Tuesday, July 18, 2006



"The article illustrated today (did you guess?) is a snow-gauge. There are very few of them in Ireland at present. It is made of copper, and consists of a funnel or catch-pipe for the snow, which widens inwardly, then drops eighteen inches, allowing the snow to fall into a pan beneath. A casing which can be heated with hot water surrounds the gauge and is used to melt the snow. By this arrangement the snow cannot escape; it melts and runs into the buccket beneath, where it is accurately gauged.

So what, you say. I will tell you what. There is one great advantage in having a snow-gauge on your premises. Supposing some moon-faced young man who reads Proust happens to be loitering about your house, blathering out of him about art, life, love, and so on. He is sure to have a few cant French phrases, which he will produce carefully at suitable intervals as one produces coins from a purse. Inevitably the day will come (even if you have to wait for it many years) when he will sigh and murmur:

'Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?'

Here is your chance. This is where you go to town. Seize the nitwit by the scruff of the neck, march him out to the snow gauge, and shout:

'Right in that bucket, you fool!'

I'll bet you'll feel pretty good after that."

(from the 'Research Bureau' of Flann O'Brien, reprinted in The Best of Miles)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

party like it's 1538

Here's Death playing the bagpipes and about to get deathly on some poor old codger. (You can see all of Hans Holbein's Dance of Death here.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

where the Corporal don't live

sortes Virgilianae

Praise be to the OED -

"In phrases sortes Virgilianae, Homericae, Biblicae: divination, or the seeking of guidance, by chance selection of a passage in Virgil, Homer, or the Bible. Also ellipt. and transf.

a1586 SIDNEY Apol. Poet. (1595) sig. B4, Whereupon grew the worde of Sortes Virgilianæ, when by suddaine opening Virgils booke, they lighted vpon any verse of hys making. 1646 T. BROWNE Pseud. Ep. V. xxi. 272 The first an imitation of sortes Homericæ, or Virgilianæ, drawing determinations from verses casually occurring. 1700 J. WELWOOD Memoirs 100 Lord Falkland, to divert the king, would have his Majesty make a trial of his fortune by the Sortes Virgilianæ, which..was an usual kind of augury some ages past. 1740 H. WALPOLE Let. 25 Sept. (1974) XXXVII. 79 In three words I will give you her picture as we drew it in the Sortes VirgilianæInsanam vatem aspicies. I give you my honour, we did not choose it. 1801 M. EDGEWORTH Belinda II. xiii. 25 Several volumes of French plays and novels were lying there, and Clarence Hervey raking up one of them, cried: ‘Come, let us try our fate by the sortes Virgilianæ.’ 1845 G. E. JEWSBURY in A. Ireland Sel. Lett. G. E. Jewsbury to J. Welsh Carlyle (1892) 179, I send it you by way of a ‘sortes’, and the Bible has as much virtuethat wayas Virgil! 1886 D. C. MURRAY Cynic Fortune xv. 183 In the practice of the sortes (which was a favourite occupation of his) [he] was elevated or depressed by the text he fell upon. 1897 A. C. BENSON Diary June in D. Newsome On Edge of Paradise (1980) ii. 63, I took a Sortes Biblicae before refusing. 1947 H. NICOLSON Diary 11 Dec. (1968) 118, I consult sortes Biblicas. My Bible opens at Ezekiel XL 22. 1969 G. GREENE Travels with my Aunt I. xvi. 170 The Sortes Virgilianaea game my mother considered a little blasphemous unless it was played with the Bible. 1975 V. CANNING Kingsford Mark vi. 105 He acknowledged the encouragement of the sortes. All the omens were right."

In The Star Factory, Ciaran Carson advocates the sortes Ashberyae (although without my inelegant cod-Latin). Paul Muldoon I rather suspect of having committed, perhaps even more than once, the sortes OEDae. When in the direst of straits I have considered a sortes Unhemmedae. (Actually, that's not true.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006