Sunday 31 March 2024

Chinese Fir

Chinese Fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata, 杉木).

They are a pleasingly-scented conifer. Deeper into the Hunan forests, they can grow quite tall but I have not seen one locally on Yuelu Mountain that passes 20 meters.  Each part of the tree has a long history in treating pain relief in Traditional Chinese medicine.

Chinese Fir on Yuelu Mountain


Sunlight is the life-blood of Nature. Mother Earth looks at us with such dull, soulless eyes, when the sunlight has died away from out of her. It makes us sad to be with her then; she does not seem to know us or to care for us. She is as a widow who has lost the husband she loved, and her children touch her hand, and look up into her eyes, but gain no smile from her.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (London: Collins Classics, 2013; 1889), p. 205.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Black Medick

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina, 天蓝苜蓿).

A plant with many English names. The name medicago is based on the ancient Greek belief that alfalfa plants came from the Mede kingdom, now a part of Iran. Seeing its hops as 'wolf-like', lupulina, requires some imagination. In any case, it is now in flower on Yuelu Mountain, much to the delight of the bees.

Black Medick on Yuelu Mountain

The Artist’s Workplace

I have been drawing the Peanuts strip for almost 35 years now and, of course, have had many strangers visit my studio. They look at all the books in my room and at a beautiful glass-top desk, given to me by my wife as a wedding present, upon which I place the strips after they have been drawn. They then look at my drawing board and express amazement that this is the actual board at which I sit and draw the strips. I often wonder whether they think that it is there merely as an exhibit and that the real board, some mysterious object, is hidden away in another room.
Charles M. Schulz, My Life with Charlie Brown (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), p. 46.

Friday 29 March 2024

It is Better to be Busy with Leisure than Doing Nothing

 C. Plinius  Minicio Fundano Suo S.

   Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare uideatur, pluribus iunctisque non constet. nam si quem interroges ‘hodie quid egisti?’ respondeat  ‘officio togae uirilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentaui, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in aduocationem, ille in consilium rogauit.’ haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania uidentur, multo magis cum secesseris. tunc enim subit recordatio ‘quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!’ quod euenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori uaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. nihil audio, quod audisse, nihil dico, quod dixisse paeniteat: nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me, cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe, nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. o rectam sinceramque uitam, o dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! o mare, o litus, uerum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa inuenitis, quam multa dictatis! proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis uel otio trade. Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. uale.

To Minutius Fundanus from Pliny:

   It is strange how, if you take each day here in the city one at a time, it is spent or seems to have been well spent, but when you lump all of the days together, it is hard to take account of it all. For if you ask any one, ‘What have you been doing today?’ he will respond: ‘I took part in a coming-of-age ceremony, I was celebrating a betrothal or a wedding, someone asked be to witness a will signing, I was a witness in court for someone, or I have had a consultation with someone. These all seem urgent on the day in question, but if you think over how you spend day after day it all seems like a waste of time, especially when you have withdrawn from the city, for then the thought pops up, ‘what number of days have I wasted in mind-numbing affairs!’ What is what happens to me when I am at my Laurentum either reading something or writing or even taking care of my body, as the mind requires its support to be sustained. I hear nothing, I say nothing which I may regret having heard or said: nobody harasses me with evil words, and I myself blame no one except myself when my writing does not go as well as I would like; I fuss over no hopes, no fears and no rumours disturb my sleep. In converse only with myself and my little books. What a clean and proper life, what sweet and honest leisure, finer than almost any job! The sea, the shore my own secret and true museum, and how many things you discover for me, how many things you have told me! So, you likewise, the first chance you get, leave behind the commotion, vapid conversations and endless useless tasks  and devote yourself to studies or leisure. For it is better, as our Atilius most skillfully and cleverly once said, that it is better to be busy with leisure than doing nothing. Farewell.
Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, I.ix. My translation.

Chinese Yellow Swallowtail

Chinese Yellow Swallowtail (Papilio xuthus, 柑橘凤蝶).

In Wangling park. This butterfly was foraging all afternoon along the excavated family tomb of the Wu Zhu, King Jing of Changsha (†157 BC).

Chinese Yellow Swallowtail in Wangling Park
Chinese Yellow Swallowtail in Wangling Park

Thursday 28 March 2024

Slate Awl

Slate Awl (Hasora anura, 无趾弄蝶).

This rare butterfly was enjoying the Chinese wisteria in Wangling Park. It is the first time I have seen one in Hunan. From a distance I first thought it was a more common parnara guttata and only stopped to look at the Chinese carpenter bees sharing the same flowers: a good reminder that finding new things in nature is often a matter of looking closer.

Slate Awl in Wangling Park


Edwin Muir, An Autobiography (London: Methuen, 1964; 1940), p. 17:

Whenever Sutherland [the author’s cousin] got drunk he began to invent language. I can’t remember now many of his feats in this way, but he liked words with a dashing Spanish sound, like ‘yickahooka’ and ‘navahonta.’ He was so pleased with the word ‘tramcollicken,’ which he invented himself, that he gave it a specific meaning which I had better not mention; but the word became so popular that it spread all over Wyre. From somwhere or other he had picked up ‘graminivorous,’ which struck him by its comic sound, and for a long time his usual greeting was “Weel, boy, how’s thee graminivorous tramcollicken?” Macedonia, Arabia, Valparaiso, and Balaclava became parts of his ordinary vocabulary, giving him a sense of style and grandeur.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Corydalis edulis

Corydalis edulis (紫堇).

