Thursday 31 August 2023

Black-crowned Night-heron

Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax, 夜鹭).

A common bird the world over, but not safe everywhere: they are now critically imperiled near my family home in British Columbia. At this Changsha pond, the 'no fishing' signs are no deterrent to anglers. Fortunately this night heron grew tired of playing with the abandoned hook and float before it was hurt.

Black-crowned Night-heron with Fishing Float

Grey of Fallodon’s Last Speech

    “His last speech in the House of Lords, on February 14, 1933, was not on politics, but was a plea for control of the emptying of ships’ oil round our coasts, a practice most destructive of the birds that float on the waves. Previous speakers had spoken for the birds: he added a further argument:  
   My Lords: I do not wish for a moment to minimize the terrible effect of oil pollution on bird life, which has been so forcibly put before your lordships. But there is one other aspect of the matter I would like to bring forward. One of the most famous tributes in our literature to our sea is that it performs its work of preventing the pollution of our shores.  
         [The moving waters at their priestlike task  
         Of pure ablution round earth's human shores.
                                                                   Keats’s Last Sonnet.]
Is all that to come to an end? Apart from what oil pollution does to birds, it is a horrible thought from our own point of view that our shores should be filthy. We are really proud of our sea, and rely upon the Government to take some action if possible to prevent it.” 
G.M. Trevelyan, Grey of Fallodon: Being the Life of Sir Edward Grey Afterwards Viscount of Fallodon (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1945; 1937), p. 362.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Intermediate Egret

Intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia, 中白鹭).

The summer is a great time for herons in Hunan, including great, intermediate, little and cattle egrets. These names suggest that the birds differ in stature: but in the field it can be hard to measure individual birds; and in reality the little, cattle and intermediate egrets are often about the same size. But the intermediate egret can be quickly distinguished from the little egret by its black (not yellow) feet and from the great egret by its shorter bill. During the nonbreeding season, cattle egrets can be similar in plumage to intermediate egrets but they are always more squat with their shorter legs and shorter necks; they are also less fond of wading into the water.

The colour of their bills is another clue. Cattle egrets always have yellow bills. Little egrets always have black bills. Curiously, in Asia the bills of intermediate and great egrets are yellow but become black during breeding season, while the bills of their European, American and African cousins are yellow all year round.

There are always many little egrets in the wetlands around Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山) but only during the dog days do intermediate egrets frequent the waters: most likely because of the superfluity of fish. Last week, this egret was devouring plenty of sharpbelly in Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖), though it was driven from fishing ground to fishing ground by small but territorial moorhens.

Intermediate Egret at Xianjia Lake

A Four-Word Distich

Conturbabantur Constantinopolitani,  
   Innumerabilibus sollicitudinibus.

(The Constantinopolitans were dismayed by countless cares.)


My translation. A nineteenth-century history of London, relates the following:

A good story is told, illustrating the rivalry which has existed for three centuries between Westminster and Eton Schools. It is said that the Etonians on one occasion sent the Westminster boys a hexameter verse composed of only two words, challenging them to produce a pentameter also in two words so as to complete the sense.  The Eton line ran thus:—  
            “Conturbabuntur Constantinopolitani.”
The Westminster boys replied to the challenge  “by return of post” :—
            “Innumerabilibus sollicitudinibus.”
As the Eton line contains an obvious false quantity, the Westminster boys, who contrived to steer-clear of mistakes, may be allowed to have had the best of it.
George Walter Thornbury and Edward Walford, Old and New London: a Narrative of its History, its People and its Place, 6 vols (London: Cassell, 1879-1885), III, p. 472.
In another version of this story, Harry C. Schnur attributes the unmetrical line to Oxford:
When Oxford sent Cambridge this two-word hexameter, challenging them to complete a distich: Conturbabantur Constantinopolitani, Cambridge replied: Innumerabilibus sollicitudinibus.  
Harry C. Schnur, ‘The Factotum: Some Varieties of the Latin Hexameter’, The Classical World, 53.5 (1960), pp. 153-157 (p. 157).
This diptych in fact was in circulation already in the sixteenth century. It is quoted without reference to the author in J.C. Scaliger’s Poetices (1561) and The Complaynt of Scotland (1549), and has also been attributed to the poet Bohuslaw Lobkowitz von Hassenstein (1450-1517).
Bohuslaw Lobkowitz von Hassenstein, Opera poetica, ed. by Marta Vaculínová (Munich: Saur, 2006), p. 163. John B. Wainewright, ‘Conturbabantur Constantinopolitani’, Notes and Queries (1915), s11-I (267), p. 109. Responses to Wainewright’s query by Edward Bensley, A.T.W, and Benj. Walker are found in Notes and Queries (1915), s11-XI (269), p. 156 and again by Edward Bensley in Notes and Queries (1915), s11-XI (279), p. 346.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Pale Grass Blue

Pale Grass Blue (Pseudozizeeria maha, 酢浆灰蝶). Mating pair. A small white butterfly found from India to Japan, they are easy to identity with their distinctive series of spots. From early spring to late autumn they are ubiquitous in Changsha and they might well be the most common butterfly here. In the wet spring, their undersides are more distinctly brownish grey (male) or brownish black (female), but in our current dry season their underside wings are paler, though the male retains more of its brown.

Pale Grass Blue Maiting Pair at Xianjia Lake

 Jane Ellen Harrison On Education

Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928), ‘Reminiscences of a Student’s Life’, Arion, 4.2 (1965; first pub. 1925), p.324.

Though I have lived most of my life with educationalists, I have little interest in education. I dislike schools, both for boys and girls. A child between the ages of eight and eighteen, the normal school years, is too young to form a collective opinion, children only set up foolish savage taboos. I dislike also all plans for “developing a child's mind,” and all conscious forms of personal influence of the younger by the elder. Let children early speak at least three foreign languages, let them browse freely in a good library, see all they can of the first-rate in nature, art, and literature—above all, give them a chance of knowing what science and scientific method means, and then leave them to sink or swim. Above all things, do not cultivate in them a taste for literature.

Monday 28 August 2023

Thosea Sinensis Caterpillar

Thosea sinensis (扁刺蛾), a species of slug caterpillar moth. Several times in early July, I came across these caterpillar on rocks and maesa trees in the forested areas on and around Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山). So often were they in the company of tiny ants that I suspected they might be myrmecophiles. I have not seen any since, until today when I came across one late summer straggler.

Thosea sinensis in Wangling Park

Revealed Religion

Thomas Herring, Letters from the late most reverend Dr. Thomas Herring: Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, to William Duncombe (London: printed for J. Johnson, 1777), p.351:

Revealed religion is built upon natural; and if we undermine this, that will fall with it.

Sunday 27 August 2023

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Male Yellow-bellied Prinia (Prinia flaviventris, 黄腹鹪莺)

From April to early June, the cascading songs of this yellow-bellied prinia were flowing along with the Xiang river (湘江). He sang for longer than the other nearby prinia, even through the early summer's forcible and bright mid-day hours. And I still see him moving from reed to reed in the same part of the western riverside, but his singing has stopped: for better or worse he must have abandoned his search for a summer mate. But he is still more active than the others; even when most other birds have settled for cooler catchments and reedbeds, he is often about.

Yellow-bellied Prinia by the Xiang River

Fairies and Conjuring Parsons

John Selden, Table talk: being the discourses of John Selden, Esq. (London: printed for Joseph White, 1786; 1669), p.101:
There never was a merry world since the fairies left dancing, and the parson left conjuring. The opinion of the latter kept thieves in awe, and did as much good in a country as a justice of the peace.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Elegy Personified

Ovid, Amores, III.1.5-10:

hic ego dum spatior tectus nemoralibus umbris,
    quod mea, quaerebam, Musa moveret opus.  
venit odoratos Elegia nexa capillos,
    et, puto, pes illi longior alter erat.
forma decens, vestis tenuissima, vultus amantis,
    et pedibus vitium causa decoris erat.
While I meandered here, submerged in the sylvan shadows,
I asked what task my Muse should undertake.
Elegy appeared: her hair tied in scented locks and,
I believe, one of her feet was longer than the other.
She had a shapely figure, the most delicate dress, a face for love,
and the flaw in her feet was the source of her grace.
Statius, Silvae, I.2.7-10:
quas inter uultu petulans Elegia propinquat
celsior adsueto diuasque hortatur et ambit
alternum furata pedem, decimamque uideri
se cupit et medias fallit permixta sorores.
Pert Elegy approaches their [the Muses] presence:
uncommonly tall, she entreats and coaxes the goddesses.
Concealing her alternate foot, she desires to be seen as
the tenth muse, and mingle inconspicuously amongst her sisters.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Elegy

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), Elegy (Private Collection, Wikicommons)

My translations.

: Sandstroem's conjecture. futura M; suffulta Leo, Courtney; fulcire Slater. For a complete list of conjectures, see P. Papinius Statius Volume V: Siluae, Readings and Conjectures, comp. by J.B. Hall with A.L. Ritchie & M.J. Edwards (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021), p.30.

Also see:
D.A. Slater, 'Conjectural Emendations in the Silvae of Statius', The Journal of Philology, 59 (1907) 133-160, p.151.
C.L. Howard, 'Notes on Statius', Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 90 (1959) 117-130, pp. 117-120.

Hops Angleshade

Hops Angleshade (Niphonyx segregata, 乏夜蛾). I have seen small numbers of these sober moths over the past few weeks in the vegetation by the river. This one is hiding its antennae under its body.

Hops Angleshade by Xiang River

Friday 25 August 2023

Common Bluetail

Common Bluetail (Ischnura senegalensis, 褐斑异痣蟌).
Throughout the summer, if one searches around the bushes and forested areas adjacent to water one will often find a common bluetail damselfly resting on a leaf. Sometimes the females have a yellow ochre thorax but usually it is blue or bluish green on both sexes. They all have khaki yellow stripes running along the sides of their abdomens for five or four-and-a-half segments terminating in an eighth azure blue segment, a penultimate segment of black and blue, and a final short segment with black on the dorsum and subtle yellow stripes on the sides. They seem placid but are hunters in their domain.

Memory is Imagination

Alain Robbe-Grillet interviewed by Shusha Guppy, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 91’, The Paris Review, 99 (1986):

   Do you mean that memory is imagination, that we invent our own life in retrospect or indeed as we go along?
   Exactly. Memory belongs to the imagination. Human memory is not like a computer that records things; it is part of the imaginative process, on the same terms as invention. In other words, inventing a character or recalling a memory is part of the same process. This is very clear in Proust: For him there is no difference between lived experience—his relationship with his mother, and so forth—and his characters. Exactly the same type of truth is involved.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Chinese Softshell Turtle

Chinese Softshell Turtle (Chinese Softshell Turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis).
I know these turtles are around, though perhaps in small numbers: both in the brackish waters of the nearby lakes and in the Xiang (湘江), as I spotted some remains washed up on the riverside when the water was low last winter. But they come out into the open, and this is the first time I have ever seen one basking in the sun! It was near the lily pond at Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖) where it seemed very happy and did not seem to mind my approach.

Chinese Softshell Turtle at Xianjia Lake

Thoughts On Rhyme

Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio's (1504-1573) advice on using rhyme in poetry:

   Ho già io veduti, et veggio tutthora, alcuni, anzi molti (che pochi sono coloro che, o considerino questo, o se lo considerano, il mettano in opra) che, pure che le rime facciano quell’ultimo suono, par loro di haver compito tutto quello che intorno a ciò era bisogno; siano elle state proprie alla materia o no, significanti o no. Né pure questo vicio ho io notato negli scrittori minuti et di poca o nissuna vaglia, ma in quegli anco che sono, et sono stati, di qualche nome et si hanno pensato di immortalarsi con tali poemi, i quali, o per mancamento di giudicio, o per trascuraggine loro, o per loro ignoranza (che non vi mancano questi tali) hanno in guisa i lor romanzi composti, che la metà del verso, in gir verso la rima, non ha significato cosa alcuna, di modo che è paruto che quelle rime siano ivi come forestiere et come voci che non siano di quel componimento, ma paiono tolte (come sapete ch’io soglio dire) in presto od a pigione. Et queste sono di tanto fastidio e di tanta noia a chi legge con giudicio, che, ove deveriano con la loro consonanza essere grate e soavi, sono, non altrimenti che le corde d’un stromento male concordevoli insieme; le quali anchor che tocche facciano qualche suono, il fanno elle cosí noioso e spiacevole (per mancar loro il numero e la misura, che è quello in che consiste la buona armonia) che non si possono sentire. Et questo aviene nelle rime; perché l’orecchia che tuttavia aspetta quella ultima consonanza che armoniosamente  le apporti il sentimento, trovandola vana et non propria alla cosa di che si scrive, ne resta, in vece del piacere ch’ella si aspettava di havere, fuor d’ogni credenza offesa, né l’orecchia solo, ma l’intelletto anchora, ch’aspettava di acquetarsi su la rima; et offerendoglisi ella vana, resta senza quel fine che egli ragionevolmente desiderava per compimento della sentenza. Il che aviene anco quando il poeta con parole vane et senza significatione empie il verso per far la rima. Et questo è quello che ci volle dir Horatio, quantunque parlasse delle compositioni latine, quando disse che non devea bastare al poeta di serrare il verso.
   Non dee, adunque, il compositore de’ romanzi farsi servo delle rime, né delle parole. Ma far sì (come abbiam noi sempre cercato di fare nelle nostre composizioni), che le rime e le parole servano al concetto, non egli alle rime. Et dee usare ogni cura, perché come le voci sono state trovate per gli concetti et non i concetti perché servano ad esse, cosí le usi tali quali le ricerca il concetto, al servigio del quale deono esser poste insieme; che altrimenti facendo, si mostrerà il compositore di poco giudicio.

