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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Bibliophile's delight.

Monday, July 3rd., Fulham Park Gardens, London.

The Academy sent me the MS. of an article by Elizabeth Robins on Ibsen, to which I am to write a companion article. I was struck by the lack of "literari-ness" which the MS. disclosed: large, slow calligraphy, uncertainty in spelling and punctuation, and a hundred little things which mark the beginner. Yet she has written several books, one of them quite first rate and notable.

I have bought the hundred books which Bells allows you to select from the six hundred volumes of Bohn's Libraries. They stand in a long beautiful row, houseless on the top of my shelves. Arriving late last night from Witley, eager to view them - they had been delivered in my absence - I cut several of them and looked through Juvenal, Suetonius, and da Vinci. I found that the celebrated and marvellous passage in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Philaster", about marrying "a mountain girl", in which occur lines

                                                        And bear at her big breasts
                                                        My large coarse issue

must certainly be based on a passage in Juvenal's Sixth Satire.

Today I began to read "Benvenuto Cellini". He seems to have been less absolutely reprobate than I had imagined. The mark of the truly great man is on every page. I was enchanted with a phrase attributed to Benvenuto's father. Benvenuto was in trouble with the magistrates, and his father was defending him with moral support. "My father, in answer to these menaces, said, 'You will do what God permits you and nothing more.' The magistrate replied that nothing could be more certain than that God had thus ordered matters. My father then said boldly to him, 'My comfort is that you are a stranger to the decrees of providence!' "

What strikes me regarding the book technically, is its literary naivety and lack of art. It must have been written without any prearranged plan, currente calamo. Evidently much of primary interest has been left out - some by design but more by accident.

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