There are many species of corydalis in bloom right now, some of which are easier to identify than others. I have been finding this one in the semi-shaded spots on Yuelu Mountain. Its Latin name suggests it is edible and perhaps the tuber is, but I would not risk it.

Corydalis edulis on Yuelu Mountain

The Sight of Another Man Sleeping

I don't know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me. It seems to me so shocking to see the precious hours of a man's life—the priceless moments that will never come back to him again—being wasted in mere brutish sleep.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (London: Collins Classics, 2013; 1889), p. 42.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

One Path

sed in magna copia rerum aliud alii natura iter ostendit

But in the grand scheme of things, nature shows one path to one person, and another path to another.

Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, 2. My translation.

     He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 1995; 1954-55), p. 72.

Glechoma longituba

Glechoma longituba (活血丹).

There is much growing and many new flowers appear each day. This ground ivy is not very abundant, but with some patience, one can find it under the trees growing near the Xiang river and in the forests around Changsha.

Glechoma longituba by the Xiang River

Monday 25 March 2024

Who is Rushing In?

From Horace's Satires (I.2.24):
dum vitant stulti vitia in contraria currunt

fools rushing to avoid one fault, rush to the opposite extreme

Alexander Pope's Imitations of Horace, Serm. I.2.27-28:

But why all this? I'll tell ye, ’tis my Theme:
‘Women and Fools are always in Extreme.’

Common Sow-Thistle

Common Sow-Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus, 苦苣菜).

A common weed throughout much of the world. Edible but older leaves are a little bitter. It is used for different treatments in various concoctions, according to TCM it is useful for clearing away heat, detoxification and stopping bleeding.

Common Sow-Thistle by the Xiang River

Sunday 24 March 2024

Pteridium Latiusculum Ssp. Japonicum

Pteridium latiusculum ssp. japonicum (蕨).

I have been meaning to learn more about local ferns (there is a wonderful variety). This species of bracken is found in Japan and Kamchatka Krai as well as China, as it is here, growing amidst the pennywort by a stagnant part of Xianjia Lake.

Pteridium latiusculum ssp. japonicum in Changsha

Don't Bother About Things That Do Not Matter

Turpe est difficilēs habēre nūgās
et stultus labor est ineptiārum.

It is a shame to make problems out of trivialities
And labouring over trifles is foolish.
Martial, Epigrams II.86.9-10. My translation.

Saturday 23 March 2024

The Book Collector

De inutilibus libris

Primus in excelsa teneo quod nave rudentes
Stultivagosque sequor comites per flumina vasta
Non ratione vacat certa sensuque latenti.
Congestis etenim stultus confido libellis,
Spem quoque nec parvam collecta volumina praebent.
Calleo nec verbum, nec libri sentio mentem.
Attamen in magno per me servantur honore,
Pulueris et cariem plumatis tergo flabellis.
Ast ubi doctrinae certamen voluitur, inquam,
Aedibus in nostris librorum culta supellex
Eminet. et chartis vivo contentus opertis,
Quas video ignorans, iuvat et me copia sola.
On Useless Books
It is not without good reason and good sense, that I sit in the most conspicuous part of the ship [of fools], and follow my foolish braying companions across the wide oceans. For I am the fool who relies on owning heaps of books, even though possessing such an assembly of books does not in itself supply even a shred of hope. Yet these books are preserved by me in good condition. I wipe off the decay of dust with feather dusters. But when people go on about learning, I say that the collection of books in my house is preeminent. And I live context with the books stowed away where I can see them. Ignorant of their contents, merely possessing a large pile pleases me.
Nina Hartl, Die “Stultifera navis”: Jakob Lochers Übertragung von Sebastian Brants “Narrenschiff”, 2 vols (Münster: Waxmann, 2001), II. pp. 50. My translation.
Book Collector in the Ship of Fools

Primrose Jasmine

Primrose Jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi. 黄馨).

In spite of intermittent rain, Wangling Park was full of young women taking their pictures beside blossoming pruni, redbuds, and (to a lesser extent) magnolias. The gardens of Spring are beautiful and away from the throngs there are more subtle flowers, including this primrose (or Japanese) jasmine, hiding amid a weave of weeds and vines.

Primrose Jasmine in Wangling Park

Friday 22 March 2024

A Cheerful Book

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Sir Sidney Colvin, 5 vol (London: William Heinemann, 1924), II, p.297 [‘To Mr. Dick’, 12 March 1884]:

The Bible, in most parts, is a cheerful book; it is our little piping theologies, tracts, and sermons that are dull and dowie; and even the Shorter Catechism, which is scarcely a work of consolation, opens with the best and shortest and completest sermon ever written; upon Man’s Chief End.

Juvenile Oriental Magpie

Juvenile Oriental Magpie (Pica serica, 普通喜鵲).

