east of Eden in the land of Nod
A sleepless night, drowsing over Samson Agonistes. Dalila dandled forth, almost more specious than Helen among the Trojan Women, and the blind man missing his apotheosis, but not heroization. And then there are certain beautiful infelicities; I hesitate to say Milton loses his tone, but perhaps he clings rather too fiercely:
Chorus. But we had best retire, I see a storm?
Samson. Fair days have oft contracted wind and rain.
Chor. But this another kind of tempest brings.
Sam. Be less abstruse, my riddling days are past (1061–4).
Sam. Boast not of what thou wouldst have done, but do
What then thou wouldst, thou seest it in thy hand.
Harapha. To combat with a blind man I disdain,
And thou hast need much washing to be touched (1104–7).
It is a comfort to find I am not the only one nodding.1 One feels a certain sympathy with Bentley at such passages (forgoing, however, all ‘happy Conjectures’).
- Puts me in mind of a certain ‘suitably-attired-in-leather-boots/Head of a traveller’. More pompously, however, cf. Il. I.528–30:
ἦ καὶ κυανέῃσιν ἐπ’ ὀφρύσι νεῦσε Κρονίων·
ἀμβρόσιαι δ’ ἄρα χαῖται ἐπερρώσαντο ἄνακτος
κρατὸς ἀπ’ ἀθανάτοιο· μέγαν δ’ ἐλέλιξεν Ὄλυμπον.
Before the meeting ended, which was not long after, I was set thinking of Despard-Smith’s use of the phrase ‘the men’. That habit went back to the ’90’s: most of us at this table would say ‘the young men’ or ‘the undergraduates’. But at this time, the late 1930’s, the undergraduates themselves would usually say ‘the boys’. It was interesting to hear so many strata of speech round one table. Old Gay, for example, used ‘absolutely’, not only in places where the younger of us might quite naturally still, but also in the sense of ‘actually’ or even ‘naturally’ – exactly as though he were speaking in the 1870’s. Pilbrow, always up to the times, used an idiom entirely modern, but Despard-Smith still brought out slang that was fresh at the end of the century – ‘crab’, and ‘josser’,1 and ‘by Jove’. Crawford said ‘man of science’, keeping to the Edwardian usage which we had abandoned. So, with more patience it would have been possible to construct a whole geological record of idioms, simply by listening word by word to a series of college meetings.
– C. P. Snow (The Masters, 171)
* Defined by the OED thus:
A simpleton; a soft or silly fellow. So, in flippant or contemptuous use, a fellow, an (old) chap.
Date range from 1886 to 1946, but clustering around 1900 (corroborating Snow).