Donald Culross Peattie On Trees

Many years ago I was idly browsing the science and natural history section of a used-book store. I think the store was in Brattleboro, Vermont. I came across a blue hardback, a thick volume bearing the name A Natural History of Trees. The author was a writer I’d never heard of, Donald Culross Peattie. I paged through the book and noticed that it was liberally illustrated with well executed and evocative pen-and-ink drawings.

I figured that for fifty cents I couldn’t go wrong. I bought the book, and in the succeeding years it became one of my favorite collections of natural history essays.

The title page, photographed on my kitchen counter:

Each chapter in the book is devoted to a single species of a native tree which grows in the Eastern and Midwestern United States. Many of the chapters, if not all, were originally published in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Natural History, and Scientific American. The compilation volume was first published in 1948, so I’m guessing the bulk of the essays were written in the 1930s and 1940s.

Donald Culross Peattie begins his essays with a “just the facts, ma’am” approach: physical characteristics, range, and appearance of a particular tree. He briefly summarizes the commercial uses of the tree being discussed. But then Peattie begins to wax lyrical and writes some beautiful and and poetic personal impressions of the species which seem to have been distilled from his own encounters with particular trees and landscapes. An example, from the chapter on Malus ioensis, the Iowa Crab, a small tree which lingers on to this day in fence-rows and roadsides, perennially afflicted with the Cedar Apple rust; a relic of another era:

The Iowa Crab blooms at the same time as the cultivated Apple tree, but no Apple that grows has such beautiful blossoms, the warmest pink in the bud, nearly white in full maturity, and a blood-pink as they fade. The odor alone would justify the frequent cultivation of this lovely wildling, under the name of Bechtel Crab as the nursery men like to call a particularly deep-colored variety. Indescribable, the odor is yet incomparable — not a drugging odor or a honeyed, but innocent and pervading, flung on the spring air in invisible swirling ribbons of scent that draw you upwind to the odor, as the bees are drawn, to find the shining source of this mysterious fragrance. Perhaps it will never be captured in alcohol and corked up in a bottle — one hopes, indeed, that it will not — but if it were, the perfume would probably disappoint us, for like most things in Nature, it is bound up with its setting and association. With the cool, sequestered sound of mourning doves, with the finding of white violets by the slough, with the aching blue of the sky bent in a faultless arc, and the bubbling cricket-like din of spring peepers in the pond.

Paul Landacre drew the many fine drawings in the book; here’s his rendition of the Iowa Crab:

Here’s an excerpt from the Shagbark Hickory chapter:

But about the first week in April the inner bud scales begin to open, arching out and twisting at the same time but with their tips at first still adhering in a pointed arch. Shiny and downy on the inner surface, and yellow-green richly-tinged with red, they look like petals of some great Tulip or Magnolia as finally they part and curl back. The young leaves and catkins are then seen standing up in a twist, like a skein of green wool. The catkins now rush into growth simultaneously with but more swiftly than the delicate, pale, and lustrous young leaves.

Dark, heavy, and aromatic is the foliage all summer but if the season is a dry one the leaves may begin to turn a dull brown even in August and drop, leaving the tree prematurely naked. Yet if they last through, they join modestly in the autumn splendor of our Middle Western woods, with a soft, dull gold, not without its luminous beauty when the sun of Indian summer shines through them. To all who know the Shagbark, such memories are linked with visions of the violet smoke of asters curling low through the drying grasses, with peeled October skies, with crow calls which signal your presence through the woods, and the shining of red haws, like little apples, on the thorn trees.

Peattie’s prose is rather old-fashioned by current standards, with long sentences meandering past commas and semicolons like creek-water flowing around rocks in a streambed. His style is more late 19th-Century than 20th-Century, and here we are in the 21st. Personally I like the older prose styles — to me they are a welcome alternative now and then from current modes of writing. But that’s just me.

The pen-and-ink drawings in this book were masterfully drawn by Paul Landacre. The pen-and-ink medium is particularly well-suited for depictions of trees and plants, as there is no distracting background. Landacre’s drawings are botanically accurate but his skill in composition gives the drawings an aesthetically-pleasing quality which is more difficult to achieve with photography.

Here are a few more of Landacre’s drawings:

The Paw Paw, (Asimina triloba)

The Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana):

One last example of Paul Landacre’s artistry, a drawing of one of my favorite trees, the Basswood (Tilia americana):

I’ve been lucky; I’ve loaned my tattered copy of this book to people and it always has been returned!

Larry

Gaseous Nobility

Every day I receive an e-mail from a site called delancyplace.com. Each e-mail contains a short excerpt from a book, mostly books concerning science or history. They are well-chosen excerpts and I enjoy most of them. If you would like to sign up (it’s a free service) here’s the link:

Delancyplace

Here’s an example I received today; I thought it was very well-written:

In today’s excerpt – the Noble Gases, also known as inert
gases, are located in column eighteen on the far right side
of the Periodic Table of Elements and consist of: Helium
(He), Neon (Ne), Argon (Ar), Krypton (Kr), Xenon (Xe), and
Radon (Rn).  Each of these gases, under standard
conditions, are odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with
very low chemical reactivity: 
 
Noble is an archaic word, less chemistry than ethics or 
philoso­phy. And indeed, the term ‘noble gases’ goes back 
to the birth­place of Western philosophy, ancient Greece. 
There, after his fellow Greeks Leucippus and Democritus
invented the idea of atoms, Plato minted the word “elements” 
(in Greek, stoicheia) as a general term for different small 
particles of matter. Plato­ – who left Athens for his own 
safety after the death of his mentor, Socrates, around 400 
BC and wandered around writing philoso­phy for years – of 
course lacked knowledge of what an element really is in 
chemistry terms. But if he had known, he no doubt would 
have selected the elements on the eastern edge of the table, 
especially helium, as his favorites.  In his dialogue on 
love and the erotic, The Symposium, Plato claimed that every 
being longs to find its complement, its miss­ing half. When 
applied to people, this implies passion and sex and all the 
troubles that accompany passion and sex.  In addi­tion, Plato
emphasized throughout his dialogues that abstract and
unchanging things are intrinsically more noble than things
that grub around and interact with gross matter. 