Spring is my favourite season for exploring the natural world in Hunan. While I am preparing for new flora and fauna I have been sorting through some old photos. Last spring, especially through April and May, I could often hear this magpie and its mother squawking to each other along the river mudflats. Like most young birds, it is awkward-looking but the metallic green and purples tail feathers were striking. I believe it is still around its old haunts, though now it is fully grown.

Thursday 21 March 2024

This Lethean Influence of Exile

 Even people whose lives have been made various by learning, sometimes find it hard to keep a fast hold on their habitual views of life, on their faith in the Invisible – nay, on the sense that their past joys and sorrows are a real experience, when they are suddenly transported to a new land, where the beings around them know nothing of their history, and share none of their ideas – where their mother earth shows another lap, and human life has other forms than those on which their souls have been nourished. Minds that have been unhinged from their old faith and love, have perhaps sought this Lethean influence of exile, in which the past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all vanished, and the present too is dreamy because it is linked with no memories.
George Eliot, Silas Marner (Ware: Wordsworth, 1994; 1861), p. 11.

Spring Wagtail

Every year, the first baby birds that make their appearance are fledgling white wagtails (motacilla alba, 白鹡鸰). Another sign that Spring is now fully present.

Fledgling White Wagtail in Wangling Park

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Predatory Magpies

On many occasions I have found toad skins in the mudflats of the Xiang river and wondered whether it was magpies, egrets or other culprits have been eating their insides before discarding the poisonous skins. After reviewing some old photographs I noticed that I had captured an oriental magpie (pica serica, 喜鹊) in the act of catching toad at Taozi lake last April.
Oriental Magpie Catching a Toad

Last month I observed an azure-winged magpie (cyanopica cyanus, 灰喜鹊) catch a rat in the grasses near the Xiang river. Magpies of all kinds are fascinating to observe and certainly innovative in their acquisition of grub.
Azure-winged Magpie Catching a Rat

FR Leavis

    It’s 50 years since I turned up at Downing College, Cambridge, to read English under FR Leavis. I ran into him on my first day, as I was pushing my case through the college gates. I hadn’t met him before but knew what he looked like.
   Upon being nervously greeted by me, he suggested I go into the porter’s lodge and make myself known. Thereafter, in the week before term began, I continued to run into him, by the gates. I summoned the courage to tell him I was rereading The Dunciad and enjoying it. He looked, I thought, disapprovingly at me. The following day I told him I had finished rereading The Dunciad but had not in the end, enjoyed it all that much.
   He still looked disapprovingly at me. He was not, I realised, going to be easy to please.
   The next week term began in earnest and a person not at all like the person I’d been talking to turned up and distributed practical criticism sheets. If this was Dr Leavis, then who had I been discussing The Dunciad with? I discovered, in due course, that it was a college porter, I believe called Tony.
Howard Jacobson, ‘Howard Jacobson on being taught by FR Leavis’, The Telegraph, 23 April 2011.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Pond Slider

Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans, 彩龟).

On the cusp of astronomical spring, this turtle was enjoying the sun at Taozi Lake long enough to collect leaves on its shell.

Pond Slider at Taozi Lake

Civilizations One Day Vanish

Diruta sunt aliis, uni mihi Pergama restant:
   Incola captivo quae bove victor arat.
Iam seges est, ubi Troia fuit, resecandaque falce,
   Luxuriat Phrygio sanguine pinguis humus.
Semisepulta virum curvis feriuntur aratris
   Ossa: ruinosas occulit herba domos.

Destroyed for others, Troy, where the victorious Greek ploughs with a captured ox, remains for me alone. Now corn stands where Troy was, and the earth, rank in Phrygian blood, is fertile for the cutting scythe. The half-buried bones of men are struck by curved ploughs; the grass hides ruined houses.
Ovid, Heroides, I.51-58 [Penelope Ulixi]. My translation.
    Casi no tienes ni una sombra vana
de nuestra antigua Itálica, ¿y esperas?
¡Oh error perpetuo de la suerte humana!

    Las enseñas grecianas, las banderas
del senado y romana monarquía
murieron, y pasaron sus carreras.
¿Qué es nuestra vida más que breve día
do apenas sale el sol cuando se pierde
en las tinieblas de la noche fría?

You scarcely possess even an empty shadow of our ancient Italica, and still you hope? O, the perpetual error of human fortune! The Grecian banners and the flags of Roman Senate and monarchy have died and their courses have ended. What is our life but a short day where the sun scarcely rises before it is lost in the darkness of the cold night?
Andrés Fernándes de Andrada, La ‘Epístola moral a Fabio’, ed. by Dámaso Alonso (Madrid: Gredos, 1978), p. 17 [lines 61-69]. My translation.

