Home/Prufrock/The Three-Century Latin Dictionary, Life as a Concert Pianist, and Molière as Author

The Three-Century Latin Dictionary, Life as a Concert Pianist, and Molière as Author

Molière's grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery. Photo by Rama, via Wikimedia Commons.

As most of you know, Clive James died last week. He was 80 years old. Robert McCrum tries to put his finger on “the essential Clive James” in The Guardian. Melissa Denes writes about what it was like to be his editor for a few years: “He filed at 10am every Wednesday without fail. No column was about any one thing: he skipped from his beloved granddaughter’s birthday to Harry Potter to T. S. Eliot to an opera star newly recovered from a brain tumour. He loved the limitations of the length (460 words), calling the columns his ‘bonsai pinadas’: ‘I just set out to keep you fascinated for the next three minutes and the whole thing goes like a racing dog,’ he wrote.” Take a look at his life in pictures. And why not read a bit of James himself: Here is his last interview, which he gave to Rachel Cooke two months ago.

The solitary life of the concert pianist: “Unlike the member of a symphony or chorus or quartet, you really are on your own. It’s just you, the airport lounge, the hotel room; is there a piano where I can practise?, an old grand in the ballroom maybe, or maybe not, the green room, backstage, the concert stage, handshakes with the conductor and the concertmeister. Now play an intense piece of music for forty minutes or so (and for that span you are finally part of a group, in communion with the musicians on your left and the audience to your right), take the applause, shake hands again, head to green room, then your hotel room, jump in a taxi, sit in the airport lounge and so on. The concert pianist is the Jack Reacher of musicians, more alone than even the Lone Ranger, who at least had Tonto – to say nothing of Silver. If I were a concert pianist, I would be grateful for an animal companion.”

The Latin dictionary that has been 125 years in the making and still isn’t finished: “Researchers in Germany have been working on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae since the 1890s. They hope to finish in 2050, but that might be optimistic.”

John Wilson writes about his favorite books of 2019.

French scholars argue that, yes, Molière did write the plays attributed to him: “For at least a century, scholars have argued that the supposed lack of education of Molière, the French playwright responsible for seminal masterpieces including Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope, means he could not have written them. Now academics say they have resolved the controversy once and for all, using an algorithm to find that Molière – born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622– was the author of all his plays.”

DC removes Batman image from social media after Chinese users claim it supports Hong Kong protesters. Heaven forbid we love freedom over money, right DC?

Essay of the Day:

Langdon Hammer writes about the letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick in The New York Review of Books:

“What are a writer’s letters worth? The question, posed bluntly in dollars, plays out in one of the tangled subplots of The Dolphin Letters.

“In 1970 Robert Lowell was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and Elizabeth Hardwick was at home in New York with their thirteen-year-old daughter, Harriet. Hardwick felt overwhelmed trying to manage the family’s affairs. ‘Cal,’ she wrote to Lowell, ‘I can’t cope. I have gotten so that I simply cannot bear it. Each day’s mail and effort grows greater and greater.’ Seeing the chance to simplify ‘a life that has become too weighty, detailed, heavy—for me,’ Hardwick undertook to sell Lowell’s papers. SUNY Stony Brook was ‘wildly interested,’ but she favored Harvard because of Lowell’s ties there. He agreed that Stony Brook was second choice, but they were offering more money, and he needed money. Hardwick told Harvard about the Stony Brook offer, the university raised its bid, and after much back and forth, in 1973, Harvard purchased Lowell’s papers dating from his childhood to 1970.

“Too much had happened in the meantime for Hardwick to celebrate. When she had first looked into Lowell’s crammed file cabinets, she expected him to come home soon. But he didn’t. He fell in love with the Anglo-Irish writer Caroline Blackwood and remained in England with her, even after he was hospitalized following a manic breakdown in July 1970, and Hardwick came to him while Blackwood fled to Ireland. In 1971 Blackwood and Lowell’s son, Sheridan, was born. A year later, Lowell divorced Hardwick and married Blackwood. Throughout this time, he was writing about being torn between Blackwood and Hardwick in poems that would be published in 1973 as a sonnet sequence called The Dolphin. Some of these sonnets quoted, or appeared to quote, the letters Hardwick wrote to Lowell in this period—raw letters expressing her grief and grievances.

“By July 1972, with the sale of the archive to Harvard moving forward, Hardwick had to face the galling fact that she had arranged it on behalf of a man who was not only divorcing her but writing a book about making up his mind to do so.”

Read the rest.

Photo:Mount of Olives

Poem: Carl Sandburg, “Buffalo Dusk” (illustrated by Julian Peters)

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University. Follow him on Twitter.

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