Helium is also the best example of ‘element-ness’ – a 
substance that cannot be broken down or altered by normal, 
chemical means. It took scientists 2,200 years, from Greece 
in 400 BC to Europe in 1800 AD, to grasp what elements 
really are, because most are too changeable. It was hard to 
see what made carbon carbon when it appeared in thousands of
compounds, all with different properties. Today we would
say that carbon dioxide, for instance, isn’t an element
because one molecule of it divides into carbon and
oxygen. But carbon and oxygen are elements because you
cannot divide them more finely without destroying
them. Returning to the theme of The Symposium and Plato’s
theory of erotic longing for a missing half, we find that
virtually every element seeks out other atoms to form bonds
with, bonds that mask its nature. Even most “pure”
elements, such as oxygen molecules in the air (02) always
appear as com­posites in nature. Yet scientists might have
figured out what elements are much sooner had they known
about helium, which has never reacted with another
substance, has never been any­thing but a pure element.

Helium acts this way for a reason. All atoms contain
nega­tive particles called electrons, which reside in
different tiers, or energy levels, inside the atom.  The
levels are nested concentrically inside each other, and
each level needs a certain num­ber of electrons to fill
itself and feel satisfied. In the innermost level, that
number is two. In other levels, it’s usually eight. 
Ele­ments normally have equal numbers of negative
electrons and positive particles called protons, so they’re
electrically neutral. Electrons, however, can be freely
traded between atoms, and when atoms lose or gain
electrons, they form charged atoms called ions.  

What’s important to know is that atoms fill their inner,
lower-energy levels as full as possible with their own
elec­trons, then either shed, share, or steal electrons to
secure the right number in the outermost level. Some
elements share or trade electrons diplomatically, while
others act very, very nasty. That’s half of chemistry in
one sentence: atoms that don’t have enough electrons in the
outer level will fight, barter, beg, make and break
alliances, or do whatever they must to get the right
number. 

Helium, element two, has exactly the number of
electrons it needs to fill its only level. This “closed”
configuration gives helium tremendous independence, because
it doesn’t need to interact with other atoms or share or
steal electrons to feel satis­fied. Helium has found its
erotic complement in itself. What’s more, that same
configuration extends down the entire eigh­teenth column
beneath helium – the gases neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and
radon. All these elements have closed shells with full
complements of electrons, so none of them reacts with
anything under normal conditions. That’s why, despite all
the fervid activ­ity to identify and label elements in the
1800s-including the development of the periodic table
itself-no one isolated a sin­gle gas from column eighteen
before 1895. That aloofness from everyday experience, so
like his ideal spheres and triangles, would have charmed
Plato. And it was that sense the scientists who dis­covered
helium and its brethren on earth were trying to evoke with
the name ‘noble gases.’ Or to put it in Plato-like words,
“He who adores the perfect and unchangeable and scorns the
corruptible and ignoble will prefer the noble gases, by
far, to all other elements. For they never vary, never
waver, never pander to other elements like hoi polloi
offering cheap wares in the marketplace. They are
incorruptible and ideal."

The repose of the noble gases is rare, however. One col­umn
to the west sits the most energetic and reactive gases on
the periodic table, the halogens. And if you think of the
table wrapping around like a Mercator map, so that east
meets west and column eighteen meets column one, even more
violent ele­ments appear on the western edge, the alkali
metals. The pacifist noble gases are a demilitarized zone
surrounded by unstable neighbors.

Author: Sam Kean

Title:The Disappearing Spoon

Publisher: Back Bay Book, Little Brown and Company

Date: Copyright 2011 by Sam Kean

Pages: 15-17

Here’s a representation of the Periodic Table. The noble gases are in the light-blue column at the far right:

Larry

Little Libraries


 

 
Such a cool idea! Up in Madison, Wisconsin little boxes on posts are springing up all over town. The boxes have doors in the front at about breast height. The idea is you can take a book or magazine from the box and leave one you’ve read in its place. Here’s an article with further description:
 
Little Libraries
 
Thanks go to Jeff Brown, a man I encountered at the Google+ social networking site, for making me aware of this phenomenon.

Larry

Freddy the Pig

I’ve been blogging for over seven years, but the posts from the first six years have been lost due to hard drive failures and an improvident lack of a back-up strategy. Ah, well, I have an up-beat nature; I consider those old posts to be rough drafts and the stories live on in my head. Joan Ryan saved most of the photos on a series of CDs and I am profoundly grateful for that. The upshot is that I’ll be retelling some of those stories — surely my writing skills have improved during the past seven years!

