- May 4, 2010To: WSW
Speaking of Hazlitt, it is good to pull that book from one's overcoat
pocket when becalmed at airport or subway, the better to improve one's
prose rhythm. "Though we are mighty fine fellows nowadays," says
Stevenson, "we cannot write like Hazlitt." Too true. But it can be
useful to hang around one's betters. What else are they there for? LY
7:22. (Which in turn shows Dzvngdz learning from his own betters; in
this case, going back to Confucius's original 4:17, which he found the
same way we find it, by reading the earlier chapters of the Analects,
Not necessarily on the subway).
One piece of Hazlitt's to which the Sinologist is perhaps especially
likely to turn is On The Look of A Gentleman, a subject to which the
Analects also gives attention. LY 1:8, bu-gung dzv bu-wei, "If he [the
gentleman] is not solid [lit, "heavy," as a genuine rather than a
counterfeit coin], he will not evoke in others a feeling of awe." The
quality here sought is something like gravitas. Impressiveness and a
sense of power conveyed by personal bearing, and derived . . . well,
LY 1:8 is there to suggest an educational and not a natal way in which
it can be derived.
[One readily sees how this turn-of-the century idea, with a few others
of even date, was developed, in the decades following, into the core
of what we call the Jung Yung].
For Hazlitt, as he starts out, the look of a gentleman is "more easily
felt than described. We all know it when we see it, but we do not know
how to account for it, or to explain in what it consists." And he then
adapts a line from Ovid to express this inexpressibility: "Causa
latet, res ipsa notissima." He goes on to discuss the inexpressible in
terms of physical bearing, in useful contrast to the rather abstract
and ethicized analysis of LY 1:8. As so often in LY 1, in which
domestic or personal compensation is being sought for recently lost
political position, the sense one gets from LY 1:8 is of wishful
thinking rather than description. It is in LY 10, written about a
century earlier, that we see the court gentleman acquiring the
minutiae of deportment which will characterize the gentleman, on
sight, to others. It is here, and not in the rather petulant LY 1,
that the Analects comes nearer to the beginning of Hazlitt's essay.
Metathesis in linguistics is the exchange of two adjacent sounds or
syllables in speech, for reasons of disharmony or other phonetic
adjustment. The textual examples seem on the whole to be speech-based
(the scribe pronouncing the text as he writes it, and writing the
sound rather than the script) rather than strictly script-based (the
exchanged letters do not always resemble each other). Emanuel Tov
(Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible) has a nice example at p250,
where 2 Sam 23:31 has (in Tov's translation) "Azmaveth the Barhumite"
whereas 1 Chr 11:33 has instead "Azmaveth the Baharumite," an exchange
of two Hebrew letters. Since Bahurim the town is known from 2 Sam 3:16
and elsewhere in that text, the reading in Chronicles seems to be
better. Now we know something about the scribe of at least part of 2
Samuel, at one stage in its transmission.
[RSV has at 1 Chr 11:33 "Azmaveth of Baharum," and at 2 Sam 23:31
"Azmaveth of Bahurim." with the same town given as "Bahurim" elsewhere
throughout 2Sam and also 1Kng. It is possible that this needs a little
Nonadjacent metathesis is not (so far as I am aware) much talked of in
linguistics. Text examples seem also not to abound, though there is,
in Caesar (Gallic War 6/35:9) ne murus in one manuscript (11c), and
numerus in another (12c). The latter is an intelligible misreading.
One letter intervenes between the two vowels that are exchanged.
In my copy of Hazlitt (Scott nd, a handy thing for the pocket), I find
for Hazlitt's original Latin, the version "res ipsi notassima." What
giveth? Presumably the metathesis of two successive accented vowels.
It is common for scribes (or original writers, myself being an
example) to anticipate the next word or sound, but usually the
anticipation takes the place of the intended word or sound. A standard
example would be Suetonius (Aug 32:3) addidit ex inferiore censu >
addixit ex inferiore censu, where the x has been imported from the
following word, and overwrites the correct d. The error is found in
all extant manuscripts, and thus goes back to an erroneous archetype;
the correction is due to Stephanus, and it is what we call a
conjectural emendation. It seems to be a very sound one.
In the Hazlitt example, by contrast, as also in Caesar, the following
word governs, but does not obliterate. The two vowel cores are switched.
As far as the distance over which the metathesis operates, I claim
this as a world record, the typesetter of Scott beating the scribe of
Caesar by two letters. Can any learned person improve on it?
And let it be said of Hazlitt that though he begins with the physical,
he does not end with it. There would be little point in beginning a
journey if, a dozen pocketsized pages later, one were still at the
same point, waiting for the same train. He ethicizes. Thus (from the
"The feelings of a gentleman, in this higher sense, only denote a more
refined humanity - a spirit delicate in itself, and unwilling to
offend, either in the greatest or the smallest things. This may be
coupled with absence of mind, with ignorance of forms, and frequent
blunders. But the will is good. The spring of gentle offices and true
regards is untainted. A person of this stamp blushes at an impropriety
he was guilty of twenty years before, though he is, perhaps, liable to
repeat it tomorrow. He never forvites himself for even a slip of the
tongue, that implies an assumption of superiority over any one. In
proportion to the concessions made to him, he lowers his demands. He
gives the wall to a beggar, but he does not always bow to great men. .
The second greatest description of a journey in English lit, to my
ear, is Hazlitt's account of his trip to Shrewsbury in 1798, to hear
Coleridge preach. But here too is a journey, albeit a merely moral
one, from the characteristics of the mighty to the possibilities of a
And if one's understanding of life is not improved at the end of the
dozen pages, well, there may still be hope for one's prose rhythm.
Surely not a negligible thing.
[E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst]