Serviceable sentences, 25/10,000

To insist in all particulars were an Herculean task, to reckon up insanas substructiones, insanos labores, insanum luxum, mad labours, mad books, endeavours, carriages, gross ignorance, ridiculous actions, absurd gestures; insanam gulam, insana jurgia [mad gluttony, mad disputes], insaniam villarum, as Tully terms them, madness of villages, stupend structures; as those Egyptian pyramids, labyrinths, and sphinxes, which a company of crowned asses, ad ostentationem opum [to show off their wealth], vainly built, when neither the architect nor king that made them, or to what use and purpose, are yet known: in insist in their hypocrisy, in constancy, blindness, rashness, dementem temeritatem, fraud, cozenage, malice, anger, impudence, ingratitude, ambition, gross superstition, tempora infecta et adulatione sordida, as in Tiberius’ times, such base flattery, stupend, parasitical fawning and colloguing, etc., brawls, conflicts, desires, contentions, it would ask an expert Vesalius to anatomize every member.
—Robert Burton, “Democritus Junior to the Reader,” The Anatomy of Melancholy (1638/1651)

(Cf. Beckett, three hundred years later: “For if you set out to mention everything you would never be done, and that’s what counts, to be done, to have done.”)

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Davenport on Davidson

I picked up a copy of Avram Davidson‘s Rork! a few days ago, on the strength of Peregrine PrimusThe Phoenix and the Mirror, & that one Wolfe blurb. Pick up any and every copy of Davidson that crosses your path. (EDIT: Found & purchased a copy of Mutiny in Space a week later—I practice what I preach.) They seem to be on the wane these days, and far fewer of them cross my path here in TX than in other places I’ve lived. (How does that accord with your experience of Davidson on the shelves, gentle readers?)

Guy Davenport is another champion of Davidson, and I found the following comments in his letters to James Laughlin. If you’re not a reader of Davidson—and so not interested in Davenport’s glasperlenspiel, playing him alongside Tolstoy, Perelman, Twain, Burton, Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, & Hakluyt—the anecdote in the first letter about nonrecognition & dead mafioso is well worth your time.

Lovely as your letter is today, and the jacket design, I was most pleased to have a letter from Avram Davidson, dictated to a hospital orderly, and brief but pithy. Avram on his 70th birthday a month ago collapsed with a diabetic attack and lay on his floor for two days before he was found. I’d tracked him (I believe I said in my last letter) to a Bremerton WA hospital. He sounds brave and chipper. I’d talked last week with his nurse, and told her Avram was a very distinguished writer, “just a notch or two below Tolstoy,” which I’d thought was a practical hyperbole. The nurse got this all mixed up, and thought Avram lived in Bremerton near the Tolstoys, and asked what kind of neighbors they were.
Nonrecognition of the great always causes high comedy. Do you remember the Mafioso who was executed by fellow business partners on his doorsteps in NY (back in WW II)? He has in his pocket a list of names (presumably to buy art books as Xmas presents for a daughter). Anyway, the FBI sent out an all-points alert to bring in Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Duccio di Buoninsegna. Shoot on sight.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin],” (7 May 1993; my emphasis)

One of the things in today’s mail was Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory (Owlswick), signed. Avram died four days ago, just beyond his 70th birthday. He had a diabetes attack, went into a coma, lay on his floor for 2½ days, but had been dismissed from a hospital and put in a nursing home. I had a scrawled letter from him, which I’m still trying to decipher, and a dictated one. He was reading my Drummer. He must have signed my copy of his new book just before the collapse. I wonder if the Times did an obit? I would place him beside Perelman as a humorist and close to Mark Twain as a compounder of the fantastic and the absurd.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (13 May 1993)

I’ve finished Avram’s book—Studies in Unhistory—that came out while he was dying. It’s for people who delight in Burton (Robt, of the Anatomy), Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, and Hakluyt. Each essay comes up with an unlikely origin for the mandrake, dragons, mermaids, werewolves, and such. A book for bright teenagers, and old codgers nodding by the fire.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (17[-18] May 1993; my emphasis)

(All letters excerpted from Guy Davenport and James Laughlin: Selected Letters [2007].)

Serviceable sentences, 14/10,000

As a good housewife out of divers fleeces weaves one piece of cloth, a bee gathers wax and honey out of many flowers, and makes a new bundle of all, Floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant, I have laboriously collected this cento out of divers writers, and that sine injuria, I have wronged no authors, but given every man his own; which Hierome so much commends in Nepotian, he stole not whole verses, pages, tracts, as some do nowadays, concealing their authors’ names, but still said this was Cyprian‘s, that Lactantius‘, that Hilarius‘, so said Minucius Felix, so Victorinus, thus far Arnobius: I cite and quote mine authors (which, howsoever some illiterate scribblers account pedantical as a cloak of ignorance, and opposite to their affected fine style, I must and will use) sumpsi, non surripui; and what Varrolib. 3 de re rust., speaks of bees, minime maleficae nullius opus vellicantes faciunt deterius, I can say of myself, Whom have I injured?
Robert Burton, “Democritus Junior to the Reader,” The Anatomy of Melancholy (1638/1651)

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