Monday 18 March 2024


Wilhelm Busch, Balduin Bählamm, der verhinderte Dichter (Munich: Verlag von fr. Bassermann, 1883), pp. 36-39:

In freier Luft, in frischem Grün,
Da, wo die bunten Blümlein blühn,
In Wiesen, Wäldern, auf der Heide,
Entfernt von jedem Wohngebäude,
Auf rein botanischem Gebiet,
Weilt jeder gern, der voll Gemüt.
Hier legt sich Bählamm auf den Rücken
Und fühlt es tief und mit Entzücken,
Nachdem er Bein und Blick erhoben:
Groß ist die Welt, besonders oben!
Wie klein dagegen und beschränkt
Zeigt sich der Ohrwurm, wenn er denkt.
Engherzig schleicht er durch das Moos,
Beseelt von dem Gedanken bloß,
Wo's dunkel sei und eng und hohl,
Denn da nur ist ihm pudelwohl.
Grad wie er wünscht und sehr gelegen
Blinkt ihm des Dichters Ohr entgegen.
In diesen wohlerwärmten Räumen,
So denkt er, kann ich selig träumen.
Doch wenn er glaubt, daß ihm hienieden
Noch weitre Wirksamkeit beschieden,
So irrt er sich. – Ein Winkelzug
Von Bählamms Bein, der fest genug,
Zerstört die Form, d.h. so ziemlich,
Die diesem Wurme eigentümlich,
Und seinem Dasein als Subjekt
Ist vorderhand ein Ziel gesteckt.
Sogleich und mit gewisser Schnelle
Vertauscht der Dichter diese Stelle
Für eine andre, mehr erhöht,
Allwo ein Bäumlein winkend steht.
Wilhelm Busch - Ohrworm

In the open air, in fresh green,
Where the colorful florets bloom,
In meadows, forests, on the heathland,
Far away from any residential building,
In a pure botanical territory,
That is where everyone full of spirit likes to stay.
Here Bählamm lies on his back
And feels deeply and with delight,
After raising his leg and eyes:
The world is great, especially above!
How small and limited in comparison
The earwig reveals himself with his thoughts,
Narrow-minded he creeps through the moss,
Inspired by the mere thought of
Some place where it is dark and narrow and hollow,
Because that is the only place he feels at ease.
Just as he wishes and very conveniently
The poet’s ear twinkles at him.
In these well-warmed rooms,
So he thinks, I can dream happily.
But if he believes that he will have
greater efficacy down here, he is mistaken.
– A twist of Bählamm's leg, which is strong enough,
Breaks the form, i.e. more or less,
that is particular to this worm,
and his existence as a subject has an end set forthwith.
Instantly and with a certain speed
The poet swaps this place for another, further elevated
Where a little tree stands waving.
My translation. I attempted a stricter translation in trochaic tetrameter couplets after the original, but was not successful.


Gonolabis (殖肥螋属).

Warm (or relatively so) rain is opening the earth, so one ring-legged earwig came out to explore the fallen wood and mulching leaves on Yuelu Mountain. I am unsure of the species but at least the genus is identifiable.

Gonolabis on Yuelu Mountain

Sunday 17 March 2024

Swinhoe's White-Eye

Swinhoe's White-Eye (Zosterops simplex, 暗绿绣眼鸟).

Small green bird which becomes increasingly difficult to spot as spring becomes greener. This one was nearly invisible except for its matching eye and collection of cobwebs, which is presumably being repurposed for nest-building.

Swinhoe's White-Eye at Taozi Lake


Generations of Men

The divine Homer, my son, likens the generations of men to the leaves of the forest. To me they resemble rather the spring’s renewal of grass, covering the world’s mistakes.
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier, Castle Dor (London: Virago, 2006; 1961), p. 31.

Saturday 16 March 2024

Asian Honey Bee

Asian Honey Bee (Apis cerana, 东方蜜蜂).

Local pollinators hard at work: it is delightful to watch bees, so it is no wonder that have been so deeply studied from the ancient world until today. Except on the coldest, sunless and flowerless day, there are always some honey bees circulating throughout the local gardens and forests.

Science and Magic and Power

    If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. ‘All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command' and ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’. In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit. The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician. In Paracelsus the characters of magician and scientist are combined. No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not from the bad. But the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have-been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (London: Fount, 1978; 1943), pp. 46-47.

Friday 15 March 2024

Discover the Causes of Things

discite et, o miseri, causas cognoscite rerum:
quid sumus et quidnam uicturi gignimur, ordo
quis datus, aut metae qua mollis flexus et unde,
quis modus argento, quid fas optare, quid asper
utile nummus habet, patriae carisque propinquis
quantum elargiri deceat, quem te deus esse
iussit et humana qua parte locatus es in re.

Learn, o wretched men, discover the causes of things: what we are and what manner of life we were born for, what station of life we were delivered to, how and when to ease round the turning-post, what are the limits to silver, what is proper to pray for, the use of freshly minted coins, what amount should be spent on your country and how much on near relatives, to what God has in store for  you and what part you are called to play in human affairs.
Persius, Sat. III.66-72. My translation.

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth (Complex Abraxas Amicula-illuminata, 金星尺蛾属).

Different species in this complex cannot be identified by their external visible features, though they might be recognized on the individual level by grey markings which differ from one moth to another. However, when dealing with larva, it is far easier to identify the species.

Magpie Moth in Changsha

Thursday 14 March 2024

Female Daurian Redstart

Female Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus, 黃尾鴝).

For whatever reason, I see female redstarts far less often than the males. Curious.