I have a vague memory of writing a post years ago about the Freddy the Pig series of children’s books written by Walter R. Brooks during the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. Brooks died in 1958. Rather than re-write a description of the series, I recommend that you read the concise and accurate Wikipedia entry:

Freddy the Pig

Go ahead, follow the link! It’ll just be five minutes out of your life. Reading the entry will make reading the remainder of this post more comprehensible and interesting.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s my family lived in a suburban neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Once a week a Bookmobile would park for a few hours not far from our house. I loved Bookmobile Days and always carried home an armload of books. It wasn’t long before I discovered a good selection of the Freddy books. By this time the books had fallen out of favor and were all out of print, but I didn’t care. The books had strongly moral plots, talking farm animal analogies of common human dilemmas and conflicts, along with much humor and drama. The copious pen-and-ink illustrations by Kurt Wiese were masterfully drawn. I loved those books.

Many years later I had two young kids of my own. I had mentioned to a friend my memories of reading the Freddy books. One day my friend presented me with a copy of one of the early books in the series, Freddy the Detective. I read the book aloud to my kids and they were excited by the story.

“Daddy,are there any more books like this?”

I checked out internet used book vendors such as abe.com. Before long I had accumulated about a dozen more Freddy books. Many were discarded library copies from all over the country. Walter R. Brooks’ creations had certainly fallen out of favor if libraries were culling them!

I have fond memories of reading those books aloud to my kids. We even named a pet rat we had at the time after one of the villains in the series, Simon the Rat.

The Freddy books belong to that rare literary category, children’s books which are entertaining and absorbing for adults as well as for children.

Freddy was certainly a smart and versatile pig. At various times he was a detective, a cowboy, a pilot, and a politician.

He also wrote poetry at times; here’s an example:

Thoughts On Teeth

The teeth are thirty-two in number.
You’d think so many would encumber
The mouth, but they fit neatly in
Below the nose, above the chin,
Behind the lips, a double row,
So strong and sharp, and white as snow.
To keep them shining, clean and bright,
Your scrub them morning, noon and night.
The teeth are used in chewing steaks
And pickled pears and angel cakes-
A list of all the things they chew
Would reach from here to Timbuctoo.
Think of all the tons of food
Which in your life your teeth have chewed!
Though birds lack teeth and cannot chew
Their victuals up like me and you,
Gizzards, it’s generally conceded,
Do all the chewing that is needed.
A gizzard no cause for discontent is:
Birds never need to see the dentist.
The use of toothpicks is thought rude
And should in public be eschewed.
To animals, both pigs and men,
Teeth only seem important when
They’re not around. If you have not
Got ’em, you miss them quite a lot.
So keep your teeth, don’t let them go;
Replacements cost a lot of dough.

from “Freddy and Simon the Dictator”

One more porcine poem, this one untitled:

Hark
While I croon a verse
In praise
Of the universe.
The universe is quite good-sized,
And is, I think, well organized,
Containing as it does, a slew
Of stars and planets. Comets too
Occasionally whiz about
And dodge and circle in and out
Among the clustered nebulae.
They scare the dickens out of me,
But I suppose they know their stuff
And are expert and quick enough
To keep from bumping or colliding
With other worlds. But I’m residing
At present on the planet, earth,
And it does not arouse my mirth
To see these reckless comets fly
Around as if they owned the sky.
It’s much too dangerous in a crowd,
And really shouldn’t be allowed.
Yet tho there’s nothing to prevent
Bad manners in the firmament,
The heavenly bodies, generally,
Are well behaved and courteously
Avoid all quarrels and disputes-
Tho when they have them, they are beauts.
As to the universe’s size,
It’s rather large than otherwise,
Containing stars and galaxies
And satellites of all degrees.
And some are dim and some are bright,
But all are lighted up at night,-
Mostly along the Milky Way-
A quite remarkable display.
Some scientific fellows hope
By peering thru a telescope
To chart the heavens and name each star
Of all the billions that there are.
More sensible I think it is
Just to sit back and let them whiz
Along on their accustomed track
Around and round the zodiac.
For since they are not bothering me
I think it’s best to let them be.
And that is all I have to say
About the universe today.

from Freddy and the Spaceship

In recent years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the Freddy books. They have been re-issued by Overlook Press and there are even web-sites devoted to Freddy:

Freddy the Pig’s Home Pen …uh, Page!

I think the Freddy books were a crucial factor in my spotty (at the time) moral development.

Larry

Patrick Leigh Fermor Has Died

The writer was 96 years old; most of us won’t enjoy such a long tenure on this world. Everyone should read his account of walking across Europe during the interval between the two 20th century World Wars:

A Time of Gifts

The sequel is also well worth reading:

Between The Woods And The Water

These stories incubated in Fermor’s mind for decades before he actually wrote them.

Here’s a quote from writer Christopher Hitchens’ tribute to Fermor:

In 1944, with the help of some British special forces and a team of Cretan partisans, he managed to kidnap the commander of the German occupation, Gen. Heinrich Kreipe, and carry him over a long stretch of arduous terrain before loading him into a fast motorboat that sped him to Egypt and British captivity. The humiliation of the German authorities could not have been more complete. Perhaps resenting this, Gen. Kreipe was at first obnoxious and self-pitying, until the moment came when he was being taken over the crest of Mount Ida and a “brilliant dawn” suddenly broke. According to Leigh Fermor’s memoirs:
We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said: Vides et ulta stet nive candidum Soracte. [“See how Mount Soracte stands out white with deep snow.”] It was the opening of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off. … The general’s blue eyes swiveled away from the mountain top to mine and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. “Ja, Herr General.” As though for a moment the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before, and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

Larry

Ian Fleming And Raymond Chandler

One of my favorite websites is Metafilter — it’s a well-monitored community weblog which seems to attract a high grade of readers and posters.

At that site I happened across a 1958 conversation between Ian Fleming and one of my favorite writers, Raymond Chandler. It was broadcast by the BBC.

I haven’t revisited the James Bond novels in many years, but I have fond memories of secretly reading paperback Fleming novels beneath the covers with a flashlight when I was around twelve years old. My parents deemed the James Bond novels inappropriate for my age, although by modern standards they are rather tame; no explicit sex and the violence was mostly implied.

Twenty years later I discovered the wonderful Raymond Chandler novels about an LA detective working in 1940s Los Angeles, Philip Marlowe. Chandler was a master of witty dialog and several of his novels were adapted for the silver screen, with his help. The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, might have been the best of them.

Here is the conversation between Fleming and Chandler:

Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler

A quote:

Chandler: I can’t write a book in 2 months.
Fleming: Well, you write better books than I do.

And assuming you have the patience to read it, Here is Raymond Chandler’s classic essay,”The Simple Art Of Murder”:

Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”(1950)

Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic. Old-fashioned novels which now seem stilted and artificial to the point of burlesque did not appear that way to the people who first read them. Writers like Fielding and Smollett could seem realistic in the modern sense because they dealt largely with uninhibited characters, many of whom were about two jumps ahead of the police, but Jane Austen’s chronicles of highly inhibited people against a background of rural gentility seem real enough psychologically. There is plenty of that kind of social and emotional hypocrisy around today. Add to it a liberal dose of intellectual pretentiousness and you get the tone of the book page in your daily paper and the earnest and fatuous atmosphere breathed by discussion groups in little clubs. These are the people who make bestsellers, which are promotional jobs based on a sort of indirect snob-appeal, carefully escorted by the trained seals of the critical fraternity, and lovingly tended and watered by certain much too powerful pressure groups whose business is selling books, although they would like you to think they are fostering culture. Just get a little behind in your payments and you will find out how idealistic they are.

The detective story for a variety of reasons can seldom be promoted. It is usually about murder and hence lacks the element of uplift. Murder, which is a frustration of the individual and hence a frustration of the race, may have, and in fact has, a good deal of sociological implication. But it has been going on too long for it to be news. If the mystery novel is at all realistic (which it very seldom is) it is written in a certain spirit of detachment; otherwise nobody but a psychopath would want to write it or read it. The murder novel has also a depressing way of minding its own business, solving its own problems and answering its own questions. There is nothing left to discuss, except whether it was well enough written to be good fiction, and the people who make up the half-million sales wouldn’t know that anyway. The detection of quality in writing is difficult enough even for those who make a career of the job, without paying too much attention to the matter of advance sales.

The detective story (perhaps I had better call it that, since the English formula still dominates the trade) has to find its public by a slow process of distillation. That it does do this, and holds on thereafter with such tenacity, is a fact; the reasons for it are a study for more patient minds than mine. Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that it is a vital and significant form of art. There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.

Yet the detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels. Rather second-rate items outlast most of the high velocity fiction, and a great many that should never have been born simply refuse to die at all. They are as durable as the statues in public parks and just about that dull. This is very annoying to people of what is called discernment. They do not like it that penetrating and important works of fiction of a few years back stand on their special shelf in the library marked “Best-Sellers of Yesteryear,” and nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue. They do not like it that “really important books” get dusty on the reprint counter, while Death Wears Yellow Garters is put out in editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies on the news-stands of the country, and is obviously not there just to say goodbye.

To tell you the truth, I do not like it very much myself. In my less stilted moments I too write detective stories, and all this immortality makes just a little too much competition. Even Einstein couldn’t get very far if three hundred treatises of the higher physics were published every year, and several thousand others in some form or other were hanging around in excellent condition, and being read too. Hemingway says somewhere that the good writer competes only with the dead. The good detective story writer (there must after all be a few) competes not only with all the unburied dead but with all the hosts of the living as well. And on almost equal terms; for it is one of the qualities of this kind of writing that the thing that makes people read it never goes out of style. The hero’s tie may be a little off the mode and the good gray inspector may arrive in a dogcart instead of a streamlined sedan with siren screaming, but what he does when he gets there is the same old futzing around with timetables and bits of charred paper and who trampled the jolly old flowering arbutus under the library window.

I have, however, a less sordid interest in the matter. It seems to me that production of detective stories on so large a scale, and by writers whose immediate reward is small and whose need of critical praise is almost nil, would not be possible at all if the job took any talent. In that sense the raised eyebrow of the critic and the shoddy merchandizing of the publisher are perfectly logical. The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average—or only slightly above average—detective story does. Not only is it published but it is sold in small quantities to rental libraries, and it is read. There are even a few optimists who buy it at the full retail price of two dollars, because it looks so fresh and new, and there is a picture of a corpse on the cover. And the strange thing is that this average, more than middling dull, pooped-out piece of utterly unreal and mechanical fiction is not terribly different from what are called the masterpieces of the art. It drags on a little more slowly, the dialogue is a little grayer, the cardboard out of which the characters are cut is a shade thinner, and the cheating is a little more obvious; but it is the same kind of book. Whereas the good novel is not at all the same kind of book as the bad novel. It is about entirely different things. But the good detective story and the bad detective story are about exactly the same things, and they are about them in very much the same way. There are reasons for this too, and reasons for the reasons; there always are.

I suppose the principal dilemma of the traditional or classic or straight-deductive or logic—and—deduction novel of detection is that for any approach to perfection it demands a combination of qualities not found in the same mind. The cool-headed constructionist does not also come across with lively characters, sharp dialogue, a sense of pace and an acute use of observed detail. The grim logician has as much atmosphere as a drawing-board. The scientific sleuth has a nice new shiny laboratory, but I’m sorry I can’t remember the face. The fellow who can write you a vivid and colorful prose simply won’t be bothered with the coolie labor of breaking down unbreakable alibis. The master of rare knowledge is living psychologically in the age of the hoop skirt. If you know all you should know about ceramics and Egyptian needlework, you don’t know anything at all about the police. If you know that platinum won’t melt under about 2800 degrees F. by itself, but will melt at the glance of a pair of deep blue eyes when put close to a bar of lead, then you don’t know how men make love in the twentieth century. And if you know enough about the elegant flânerie of the pre-war French Riviera to lay your story in that locale, you don’t know that a couple of capsules of barbital small enough to be swallowed will not only not kill a man—they will not even put him to sleep, if he fights against them.

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue. It is the ladies and gentlemen of what Mr. Howard Haycraft (in his book Murder for Pleasure) calls the Golden Age of detective fiction that really get me down. This age is not remote. For Mr. Haycraft’s purpose it starts after the first World War and lasts up to about 1930. For all practical purposes it is still here. Two-thirds or three-quarters of all the detective stories published still adhere to the formula the giants of this era created, perfected, polished and sold to the world as problems in logic and deduction. These are stern words, but be not alarmed. They are only words. Let us glance at one of the glories of the literature, an acknowledged masterpiece of the art of fooling the reader without cheating him. It is called The Red House Mystery, was written by A. A. Milne, and has been named by Alexander Woollcott (rather a fast man with a superlative) “one of the three best mystery stories of all time.” Words of that size are not spoken lightly. The book was published in 1922, but is quite timeless, and might as easily have been published in July 1939, or, with a few slight changes, last week. It ran thirteen editions and seems to have been in print, in the original format, for about sixteen years. That happens to few books of any kind. It is an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks.

It concerns Mark Ablett’s impersonation of his brother Robert, as a hoax on his friends. Mark is the owner of the Red House, a typical laburnum-and-lodge-gate English country house, and he has a secretary who encourages him and abets him in this impersonation, because the secretary is going to murder him, if he pulls it off. Nobody around the Red House has ever seen Robert, fifteen years absent in Australia, known to them by repute as a no-good. A letter from Robert is talked about, but never shown. It announces his arrival, and Mark hints it will not be a pleasant occasion. One afternoon, then, the supposed Robert arrives, identifies himself to a couple of servants, is shown into the study, and Mark (according to testimony at the inquest) goes in after him. Robert is then found dead on the floor with a bullet hole in his face, and of course Mark has vanished into thin air. Arrive the police, suspect Mark must be the murderer, remove the debris and proceed with the investigation, and in due course, with the inquest.

Milne is aware of one very difficult hurdle and tries as well as he can to get over it. Since the secretary is going to murder Mark once he has established himself as Robert, the impersonation has to continue on and fool the police. Since, also, everybody around the Red House knows Mark intimately, disguise is necessary. This is achieved by shaving off Mark’s beard, roughening his hands (“not the hands of a manicured gentlemen”—testimony) and the use of a gruff voice and rough manner. But this is not enough. The cops are going to have the body and the clothes on it and whatever is in the pockets. Therefore none of this must suggest Mark. Milne therefore works like a switch engine to put over the motivation that Mark is a thoroughly conceited performer that he dresses the part down to the socks and underwear (from all of which the secretary has removed the maker’s labels), like a ham blacking himself all over to play Othello. If the reader will buy this (and the sales record shows he must have) Milne figures he is solid. Yet, however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be. If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about. If the problem does not contain the elements of truth and plausibility, it is no problem; if the logic is an illusion, there is nothing to deduce. If the impersonation is impossible once the reader is told the conditions it must fulfill, then the whole thing is a fraud. Not a deliberate fraud, because Milne would not have written the story if he had known what he was up against. He is up against a number of deadly things, none of which he even considers. Nor, apparently, does the casual reader, who wants to like the story, hence takes it at its face value. But the reader is not called upon to know the facts of life; it is the author who is the expert in the case. Here is what this author ignores:

1. The coroner holds formal jury inquest on a body for which no competent legal identification is offered. A coroner, usually in a big city, will sometimes hold inquest on a body that cannot be identified, if the record of such an inquest has or may have a value (fire, disaster, evidence of murder, etc.). No such reason exists here, and there is no one to identify the body. A couple of witnesses said the man said he was Robert Ablett. This is mere presumption, and has weight only if nothing conflicts with it. Identification is a condition precedent to an inquest. Even in death a man has a right to his won identity. The coroner will, wherever humanly possible, enforce that right. To neglect it would be a violation of his office.

2. Since Mark Ablett, missing and suspected of murder, cannot defend himself, all evidence of his movements before and after the murder is vital (as also whether he has money to run away on); yet all such evidence is given by the man closest to the murder, and is without corroboration. It is automatically suspect until proved true.

3. The police find by direct investigation that Robert Ablett was not well thought of in his native village. Somebody there must have known him. No such person was brought to the inquest. (The story couldn’t stand it.)

4. The police know there is an element of threat in Robert’s supposed visit, and that it is connected with the murder must be obvious to them. Yet they make no attempt to check Robert in Australia, or find out what character he had there, or what associates, or even if he actually came to England, and with whom. (If they had, they would have found out he had been dead three years.)

5. The police surgeon examines the body with a recently shaved beard (exposing unweathered skin), artificially roughened hands, yet the body of a wealthy, soft-living man, long resident in a cool climate. Robert was a rough individual and had lived fifteen years in Australia. That is the surgeon’s information. It is impossible he would have noticed nothing to conflict with it.