      I have already seen and still see some [poets], indeed many (there are few who consider this or if they do consider it, put it into practice) that as long as the rhymes make the final sound, they think that they have done all that is needed, regardless of whether or not the rhymes are suitable or not for the subject-matter or whether or not they are significant. I have noticed this vice not only in the works of lesser writers and those of little or no merit, but also in those who are now and who have been of some repute and who have thought of immortalising themselves with such poems, where through their lack of sense or their want of care or their ignorance (of which there is no shortage) they have composed their romances so that half of the verse, including the rhymes, appears to have no significance, with the result that the rhymes sound like foreigners or like voices that do not belong to the composition but appear (as you know I am accustomed to say) to be loaned or rented. And these are so much bother and annoyance to those who read with discernment, that where they ought to be graceful and sweet with their consonance:  they are not unlike the strings of a horribly out of tune instrument; which, when plucked makes some sound that is very dull and unpleasant (lacking the rhythm and the measure of which good harmony consists) that they cannot be listened to. And this occurs in rhymes: because the ear, which still expects a final consonance to harmoniously supply the feeling, finds it empty and inappropriate to what is written, and what remains in place of the pleasure one had expected to find, is affront beyond all belief, not to the ear alone, but to the intellect as well, which expecting to acquiesce to the rhyme is offended by its vapidness, and is left without that end which is reasonably desired to round off the meaning. This occurs also when the poet makes verses rhyme with empty and insignificant words. This is what Horace wanted to say, although he spoke of compositions in Latin, when he said that the poet ought to close off the verse.*
   Therefore the composer of romances must not to be a slave to the rhyme nor the words. But (as we have always tried to do in our own compositions) the rhymes and the words ought to serve the concept, not the concept the rhymes. And one must apply every care so that words are found to suit the thoughts and not the thoughts that they might serve the words, and to use those words which seek the thought, in the service of which they ought to be joined together; as doing otherwise, one will reveal himself a versifier of scant judgement.
Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio, Discorsi intorno al comporre rivisti dall’autore nell’esemplare ferrarese Cl. I 90, ed. by Susanna Villari (Messina: Centro interdipartimentale di studi umanistici, 2002), pp. 108-9 [Intorno al comporre dei romanzi (1554)]. My translation.

*Horace, Serm. I.4.40-41 ‘neque enim concludere versum / dixeris esse satis’.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Plain Prinia

Plain Prinia (Prinia inornata, 褐头鹪莺).

This picture was taken by Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖) on March 14th. In early March, I could infrequently hear the prinias' clicking tail feathers as they travelled around the lakeside reeds, scouring after insects. Throughout April and May there were prinias singing boisterously and competitively on open perches everywhere along the riverside. Later in the dense summer heat their songs grew less frequent. Rarely now do I see them: they have become busy, quiet and invisible. But today, on Chushu (處暑) which marks the end of summer's heat, I saw a young pair near where i had taken this picture. But I don't expect I will see anymore during this serotinal season.

Plain Prinia at Xianjia Lake

Forgetting Torah

Sanhedrin 99a.22:

רבי יהושע אומר כל הלומד תורה ומשכחה דומה לאשה שיולדת וקוברת

Rabbi Yehoshua says: Anyone who studies Torah and causes himself to forget it is like a woman who gives birth and buries her newborn child.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Fledgling Collared Finchbill

These fledgling collared finchbills (spizixos semitorques, 领雀嘴鹎) were bathing  boisterously, under their mother's supervision, near the secluded and abandoned 'folk' buildings in the north of Hunan Martyr's Park (湖南烈士公園).

Fledgling Collared Finchbills

A Poem on Conjectural Emendation

Eustace H. Miles, How to Learn Philology: a Simple and Introductory Book for Teachers and Learners (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1899), p.254:

First get the sense, then find the flaw,
the word or words you'd fain restore :
these in a bracket now should stand
in capitals and cursive-hand.
Then try to change them for the best.
The faulty words by sense are guessed,
by metre, style of Author, next
by nearness to the given text
Show reasons for the alterations,
then add appropriate illustrations,
[N.B.] Learn all you can of MSS. :
then danger of mistakes is less.

Monday 21 August 2023

Plains Cupid

Plains cupid butterfly (Luthrodes pandava, 蘇鐵綺灰蝶).

Today was overcast, and dozens of these tiny fuscous butterflies were suddenly present in Wangling Park (王陵公园), Whether excited, hungry or foolhardy many of them had reduced their wings to tatters as they crashed about flowers and foliage.Plains cupid butterfly in Wangling Park

Epigram on a Picture of a Rhinoceros

Pietro Barozzi (1441-1507) - In Rhinocerontis Picturam,  
   Quam quidam sibi Italicorum Principum, versibus parum modestis subscribi fecit.

Rhinoceros pedibus melior, Leo viribus illum
   Qui fugis, hunc qui stas elige in arma, Ducem.
Sed cave, arenosum ne cum te litus ad usque
   Pertuleris, falsis praecipiteris aquis.
Nec te, quae falso jactantur, amara venena
   Interimant, tumidi sed magis unda Freti.
My translation:
On a picture of a Rhinoceros, underneath of which, one of Italy's leading citizens fashioned some unassuming verses:
The rhinoceros is swift on foot; the lion, who flees from him is
   greater in strength. Favour the one who stands fast at arms, Duke.
But beware when you have reached the edge
   of the sandy shore, lest you fall into the treacherous waters.
And the bitter poisons deceptively tossed about
    do not kill you, but rather the wave of the swollen sea.

Petrus Barrocius, ‘Petri Barrocii patricii Veneti episcopi Bellunensis dein Patavini oratio consolatoria, et carminum libri tres’ in Anecdota Veneta nunc primum collecta ac notis illustrata, ed. by Giambattista Maria Contarini (Venice: Typis Petri Valvasensis, 1757), pp. 193-268. (p. 263).

pedibus melior. cf. Virgil, Aeneid, IX.556.