Female Daurian Redstart in Changsha

221A Baker Street

    A moment of Holmes-like deduction suggests that, if there is a 221B, there must be a 221A, and possibly a 221C. What did the tenants above and below think of having their peace disturbed by Sherlock Holmes's patriotic shooting practice or the mysterious and odd people who regularly came to his door? And why did such a brilliant and successful investigator, called on by the rich and famous, able to afford a special train to take Dr. Watson and himself to the scene of crime, need to share lodgings in what seems to be essentially a rooming house? We are told by Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet that the accommodation at 221B Baker Street ‘consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished and illuminated by two broad windows.’ So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate the terms when divided between the two men, ‘that the bargain was concluded upon the spot.’ We also learn that the sitting-room was Sherlock Holmes’s office and the place where he received his visitors, which meant that Watson had to be banished to his bedroom when anyone arrived on business, which was not infrequently. It hardly seems a satisfactory arrangement and I am not surprised that eventually, despite the moderate cost, Watson moved out.
P.D. James, Talking About Detective Fiction (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2009), p. 38.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Alliterative Poem for Spring

 Ianus Novák (Jan Novák 1921-1984)
‘Ionici quibus ver salvere iubetur’

Veniet ver violarum varia veste venustum
valide vivida vexilla vibrans ver violens
virginibus, vestra voluptas

Veniet ver veniet vivificans vos veluti
verbere virgae virides visite valles veteres
verrite vepres: veniet ver

Veniet ver: vigilate et Venerem versicolorem
vehementer venerantes valida voce vicissim
vocitate: eia ave ver!

Graceful spring will come in coloured blanket of violets, violent spring vigorously brandishing spirited flags for maidens, your pleasure.

Spring will come. It will come, reviving you as if by the lash of a rod. Go see green vales, sweep away old thorn-bushes, spring will come.

Spring will come. Vigorously be vigilant for varicoloured Venus, lasses again venerating with a strong voice, calling: ‘quick! hail spring!’
Carmina latina recentiora. Veterum tibiis canunt nepotes, 3rd edn, ed. by Rainardus Brune (Leichlingen: Domus editoria Rainardi Brune, 1986), p. 37. My translation.

Mongolian Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum, 蒲公英).

There are comparatively few dandelions where I walk beside Xiang river, but they will be more soon since warm spring rains are upon us. They can be used in teas or in Traditional Chinese Medicine as enemas for treating some kidney problems: the world is full of taraxacological curiosities.

Dandelion by the Xiang River

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Chinese Hwamei

Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus, 画眉).

Sadly, one sees them more often in captivity than in the wild. But this one at least was at liberty to joyously devour grubs, flies, spiders and any other invertebrate in its path.

Hwamei in Changsha

True Browsers

 A bookseller, from whom I had been buying for nearly forty years, and with whom I had grown old, told me, shortly before he closed down his shop, that the nature of customers had changed over the years. True browsers like me, who were content to spend two or three hours among the dust to find something of whose existence they previously had had no inkling, but which, by a process of elective affinity, aroused their interest and even sparked a passion, were few and were old. In so far as young people came into his shop at all, they came to enquire whether he had such and such a book, usually required reading for some course or other; and if he had not, they left immediately, having no further interest in his stock. Their need for the book in question must have been urgent, since it was available online for delivery next day; they must have been late with an assignment. So if youth were the future, the future, at least for second-hand booksellers with shops, was bleak.
Anthony Daniels, ‘The digital challenge, I: Loss & gain, or the fate of the book’, The New Criterion, 31 (November 2012), p. 4.

Monday 11 March 2024

Fish Cooks

Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel (London: Vintage Books, 2012), p. 398 ['Old Mr Flood'; 1944]:

‘I’ve made quite a study of fish cooks,’ Mr Flood says, ‘and I’ve decided that old Italians are best. Then comes old colored men, then old mean Yankees, and then old drunk Irishmen. They have to be old; it takes almost a lifetime to learn how to do a thing simply. Even the stove has to be old. If the cook is an awful drunk, so much the better. I don’t think a teetotaler could cook a fish. Oh, if he was a mean old tobacco-chewing teetotaler, he might.’


Sharpbelly (Hemiculter leucisculus, 䱗).

A common enough fish in China to merit its own character. Warm weather has been bringing them to survive in the streams and brackish lakes. Soon they will attract hordes of egrets and herons. Humans can steam or fry them too, if so inclined.

Sharpbelly in Changsha

Sunday 10 March 2024

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

Sulphur-breasted Warbler (Phylloscopus ricketti, 黑眉柳莺).

I have only once seen one in Changsha: we looked at each other quickly, I took a picture and it was gone. I wonder if any stay nearby for the breeding season or whether it was making its springtime journey north.

Sulphur-breasted Warbler in Changsha

Wit and Wisdom

WIT and wisdom differ: wit is upon the sudden turn; wisdom is in bringing about ends.
John Selden, Table talk: being the discourses of John Selden, Esq. (London: printed for Joseph White, 1789; 1689), p. 159.

Saturday 9 March 2024

Episcapha fortunii

Episcapha fortunii (福周艾蕈甲).

