Sunday, November 06, 2005


Reading W. N. P. Barbellion’s The Journal of a Disappointed Man. Barbellion a young-dying British naturalist, pseudonym of one Bruce Frederick Cummings, dead apparently at the age of twenty-eight on the thirty-first of December, 1919. Author of, besides the Journal, a handful of essays (“The Passion for Perpetuation” is one), another near-dozen of essays in natural history (“Rousseau as Botanist,” “The Scarabee Monographed,” “Curious Facts in the Geographical Distribution of British Newts”—pertaining to the latter, there’s a journal report of B.’s holding a newt by the tail and hearing it emit a tiny squeak, trim spooky salience in a species supposed mute), and a couple short stories (“How Tom Snored on His Bridal Night”).

A sample (1907):
June 5.

A half-an-hour of to-day I spent in a punt under a copper beech out of the pouring rain listening to Lady ____’s gamekeeper at A____ talk about beasts and local politics—just after a visit of inspection to the Heronry in the firs on the island in the middle of the Lake. It was delightful to hear him describing a Heron killing an Eel with “a dap on the niddick,” helping out the figure with a pat on the nape of his thick bull neck.
And (1911):
February 13.

Feel like a piece of drawn threadwork, or an undeveloped negative, or a jelly fish on stilts, or a sloppy tadpole, or a weevil in a nut, or a spitchcocked eel. In other words and in short—ill.
Numerous tinier pleasures: the lady “with a tiny voice like the noise of a fretsaw,” or another’s—“voice piano to pianissimo, her conversation breaks off in thrilling aposiopoeses.”

Cover cotch’d at Soul Shower.
Finish’d Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. And cued up a salutary groove of The Manhattans—“I’ll Never Find Another (Find Another Like You).” Only to weigh “I see you holding hands with a guy of a different face, yeah” in the meagre pans of my astonishment (we’re talking, aren’t we, about music with only the merest trace of irony allow’d, no?) What kind of lingo is that, if not consciously pointing to race?

A word Dr. Johnson apparently overlook’d, though the ubiquitous Lydgate’s got it crucify’d quite rosily, and a couple of Shakespeare’s running dogs got it, too:
saturnine, a. and n.

       A. adj.

       1. a. Astrol. Born under or affected by the influence of the planet.    b. Hence (in later use without allusion to the primary sense), sluggish, cold, and gloomy in temperament.

       Saturnine mount, in Palmistry = Mons Saturni: see MONS.

1433 Lydgate, “This cursid Bern, enuyous and riht fals, / And of complexioun verray saturnyne.” 1587 Greene, “The Saturnine temperature is necessarie to dry vp the superfluities of the sanguine constitution.” 1599 Nashe, “Saturnine heauy headed blunderers.”