6. The clothes are nameless, empty, and have had the labels removed. Yet the man wearing them asserted an identity. The presumption that he was not what he said he was is overpowering. Nothing whatever is done about this peculiar circumstance. It is never even mentioned as being peculiar.

7. A man is missing, a well-known local man, and a body in the morgue closely resembles him. It is impossible that the police should not at once eliminate the chance that the missing man is the dead man. Nothing would be easier than to prove it. Not even to think of it is incredible. It makes idiots of the police, so that a brash amateur may startle the world with a fake solution.

The detective in the case is an insouciant gent named Antony Gillingham, a nice lad with a cheery eye, a cozy little flat in London, and that airy manner. He is not making any money on the assignment, but is always available when the local gendarmerie loses its notebook. The English police seem to endure him with their customary stoicism; but I shudder to think of what the boys down at the Homicide Bureau in my city would do to him.

There are less plausible examples of the art than this. In Trent’s Last Case (often called “the perfect detective story”) you have to accept the premise that a giant of international finance, whose lightest frown makes Wall Street quiver like a chihuahua, will plot his own death so as to hang his secretary, and that the secretary when pinched will maintain an aristocratic silence; the old Etonian in him maybe. I have known relatively few international financiers, but I rather think the author of this novel has (if possible) known fewer. There is one by Freeman Wills Crofts (the soundest builder of them all when he doesn’t get too fancy) wherein a murderer by the aid of makeup, split second timing, and some very sweet evasive action, impersonates the man he has just killed and thereby gets him alive and distant from the place of the crime. There is one of Dorothy Sayers’ in which a man is murdered alone at night in his house by a mechanically released weight which works because he always turns the radio on at just such a moment, always stands in just such a position in front of it, and always bends over just so far. A couple of inches either way and the customers would get a rain check. This is what is vulgarly known as having God sit in your lap; a murderer who needs that much help from Providence must be in the wrong business. And there is a scheme of Agatha Christie’s featuring M. Hercule Poirot, that ingenius Belgian who talks in a literal translation of school-boy French, wherein, by duly messing around with his “little gray cells,” M. Poirot decides that nobody on a certain through sleeper could have done the murder alone, therefore everybody did it together, breaking the process down into a series of simple operations, like assembling an egg-beater. This is the type that is guaranteed to knock the keenest mind for a loop. Only a halfwit could guess it.

There are much better plots by these same writers and by others of their school. There may be one somewhere that would really stand up under close scrutiny. It would be fun to read it, even if I did have to go back to page 47 and refresh my memory about exactly what time the second gardener potted the prize-winning tea-rose begonia. There is nothing new about these stories and nothing old. The ones I mentioned are all English only because the authorities (such as they are) seem to feel the English writers had an edge in this dreary routine, and that the Americans, (even the creator of Philo Vance–probably the most asinine character in detective fiction) only made the Junior Varsity.

This, the classic detective story, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. It is the story you will find almost any week in the big shiny magazines, handsomely illustrated, and paying due deference to virginal love and the right kind of luxury goods. Perhaps the tempo has become a trifle faster, and the dialogue a little more glib. There are more frozen daiquiris and stingers ordered, and fewer glasses of crusty old port; more clothes by Vogue, and décors by the House Beautiful, more chic, but not more truth. We spend more time in Miami hotels and Cape Cod summer colonies and go not so often down by the old gray sundial in the Elizabethan garden. But fundamentally it is the same careful grouping of suspects, the same utterly incomprehensible trick of how somebody stabbed Mrs. Pottington Postlethwaite III with the solid platinum poignard just as she flatted on the top note of the Bell Song from Lakmé in the presence of fifteen ill-assorted guests; the same ingenue in fur-trimmed pajamas screaming in the night to make the company pop in and out of doors and ball up the timetable; the same moody silence next day as they sit around sipping Singapore slings and sneering at each other, while the flat-feet crawl to and fro under the Persian rugs, with their derby hats on.

Personally I like the English style better. It is not quite so brittle, and the people as a rule, just wear clothes and drink drinks. There is more sense of background, as if Cheesecake Manor really existed all around and not just the part the camera sees; there are more long walks over the Downs and the characters don’t all try to behave as if they had just been tested by MGM. The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.

There is a very simple statement to be made about all these stories: they do not really come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction. They are too contrived, and too little aware of what goes on in the world. They try to be honest, but honesty is an art. The poor writer is dishonest without knowing it, and the fairly good one can be dishonest because he doesn’t know what to be honest about. He thinks a complicated murder scheme which baffles the lazy reader, who won’t be bothered itemizing the details, will also baffle the police, whose business is with details. The boys with their feet on the desks know that the easiest murder case in the world to break is the one somebody tried to get very cute with; the one that really bothers them is the murder somebody only thought of two minutes before he pulled it off. But if the writers of this fiction wrote about the kind of murders that happen, they would also have to write about the authentic flavor of life as it is lived. And since they cannot do that, they pretend that what they do is what should be done. Which is begging the question–and the best of them know it.

In her introduction to the first Omnibus of Crime, Dorothy Sayers wrote: “It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement.” And she suggested somewhere else that this is because it is a “literature of escape” and not “a literature of expression.” I do not know what the loftiest level of literary achievement is: neither did Aeschylus or Shakespeare; neither does Miss Sayers. Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest. It is always a matter of who writes the stuff, and what he has in him to write it with. As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics’ jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings. Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently–one can never be quite sure–is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.