A local species of pleasing fungus beetle, since December I have seen many of them among the piles of rotting wood and woodlice by the shores of the Xiang river: sometimes I see one on its, sometimes they are in groups of up to seven beetles.
Episcapha fortunii by the Xiang RIver

Abolition of Traditional Education

Paul Shorey, The Assault on Humanism (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Company, 1917), pp. 75-76:

   From their own point of view it is natural that they [those against classical education] should deprecate with sullen jealousy the inoculation of the adolescent mind with standards and tastes that would render it immune to what one of them has commended in print as the ‘science’ of Mrs. Elsie Clews Parsons. The purpose, or, at any rate, the tendency of their policies is to stamp out and eradicate these things and inculcate exclusively their own tastes and ideals by controlling American education with the political efficiency of Prussian autocracy and in the fanatical intolerance of the French anticlericalists. Greek and Latin have become mere symbols and pre-texts. They are as contemptuous of Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Racine, Burke, John Stuart Mill, Tennyson, Alexander Hamilton, or Lowell, as of Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, or Horace. They will wipe the slate of everything that antedates Darwin’s Descent of Man, Mr. Wells’s Research Magnificent and the familiar pathos of James Whitcomb Riley’s vernacular verse.
   These are the policies that mask as compassion for the child bored by literature which, they say, it cannot be expected to appreciate and understand, or behind the postulate that we should develop aesthetic and literary sensibilities only by means of the literature that expresses the spirit of modern science, not that which preserves in amber the husks of the dead past.

Friday 8 March 2024

Hirsute Raspberry

Hirsute Raspberry (Rubus hirsutus, 蓬藟).

This bramble has the distinction of being one of the first to flower this spring, at least on the higher and shadier parts of Yuelu Mountain.

Hirsute Raspberry on Yuelu Mountain

Idle Gossip

Gore Vidal, Julian: A Historical Novel (London: The Reprint Society, 1965; 1962), p. 417:

History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 7th ed (London: Macmillan Press, 1995; 1947), p.xxi.
   Anyone who undertakes an inquiry of such a kind is soon made aware of one important fact: the worthlessness of mere human testimony. It is a chastening thought to a historian to consider how much history is written on the basis of statements no more reliable than those of Admiral Doenitz, Dr Spaeth and Carmen Mory. If such statements had been made and recorded with reference to the disputed death of the Czar Alexander I in 1825, plenty of historians would have been ready to take them seriously. Fortunately in this case they were made by contemporaries, and it was possible to check them.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Reading Tips for a Pious Young Lady

Gregorio Correr (1409-1464)
'Epistola ad Ceciliam virginem de fugiendo seculo'

   Restat ut tibi secularium litterarum lectionem penitus interdicam, maxime poetarum. Quomodo enim seculo renuntiasse crediderim, si que sunt seculi amas? Quid refert qua ex parte seculum diligas? Diligis certe seculum si litteras amas. Danda venia secularibus, ut, reiectis tantum obscenis scriptoribus, cetera discant. Sponsa Christi nihil aliquid legat quam sacra volumina et scriptores ecclesiasticos. Proinde tuum illum dilectum Maronem, vel cum Victorini pace, dimittito; sume pro eo Psalterium, pro Cicerone Evangelium. Crede mihi (expertus dico), seculares litterae, ne aliud noceant, animum a divina lectione seducunt. Habes in scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, si etiam illud requiris, summam eloquentiam. Resolve libros Lactantii, Cypriani, Hylarii, Hieronymi, Ambrosii, Augustini, Gregorii, Leonis, Cassiani, Sulpicii, Bernardi, Salviani quoque, cuius libros De providentia Dei, e concilio Basyliensi rediens, de Germanorum ergastulis in Italiam reportavi. Nonne in his tanta eloquentia, ut ne huius quoque rei delectatio, sive imitatio ab aethnicis petenda sit? His, igitur, lege et que a graecis doctoribus traducta sunt, Gregorio, Basylio, Chrysostomo, Athanasio et Ioanne, cui Clymaci nomen inditum. Syrum quoque, Ephrem numerare possem et plures praeterea, si tibi cathalogum scriptorum ecclesiasticorum scribere instituissem.
   Quid ergo aliena quaerimus in tanta nostrorum, idest Christianorum, copia? Aliena quoque existimare debes nenias quasdam et delyramenta somniantium, sicut libellum illum, nescio cuius mulierculae, qui Speculum animarum simplicium inscribitur. Quibus repudiatis, nil, nisi a doctis usitatum et probatum, leges. Habes sanctorum scripta, quibus te oblectes, quibus animum pascas. Hec legito. Horum insuper flores ne pigeat capere, et pro edificatione simpliciorum virginum in maternum sermonem vertere.

