponsive fingers is very significant.
                                    Thomas Carlyle.'

And so on... I am enjoying this bedtime reading very much.

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