The rhinoceros’s horn was believed to neutralise poison.

The Gujarat sultan Muzaffar Shah II gifted a rhinoceros to king Manuel I of Portugal in 1515; sketches of it soon after reached Germany inspiring Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving, which in turn inspired several centuries of slightly fantastic depictions of rhinos. But what did this picture, from before the 1515 rhino exhibition in Lisbon, look like? Perhaps something imagined from Greek and Roman sources? Perhaps a unicorn? In any case, i will be looking out for more signs of quattrocento rhinoceroi.

Sunday 20 August 2023

Sleeping Under a Beech Tree

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes (London: The Women's Press Limited, 1978; 1926) pp. 112-113:

That evening she asked Mrs. Leak if she would lend her some books. From Mrs. Leak’s library she chose Mehalah by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, and an anonymous work of information called Enquire Within Upon Everything. The next morning was fine and sunny.  She spent it by the parlour fire, reading. When she read bits of Mehalah she thought how romantic it would be to live in the Essex Marshes. From Enquire Within Upon Everything she learned how gentlemen’s hats if plunged in a bath of logwood will come out with a dash of respectability, and that ruins are best constructed of cork. During the afternoon she learned other valuable facts like these, and fell asleep. On the following morning she fell asleep again, in a beech-wood, curled up in a heap of dead leaves. After that she had no more trouble. Life becomes simple if one does nothing about it.

Immature Moorhen

Immature common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus, 黑水鸡). Every year I watch a new generation of moorhens grow up around Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖). Some stay on though winter, while many others presumably move on to populate other lakes and still waters around Hunan. Though its future plans are occluded from me, this young moorhen seems enjoy its natal pond as it waded around andfor no discernible reasontossed a leaf into the grey blue water.

Immature Common Moorhen Throwing a LeafImmature Common Moorhen Throwing a Leaf
Immature Common Moorhen Throwing a Leaf
Immature Common Moorhen Throwing a Leaf

Immature Common Moorhen Throwing a Leaf

Saturday 19 August 2023

The Countryside

Ronald Blythe, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (London: Penguin Classics, 2005; 1969), p. 10:

There is no place like the countryside for the most imaginative – and blatant – nonconformity.

Friday 18 August 2023

Euricania ocellus

Euricania ocellus (眼纹疏广蜡蝉). They are small planthoppers but I love finding them secreted under leaves on Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山), To me they are like living fragments of medieval glass.

Euricania ocellus on Yuelu Mountain

Ancient Poems about Loneliness and the Moon

Two ancient poems: both are about sleeplessness, erotic loneliness and lunar movements. The first poem is sometimes attributed to Sappho (Voigt 168B) and sometimes regarded as a fragment of a folk song:

δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες· μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες, παρὰ δ᾿ ἔρχετ᾿ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

(‘The moon and Pleiades
sink down, it is the middle
of the night, time passes,
and I sleep alone.
The second is the final poem in the anthology Nineteen Old Poems (古詩十九首), preserved in the Wen Xuan (文選, c. 520-530 AD), though it likely dates further back to the Han dynasty:

(‘The white moon shines brightly, illuming the weaves of my bed-curtains.
Sorrowful, I cannot sleep; taking my clothes, I rise up and walk.
The guest’s journey is said to be a good one, but it is not as happy as the return home.
Alone and indecisive I leave the house, to whom can I relate my sadness?
I look forward, but return to my room; falling tears moisten my robes.

The narrator of the Greek poem is a woman, indicated by the gender of the adjective μόνα ('alone'). In the Chinese poem, the speaker could be a man or a woman.

My translations.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach, 棕背伯劳). Picture taken at Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖).

They are often easy to find as they are inclined to perch on bare branches and open posts and are very vocal: their abrasive speech is hard to miss. They are also vivacious hunters, cunning mimics, and they steal from other birds.

Long-tailed Shrike at Xianjia Lake


 Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop (Edison: Castle Books, 2004; 1919), p. 170:

   “All right,” said the bookseller amiably. “Miss Chapman, you take the book up with you and read it in bed if you want to. Are you a librocubicularist?”
   Titania looked a little scandalized.  
   “It's all right, my dear,” said Helen. “He only means are you fond of reading in bed. I’ve been waiting to hear him work that word into the conversation. He made it up, and he's immensely proud of it.”