   Hereafter I utterly prohibit you from the reading of pagan literature, especially poets. For how am I to trust that you have renounced the world, if you love things which are worldly? What difference does it make what part of the world you esteem? Surely, if you love pagan literature, you love the world. Lay readers may be forgiven if, having given up only indecent writers, they continue to study the rest! A spouse of Christ should read nothing other than sacred books and ecclesiastical authors. Hence cast away your delightful Virgil, with the approval of Vittorino da Feltre*, and instead take up the Psalter; cast aside Cicero and take up the Gospel. Trust me (I know from experience), lest pagan letters cause one harm, and lest reading them diverts one’s soul away from the divine. You have in ecclesiastic authors, if you indeed require it, the highest eloquence. Open the books of Lactantius, St Cyprian, St Hilarius, St Jerome, St Ambrose, St Augustine, St Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, St John Cassian, Sulpicius Severus, St. Bernard, and also Salvian, whose book, On God’s Providence, I, returning from the Council of Basel, I brought back to Italy from the dungeons of Germany. Is there not such eloquence in these Christian books, are they not such a source of pleasure and imitation, that one must seek these things from the pagans? Therefore, read these books and those which are translated from the Greek doctors: St Gregory of Nazianzus, St Basil, St John Chrysostom, St Athanasius and St John Climacus. I could also add St Ephrem the Syrian and others besides, if you were intent to make a catalogue of ecclesiastical authors.
   Why then do we seek in such unworthy materials for things that are in our own authors, that is, in the works of Christians? You too ought to regard as unworthy such incantations and delusions of dreamers, such as are found in that book, by what little woman I know not, entitled
Le Miroir des âmes simples.+ Having scorned such things, you will read nothing unless it is familiar and esteemed by the learned. Cherish the writings of the saints, with which you may amuse yourself, with which you may feed your soul. Read these authors, whose flowers one is not ashamed to pluck; who can be translated into the vernacular for the edification of simple maidens.
Gregorio Correr, Opere, ed. by Aldo Onorato, 2 vols (Messina: Sicania, 1991-1994), vol. II (1994), pp. 548-50. My translation.

*Correr was a former student of the humanist educator, Vittorino da Feltre.
+The authoress of this work was Marguerite Porete.

Channeled Apple Snail

Channeled Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata, 沟果瓶螺).

Originally from South America, they are ubiquitous in the lakes and by the river. Sometimes on wet days in Spring, one sees dozens of them marching across the grass and trails.

Channeled Apple Snail at Taozi Lake

Wednesday 6 March 2024

A Head in the Forest

Almost every tree on Yuelu Mountain was affected by our unusually severe winter. In some places the majority of trees all but destroyed. One strange occurrence is that the uprooting of one camphor tree revealed this stone head with old-fashioned glasses: for whatever reason was formerly buried on the mountain-side.

Two Neo-Latin about Sleep

Marc-Antoine Muret (1526-1585)
Euge, an te teneo, mea lux, an somnia demens  
   Fingo mihi? Certè, lux mea, te teneo.  
Somnia non haec sunt. oculis nónne intuor hisce
   Flammeolósque oculos purpureásque genas  
Lacteolásque manus, et eburnae frontis honorem,
   Colláque non tacta candidiora niue?  
Dulcia collatis ineamus proelia signis,  
   Dum tuta alternis lusibus hora datur.
Me miserum! nusquam es. Fallax me lusit imago.  
   O dolor! ô animi gaudia vana mei!  
Quid queror? exacta si rem ratione putemus,  
   Vmbra est in misero quidquid amore boni est.  
'A Dream'
Oh! Am I holding you, my light, or am I mad,  
   Casting a dream? Surely, my light, I am holding you.
These are not dreams. Surely I stare into
   Your flaming eyes and ruddy cheeks and
Milk-white hands, and lovely ivory brow,
   And your neck whiter than snow?  
Allow us to enter pleasing battles with standards opposed,
   While a protected hour permits successive games.
Oh wretch that I am! You are nowhere. A false image tricked me.
   Oh sorrow! Oh my spirit’s hollow joys.
Why do I lament? If we think rationally about the matter,
   Whatever is good in wretched love is a shadow!
Marc-Antoine Muret, Juvenilia, ed. & French trans. Virginie Leroux (Genève: Droz 2009; 1552), p. 148.

Fidelis Raedle
‘Laus somni’
’Quantum tempus perdimus’,
clamas, ’dormiendo!’
Perditum non dixerim
tempus, si perpendo,
quam optata homini
illa res sit omni:
recreatio animi
et dulcedo somni.

Lecto mandant corporis
membra fatigata
Lethe poti homines
nec iam curant fata
dira. ita veterem
Adam ego verto:
novus fio iterum
dum ad mane sterto.

Totum refrigerio
huic est cor intentum;
iam accedet somnium,
somni ornamentum.
Mundi dum abicio
istius dolorem,
rerum formam video
plane pulchriorem.

'In Praise of Sleep' 

‘How much time we waste’, you shout, ‘while asleep!’ I would not say, properly considered, that it is time so much lost as spent in the way most welcome to a man. The thing for all is the refreshment of mind and the sweetness of sleep.

The body’s tired limbs entrust themselves to bed. Men who have drank from Lethe do not now worry about fearful calamities. Thus I overthrow old Adam: I become a new man again while I snore in the morning.

Completely at rest, for this is the heart’s desire. Now a dream, the ornament of sleep, approaches. While I cast away the sorrow of that world, I see clearly the more beautiful form of things.

Carmina latina recentiora. Veterum tibiis canunt nepotes, 3rd edn, ed. by Rainardus Brune (Leichlingen: Domus editoria Rainardi Brune, 1986), p. 157.

My translations.

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Yulan Magnolia

Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata, 玉兰花).

Every March I look forward to seeing the magnolia flowers that grow on the trees adjacent to my college and the citric fragrance that they spread with them.