I do not think such considerations moved Miss Dorothy Sayers to her essay in critical futility.

I think what was really gnawing at her mind was the slow realization that her kind of detective story was an arid formula which could not even satisfy its own implications. It was second-grade literature because it was not about the things that could make first-grade literature. If it started out to be about real people (and she could write about them–her minor nor characters show that), they must very soon do unreal things in order to form the artificial pattern required by the plot. When they did unreal things, they ceased to be real themselves. They became puppets and cardboard lovers and papier mâché villains and detectives of exquisite and impossible gentility. The only kind of writer who could be happy with these properties was the one who did not know what reality was. Dorothy Sayers’ own stories show that she was annoyed by this triteness; the weakest element in them is the part that makes them detective stories, the strongest the part which could be removed without touching the “problem of logic and deduction.” Yet she could not or would not give her characters their heads and let them make their own mystery. It took a much simpler and more direct mind than hers to do that.

In the Long Week-End, which is a drastically competent account of English life and manners in the decade following the first World War, Robert Graves and Alan Hodge gave some attention to the detective story. They were just as traditionally English as the ornaments of the Golden Age, and they wrote of the time in which these writers were almost as well-known as any writers in the world. Their books in one form or another sold into the millions, and in a dozen languages. These were the people who fixed the form and established the rules and founded the famous Detection Club, which is a Parnassus of English writers of mystery. Its roster includes practically every important writer of detective fiction since Conan Doyle. But Graves and Hodge decided that during this whole period only one first-class writer had written detective stories at all. An American, Dashiell Hammett. Traditional or not, Graves and Hodge were not fuddy-duddy connoisseurs of the second rate; they could see what went on in the world and that the detective story of their time didn’t; and they were aware that writers who have the vision and the ability to produce real fiction do not produce unreal fiction.

How original a writer Hammett really was, it isn’t easy to decide now, even if it mattered. He was one of a group, the only one who achieved critical recognition, but not the only one who wrote or tried to write realistic mystery fiction. All literary movements are like this; some one individual is picked out to represent the whole movement; he is usually the culmination of the movement. Hammett was the ace performer, but there is nothing in his work that is not implicit in the early novels and short stories of Hemingway. Yet for all I know, Hemingway may have learned something from Hammett, as well as from writers like Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson and himself. A rather revolutionary debunking of both the language and material of fiction had been going on for some time. It probably started in poetry; almost everything does. You can take it clear back to Walt Whitman, if you like. But Hammett applied it to the detective story, and this, because of its heavy crust of English gentility and American pseudo- gentility, was pretty hard to get moving. I doubt that Hammett had any deliberate artistic aims whatever; he was trying to make a living by writing something he had first hand information about. He made some of it up; all writers do; but it had a basis in fact; it was made up out of real things. The only reality the English detection writers knew was the conversational accent of Surbiton and Bognor Regis. If they wrote about dukes and Venetian vases, they knew no more about them out of their own experience than the well-heeled Hollywood character knows about the French Modernists that hang in his Bel-Air château or the semi-antique Chippendale-cum-cobbler’s bench that he uses for a coffee table. Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it was a good idea to begin by getting as far as possible from Emily Post’s idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken wing. He wrote at first (and almost to the end) for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street.

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama written in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. Hammett’s style at its worst was almost as formalized as a page of Marius the Epicurean; at its best it could say almost anything. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

With all this he did not wreck the formal detective story. Nobody can; production demands a form that can be produced. Realism takes too much talent, too much knowledge, too much awareness. Hammett may have loosened it up a little here, and sharpened it a little there. Certainly all but the stupidest and most meretricious writers are more conscious of their artificiality than they used to be. And he demonstrated that the detective story can be important writing. The Maltese Falcon may or may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not “by hypothesis” incapable of anything. Once a detective story can be as good as this, only the pedants will deny that it could be even better. Hammett did something else, he made the detective story fun to write, not an exhausting concatenation of insignificant clues. Without him there might not have been a regional mystery as clever as Percival Wilde’s Inquest, or an ironic study as able as Raymond Postgate’s Verdict of Twelve, or a savage piece of intellectual double-talk like Kenneth Fearing’s The Dagger of the Mind, or a tragi-comic idealization of the murderer as in Donald Henderson’s Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper, or even a gay and intriguing Hollywoodian gambol like Richard Sale’s Lazarus No. 7.

The realistic style is easy to abuse: from haste, from lack of awareness, from inability to bridge the chasm that lies between what a writer would like to be able to say and what he actually knows how to say. It is easy to fake; brutality is not strength, flipness is not wit, edge-of-the-chair writing can be as boring as flat writing; dalliance with promiscuous blondes can be very dull stuff when described by goaty young men with no other purpose in mind than to describe dalliance with promiscuous blondes. There has been so much of this sort of thing that if a character in a detective story says, “Yeah,” the author is automatically a Hammett imitator.

And there arc still quite a few people around who say that Hammett did not write detective stories at all, merely hardboiled chronicles of mean streets with a perfunctory mystery element dropped in like the olive in a martini. These are the flustered old ladies–of both sexes (or no sex) and almost all ages–who like their murders scented with magnolia blossoms and do not care to be reminded that murder is an act of infinite cruelty, even if the perpetrators sometimes look like playboys or college professors or nice motherly women with softly graying hair. There are also a few badly-scared champions of the formal or the classic mystery who think no story is a detective story which does not pose a formal and exact problem and arrange the clues around it with neat labels on them. Such would point out, for example, that in reading TheMaltese Falcon no one concerns himself with who killed Spade’s partner, Archer (which is the only formal problem of the story) because the reader is kept thinking about something else. Yet in The Glass Key the reader is constantly reminded that the question is who killed Taylor Henry, and exactly the same effect is obtained; an effect of movement, intrigue, cross-purposes and the gradual elucidation of character, which is all the detective story has any right to be about anyway. The rest is spillikins in the parlor.