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Wordsworths on Butterflies

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987), pp. 113-14 [Sunday 14 March 1802]:

William had slept badly—he got up at nine o’clock, but before he rose he had finished ‘The Beggar Boys’—and while we were at breakfast that is (for I had breakfasted) he, with his basin of broth before him untouched, and a little plate of bread and butter he wrote the Poem to a Butterfly! He ate not a morsel, nor put on his stockings, but sate with his shirt neck unbuttoned, and his waistcoat open while he did it. The thought first came upon him as we were talking about the pleasure we both always feel at the sight of a butterfly. I told him that I used to chase them a little, but that I was afraid of brushing the dust off their wings, and did not catch them—he told me how they used to kill all the white ones when he went to school because they were Frenchmen. Mr Simpson came in just as he was finishing the poem. After he was gone I wrote it down and the other poems, and I read them all over to him. We then called at Mr Oliff’s. Mr O walked with us to within sight of Rydale—the sun shone very pleasantly, yet it was extremely cold. We dined and then Wm went to bed. I lay upon the fur gown before the fire, but I could not sleep - I lay there a long time. It is now half past five I am going to write letters. I began to write to Mrs Rawson—William rose without having slept - we sate comfortably by the fire till he began to try to alter ‘The Butterfly’, and tired himself—he went to bed tired.
William Wordsworth
‘To a Butterfly’
Stay near me—do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find in thee,
Historian of my infancy!
Float near me; do not yet depart!
Dead times revive in thee:
Thou bring’st, gay creature as thou art!
A solemn image to my heart,
My father's family!

Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey:—with leaps and springs
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.

Chinese Peacock Swallowtail

Chinese Peacock Swallowtail (Papilio bianor,  碧凤蝶). This solitary butterfly was wandering around the bushes and desiccated fallen trees that litter the hard soil of Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山). Its blue and dark shades were easily obscured in the forest shadows, except for its fleeting flashes of luminescence.

Chinese Peacock Swallowtail

Tuesday 15 August 2023


Aristophanes, Birds, 1448-49:

ὑπὸ γὰρ λόγων ὁ νοῦς τε μετεωρίζεται
ἐπαίρεταί τ᾿ ἄνθρωπος.

by words the mind is uplifted and the person elevated.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, F100:
Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, wenn ein Affe hineinsieht,
so kann kein Apostel heraus gucken.

A book is a mirror: when a monkey looks in,
   no Apostle stares back.

My translations.

Monday 14 August 2023

Juvenile Light-vented Bulbul

There are many young birds out foraging and most of them have not yet learned to be shy and reclusive, so I am largely ignored as I am passing by. This young light-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis, 白頭鵯) was carefree whilst engorging on seeds.

Juvenile Light-vented Bulbul

Head Against the Wall

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569), from The Twelve Proverbs (1558):

Crygel ben ick, en van sinnen stuer,
dus loop ick met den hooffde tegen den muer.

I am stubborn, my mind's intractable,
so that I run my head against the wall.

Chinese Idiom:

“do not turn your head until it hits the south wall”

Roger McGough, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’

‘It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall,’
said Brother Ryan,
bashing my head against a brick wall.

Roger McGough (1937-), Collected Poems (London: Viking, 2004), p.17.

Both Dutch and Chinese proverbs relate to stubbornness. My translations.

Sunday 13 August 2023

Calvatia craniiformis

Brain Puffball (Calvatia craniiformis, 头状秃马勃). Another calvatia growing on Yuelu Mountain(嶽麓山) during this hot and humid season. I don't see them on the lower slopes but at higher elevations these ostentatious wrinkled skulls seem to be everywhere. This one shows burrowing holes made by small beetles, which frequently make them a summer residence, before they crumble into spores and dust.

Calvatia craniiformis on Yuelu Mountain

Heaven as a Lecture Hall

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254), explaining what paradise will be like, imagines Heaven as a school, where you spend eternity listening to lectures:

Puto enim quod sancti quique discedentes de hac vita permanebunt in loco aliquo in terra posito, quem paradisum dicit Scriptura divina, velut in quodam eruditionis loco, et, ut ita dixerim, auditorio vel schola animarum in quo de omnibus his quae in terris viderant, doceantur, indicia quoque quaedem accipiant etiam de consequentibus et futuris, sicut in hac quoque vita positi indicia quaedam futurorum, licet per speculum et aenigmata, tamen ex aliqua parte conceperant, quae manifestius et lucidius sanctis in suis et locis et temporibus revelantur.

I think verily that all the saints who depart from this life will remain somewhere on earth, which Holy Scripture calls ‘paradise’, as in some place of learning, and, so to speak, a lecture-room or school of souls in which they are to be educated in all things which they had seen on earth, and in which they also receive some information concerning things which are to happen in the future, as even in this life they discerned some indications of future events, although as though a looking-glass and mysteries, yet they had received in some part, what is revealed plainly and clearly to the saints in their own places and times.
Origen, De principiis, II.11.6, Patrologia graeca, 11, cols. 245-46. From the abridged Latin translation of Tyrannius Rufinus (344/345–411). The original Greek is lost. Cf. ‘per speculum in aenigmate’ (Vulgata, 1 Cor. 13:12).

Saturday 12 August 2023

A Pseudo-Senecan Aphorism

The Aphorism:
exiguum est ad legem bonum esse 


'it is a small thing to be good according to the law'


This saying is found in books of quotations, usually it is attributed to Seneca the Younger. One recent attribution is in The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2004).

Although the saying itself is not from any of the works of Seneca, a similar sentiment can be found in his book on anger:

Quis est iste qui se profitetur omnibus legibus innocentem? Vt hoc ita sit, quam angusta innocentia est ad legem bonum esse! Quanto latius officiorum patet quam iuris regula! Quam multa pietas humanitas liberalitas iustitia fides exigunt, quae omnia extra publicas tabulas sunt! (De ira 2.28.2)

‘Who is there that can declare himself to have broken no laws? Even if there be such a man, what a stinted innocence it is, merely to be innocent by the letter of the law. How much further do the rules of duty extend than those of the law! how many things which are not to be found in the statute book, are demanded by filial feeling, kindness, generosity, equity, and honour?’ (Aubrey Steward's translation)

The attribution itself of this saying to Seneca goes back at least several hundred years. The earliest source I could find was Hugo Grotius's Annotationes in libros evangeliorum ['Annotations on the books of the Gospels'] (1641), p.68, in his notes on the Gospel of Matthew 5:20; Grotius writes: 'Ubi legis nomen palam est ita usurpari, quomodo retulimus a Seneca dictum, exiguum esse quiddam ad legem bonum esse.'  Grotius was paraphrasing Seneca, but some readers must have taken this as a direct quotation, and thus a new Pseudo-Senecan aphorism was born.

Friday 11 August 2023

Sailing Home

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons (London: Red Fox, 2010; 1930), p. 365:

Half the pleasure of visiting distant countries is sailing home afterwards. Besides, she had to say goodbye to the island. John, Susan, and Roger also begged to be allowed to stay. Nancy and Peggy flatly refused to go.

Calvatia boninensis

Year round there are fungi bursting from the red-brown dirt and dead vegetation throughout Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山), though recently I have been seeing more and more puffball mushrooms appearing. One of the more common puffballs is the Calvatia boninensis (栗粒皮禿馬勃). Curiously this species is not included in either of my primary guides to Hunan macrofungi, though it is catalogued in 张平,邓华志,陈作红,李进忠, 湖南壶瓶山大型真菌 [Atlas of Macrofungi from Huping Mountain in Hunan] (长沙: 湖南科学技术出版社, 2015) p. 47.

Calvatia boninensis on Yuelu Mountain

Thursday 10 August 2023

Peking University Library, 1975

Frances Wood, Hand-grenade Practice in Peking: My Part in the Cultural Revolution (London: Slightly Foxed, 2015; 2000), p. 162:

I made progress with the library. Armed with chitties guaranteeing my urgent need to read bad books, I was issued with the works of Chen Duxiu, the first General Secretary of the Communist who became a Trotskyist and a fierce opponent of Mao. The books were stamped 'Negative Teaching Material' and 'To be Used in Criticism'. You could only get books by Zhou Yang, the main spokesman for culture and the arts until 1966, if you made it quite clear that you were aware of his position as a 'Counter-revolutionary Double-dealer'. By now I was running out of things to borrow from the Embassy library, so I was delighted to discover that the western language collections in the University library were unweeded and full of delightful reading matter composed by foreign counter-revolutionary double-dealers. I borrowed first editions of Henry James, once owned by a Peking resident with the interesting name of Mildred ffrench.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Kingfisher Metaphor

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisted (London: Penguin Books, 2011; 1945), p. 234:

That night and the night after and the night after, wherever she went, always in her own little circle of intimates, she brought a moment of joy, such as strikes deep to the heart on the river’s bank when the kingfisher suddenly flares across the water.

Common Kingfisher in Wangling in January

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Oriental Reed Warbler

Oriental reed warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis, 东方大苇莺)

Though there have been prinia aplenty, this is the only oriental reed warbler I have seen this year. Last winter he was probably somewhere like Vietnam, Indonesia or the Philippines, late May he was hunting about the lilies at Taozi Lake (桃子湖). And I wonder where he is now.

Oriental reed warbler at Taozi Lake

Wicken Fen

Nick Davies, Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature (London: Bloomsbury, 2016; 2015), p. 50:

When Nature managed the fens, there was plenty of suitable habitat for reed warblers and cuckoos. Now we are in charge, their future is in our hands. If we want reed warblers and cuckoos in our landscape we'll have to manage the land and pay for them, just as we do for our agricultural crops.

Monday 7 August 2023

A Poem for a Carolingian August Feast

‘Octava Augusti’

Conuiuae tetricas hodie secludite curas,
   ne maculent niueum nebula corda diem.
Omnia sollicitae ponantur murmura mentis,
   ut uacet totum pectus amicitiae.
Non semper gaudere licet. Fugit hora: iocemur!
   difficile est fatis subripuisse diem.
‘On the Octave of August’
Today, banquet-companions, cast off your gloomy anxieties,
   Lest our hearts blot with darkness this snow-white day.
Let all the murmurs of a fretful mind be laid aside,
   So that a full heart allows time for friendship.
One cannot always rejoice. Time flies: Let us make merry!
   For is it difficult to steal a day from the fates.
MS Bern 109, fol. 136v. My translation.

murmura mentis
, cf. Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia, XII.8 (ed. Peter Dronke, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1978, p.145).