The Vulgar Use of Such Words as ‘Basket’

David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945–51 (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), p. 386-87:

‘Programmes must at all cost be kept free of crudities, coarseness and innuendo,’ insisted the BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers & Producers (generally known as ‘The Green Book’), a long-lived document assembled and taking force during the second half of 1948. ‘Humour must be clean and untainted directly or by association with vulgarity and suggestiveness. Music hall, stage, and to a lesser degree, screen standards, are not suitable to broadcasting . . . There can be no compromise with doubtful material. It must be cut.’ The following were the subject of ‘an absolute ban’:
Jokes about –
Effeminacy in men
Immorality of any kind
Suggestive references to –
Honeymoon couples
Fig leaves 
Ladies’ underwear, e.g. winter draws on
Animal habits, e.g. rabbits
Commercial travellers
Extreme care should be taken in dealing with references to or jokes about – 
Pre-natal influences (e.g. ‘His mother was frightened by a donkey’)
Marital infidelity
Good taste and decency are the obvious governing considerations.

The vulgar use of such words as ‘basket’ must also be avoided.

Religion, politics and physical infirmities were all heavily restricted areas, though ‘references to and jokes about drink are allowed in strict moderation so long as they can really be justified on entertainment grounds’. As for expletives, ‘they have no place at all in light entertainment and all such words as God, Good God, My God, Blast, Hell, Damn, Bloody, Gorblimey, Ruddy, etc, etc, should be deleted from scripts and innocuous expressions substituted’. Any jokes that might be taken to encourage strikes or industrial disputes were to be avoided, while ‘the Corporation’s policy is against broadcasting impersonations of elder Statesmen, e.g. Winston Churchill’.

Monday 4 March 2024

Nest-Building Laughingthrush

Another sign of approaching spring: for the past fortnight I have often seen oriental magpies selecting sticks for their nests. Now I have seen white-browed laughingthrush (pterorhinus sannio, 白颊噪鹛) actively pursuing the same. No doubt soon the prinia will be up on the reeds singing their mating calls, all nature will be preparing for the next generation.

White-browed laughingthrush Building a Nest

Handling Bombadier Beetles

A Cychrus rostratus once squirted into my eye & gave me extreme pain; & I must tell you what happened to me on the banks of the Cam in my early entomological days; under a piece of bark I found two carabi (I forget which) & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both Carabi & Panagæus
Charles Darwin, 'Letter of Leonard Jenyns' [17 Oct 1846], The Darwin Project.

Sunday 3 March 2024

Spring Grey-capped Greenfinch

A flock of grey-capped greenfinch (Chloris sinica, 金翅雀) has been congregating near Taozi Lake and the river. It is the first new flock that appears to have arrived in the neighbourhood though not doubt others are furtively present. All signs are directed towards an early spring, which means soon there will be many new birds, and other signs of life renewed.

Grey-capped Greenfinch at Taozi Hu

Two Neologisms

In recent years two neologisms have appeared to describe the smell of old books: Oliver Tearle came up with ‘bibliosmia’ in 2014, combining the Greek words for ‘book’ and ‘smell’, and a year earlier John Koenig, in his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, invented ‘vellichor: the strange wistfulness of used book stores’, which, rather than connoting the smell itself, is the emotion that the smell invokes. The example he gives is: ‘There’s a bookshop on the corner and just walking past fills me with a sense of vellichor.’
Shaun Bythell, Remainders of the Day: More Diaries from The Bookshop, Wigtown (London: Profile Books, 2022), p. 61.

Saturday 2 March 2024

Society Commonplaces

The  progress  of  civilization  is  in  proportion  to  the number  of commonplaces  current  in  society.  For  instance,  if  we meet  with  a  stranger  at  an  inn  or  in  a  stage-coach,  who  knows nothing  but  his  own  affairs,  his  shop,  his  customers,  his  farm,  his pigs,  his  poultry,  we  can  carry  on  no  conversation  with  him  on  these local  and  personal  matters,  the  only  way  is  to  let  him  have  all  the talk  to  himself.  But  if  he  has  fortunately  ever  seen  Mr.  Liston  act, this  is  an  immediate  topic  of  mutual  conversation,  and  we  agree  together  the  rest  of  the  evening  in  discussing  the  merits  of  that  inimitable  actor,  with  the  same  satisfaction  as  in  talking  over  the affairs  of  the  most  intimate  friend.
William Hazlitt, Liber Amoris and Dramatic Criticism (London: Peter Nevil, 1948), [‘On Actors and Acting (1817)’, pp. 147-157], p. 149.

Japanese Mazus

Japanese Mazus (Mazus pumilus, 通泉草).

Growing in the Taohualing Scenic Area. Its flowers are not uncommon from May until late fall, but this the earliest I have seen it in flower in Changsha so far.

Friday 1 March 2024

Chinese Violet Cress

Chinese Violet Cress (Orychophragmus violaceus, 诸葛菜).

Hiding under the shade of a raised walkway, were dozens of violet or February cress flowers. A member of the mustard family, the whole plant is fragrant and edible.

Chinese Violet Cress by the Xiang River

You snooze, you lose.

Tu dormis, tu perdis … You snooze, you lose.
Paul Beatty, The Sellout (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), p. 12.