But all this (and Hammett too) is for me not quite enough. The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.

It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization. All this still is not quite enough.

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

Larry

Mizzled — A Quote

It took me many years to figure out how the word “misled” is really pronounced. Here’s a quote from the author of the Winnie The Pooh books, A.A. Milne:

When we read, we are, we must be, repeating the words to ourselves unconsciously; for how else should we discover, as we have all discovered in our time, that we have been mispronouncing a word which, in fact, we have never spoken? I refer to such words as ‘misled,’ which I, and millions of others when young, supposed to be ‘mizzled.’

Another quote, this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I suppose every old scholar has had the experience of reading something in a book which was significant to him, but which he could never find again. Sure he is that he read it there, but no one else ever read it, nor can he find it again, though he buy the book, and ransack every page.

I do love printed real-world paper books, but sometimes I get annoyed that there is no search facility built in.

Larry

Tormented Dogs

I’m not too fond of small yappy dogs — I’m sure their owners cherish and love them, but they annoy me. The only time I’ve ever been bitten by a dog (skin-piercing bitten) was by a nasty little white dog — my ex-wife and I were visiting an old woman; they were involved in a quilting project. We rang the doorbell, the woman came to the door, and the little dog ran out and bit me on the calf. Dogs confined and banned from roaming and hanging out with other dogs inevitably become neurotic. The same thing happens with people!

Diagonally across the street from me there lives a yappy little dog. It’s an irritable dog and will yap for minutes at a time. If I had a gun here I’d shoot it.

I’m reminded of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire, one of my favorite novels with an insane protagonist. An unreliable narrator, you might say. During one of the opening passages of the novel the narrator abruptly interjects, “There is a very loud amusement park right in front of my present lodgings.”

This is so amusing to me, as it is a way that the novelist can let the reader know that the narrator,Charles Kinbote, is not quite in control of his faculties. He’s twisted, brilliant in his own way, and as weird as Sheldon on the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”, but Sheldon is a nicer guy, and in his own way tries to do the right thing.

Larry

Two Oddities

Late last night I was reading Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, a fascinating account of a four year journey to South America, Tahiti, Australia, and other Pacific Ocean locations. In the background the measured tones of a BBC newscaster reiterated the latest news; I’d pause in my reading from time to time and listen if a news item caught my interest.

“Birds falling from the sky in Arkansas”… my ears perked up. It seems that hundreds of red-winged blackbirds inexplicably died and fell near a small town in Arkansas. The fact that there was no immediate explanation of this phenomenon gave free reign to those people who concoct conspiracy theories — within just a few hours I found this surmise on the web:

And what of the conspiracy theories already bubbling up around the dead birds and fish?

The bodies of the Arkansas’ dead birds were hardly cold before Alex Jones and other conspiracy theorists were blaming the government, the most likely explanation being HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). HAARP is an experimental program conducting research into the ionospheric applications of high atmospheric technological applications, including missile detection, radio transmission, etc. (These are the admitted applications, remember.)

Much of the attention directed at HAARP has been drawn to the program’s IRI (ionospheric research instrument), which is capable of “exciting” certain areas of the atmosphere. The ionosphere, full of electrons, heavily influences the Earth’s electricity and radio transmission. And so HAARP’s research with the IRI has given rise to comparisons to Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray, causing many conspiracy theorists–including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez—to believe that the IRI can cause earthquakes, storms, power outages, and on and on.

For many, it is not a stretch to assume the dead birds over Beebe, Arkansas were the victim’s of HAARP’s “Death Ray” and maybe even the fish, too.

And now I’ll show you a second oddity. Lately I’ve become fond of the Google books site. The books available there have been scanned, and if they are old enough to be in the public domain a PDF file containing the book’s scanned pages can be downloaded. I enjoy seeing the annotations and underlinings of long-dead readers as well as the original title pages.

I had just downloaded a first edition of a collection of essays by Robert Louis Stevenson, who (in my humble opinion) was one of Britain’s finest prose stylists. I was amused and intrigued to find this sticker affixed to one of the first pages of the volume:

Two years of hard labor?! Perhaps the sticker was a joke of some sort — or maybe Harvard’s library took book theft very seriously!

Larry

John Heywood, Collector of Aphorisms

Have you ever heard of this author? I never had, but somehow I ended up at this page at Bartleby.com:

John Heywood (1497?-1580?)

The page is an excerpt from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations; it’s just a list of common sayings and proverbs collected by Heywood back in his pre-industrial era. I was surprised to see how many of those proverbs are still commonly used, both vocally and in print. A few examples:

Haste maketh waste.

The fat is in the fire.

When the sunne shineth, make hay.

While betweene two stooles my taile goe to the ground.

When the steede is stolne, shut the stable durre.

As you can readily see, Heywood was writing before English spelling had been standardised! To me, the archaic spelling gives his aphorisms a certain antique charm.

William Shakespeare was familiar with Heywood’s collection, which was a best-seller in its time.

John Heywood was also a playwright. I got a kick out of this quatrain from his play Be Merry Friends:

    
   Let the world slide, let the world go;
A fig for care, and a fig for woe!
If I can’t pay, why I can owe,
And death makes equal the high and low.

Larry