This epigram has intrigued scholars since Hermann Hagen resolved the abbreviated title Octā auğ as Octaviani Augusti and attempted to connect it with the lost collection of epigrams of Emperor Augustus. Konrad Müller later demonstrated parallels for the long a in vacet in the works of Luxorius and the Salmasianus codex and thus dated the poem to the fifth or beginning of the sixth century. And finally John Contreni argued convincingly instead for a Carolingian date and an attribution to Heiric of Auxerre (841–876), suggesting that the heading refers the octave of the feast of St. Germanus of Auxerre, which fell on August 7th.

I use the text established by Konrad Müller, though I have replaced e caudata with the more familar ae. And I have used sollicitae for sollicite, also for clarity.

I am a little intrigued with Hagen’s emending nebula (2) with the adjective nubila. If the epigram were the work of the emperor Augustus, one would except a dactyl there instead of anapestic ablative ‘nebulā’. Though Carolingian verse might not require such a correction it is possible to imagine that Heiric of Auxerre would have preferred nubila, had the suggestion been made to him!

Hermann Hagen, ‘Über ein neues Epigramm mit der Aufschrift: Octaviani Augusti’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 35 (1880), 569–577

Konrad Müller, ‘Neue Fragmente in Tironischen Noten aus der Berner Handschriftensammlung’, Schweizer Beiträge zur allgemeinen Geschichte, 13 (1955), 16-47

Augustus, Imperatoris Caesaris Augusti operum fragmenta, ed. by Enrica Malcovati, 4th edn (Aug. Tarinorum: In aedibus Io. Bapt. Paraviae, 1967), p. 2

John J. Contreni, ‘What was Emperor Augustus doing at a Carolingian Banquet (Anth. Lat. 2 719F)?’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 146.3-4 (2003), 372-94

Sunday 6 August 2023

Our Likings

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1994; 1857), p.88:

Our likings are regulated by our circumstances. The artist prefers a hilly country because it is picturesque; the engineer a flat one because it is convenient; the man of pleasure likes what he calls 'a fine woman' — she suits him; the fashionable young gentleman admires the fashionable young lady — she is of his kind;

Saturday 5 August 2023


John Earle, Microcosmography or A Piece of the World Discovered in Essays and Characters, ed. by Harold Osborne (London: University Tutorial Press, 1933; 1628), p. 35:

Nothing easier than to create acquaintance: the mere being in company once does it; whereas friendship like children is engendered by a more inward mixture and coupling together; when we are acquainted not with their virtues only, but their faults, their passions, their fears, their shame, and are bold on both sides to make their discovery. And as it is in the love of the body, which is then at the height and full when it has power and admittance into the hidden and worst parts of it; so it is in friendship with the mind, when those verenda of the soul, and those things which we dare not shew the world, are bare and detected one to another.

Friday 4 August 2023

Common Flangetail

A common flangetail (ictinogomphus pertinax, 霸王叶春蜓), with its glaive-like tail, from the lily pond at Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖): my favourite local dragonfly. They are common here in the summer, and they frequent the edges of still waters, which is convenient for close observation. But if they are more pertinacious (pertinax) than other dragonflies, I have not noticed it.

Common Flangetail at Xianjia Lake

Thursday 3 August 2023

The Countryside in Summer

Laurentius Corvinus (1465-1527)
'Hortatur studentes, ut rura aliquando petant.'

Auricomus medium dum scandit Phebus ad axem,
   Et canis estivos efflat ab ore dies.
In nemus ire iuvat densaque iacere sub alno,
   Raucus arenosa qua sonat amnis aqua;
Quaque salutiferos exalat floris odores
   Vernus et aprico gramine ridet ager.
Florigera eliciunt sopitam rura Minervam,
   Sublevat ingenium pingue susurrus aque.
Rure fatigati revocant sua robora sensus,
   Et capiunt vires languida membra novas.

'Students are encouraged to travel to the countryside while they still have the time'

Golden-braided Apollo climbs ascends to the middle of the pole,
   and Sirius
breathes out the summer days from his lips.
It is pleasant to enter the woods and repose under a shady alder tree,
   where the raucous river resounds on the sandy water;
Where the vernal field exhales the flower's health-giving fragrances
   And rejoices in the sun-drenched grass.
Flowering fields solicit sleepy Minerva,
   The whispers of water stimulate their fertile nature.
In the countryside, exhausted minds regain their vigour,
tired limbs seize new strengths.
Laurentius Corvinus, Carminum structura ([Leipzig: Martin Landsberg, 1496]), p. [20]. My translation. emend. 1 scandet.
This poem is attributed to Bohuslaw Lobkowitz von Hassenstein in his Opera poetica, ed. by Marta Vaculínová (Munich: Saur, 2006), p. 249. It is more likely that Corvinus is the true author, as he published it in as his own work in 1496. The misattribution is easy to explain as a consequence of the circulation of such small poems in manuscript.

An alternate version of this poem with six addition lines (incipit: "Rura iuvant homines...") can be found in Moritz Seyffert, Text zu den Materialen der Palaestra musarum (Halle: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1834), I, p. 142.