Summa minutiae

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought. — Lord Peter Wimsey

John Swinnerton Phillimore

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John Swinnerton Phillimore was a classical scholar, poet, Catholic convert and a friend of Hilaire Belloc. The Internet Archive has a small collection of his works. The following quotes are from his preface to the Manresa Press edition of the sermons of St John Fisher on the seven Penitential Psalms:

The mind of a time

History is everywhere, if you are on the alert for her: and every book has, beyond its intrinsic quality, a further quality as being a piece or a document of the mind of its time. What was our countrymen’s mind like in the fatal half-century before the apostasy? You may learn it from descriptions by historians, if you please to take their word for it, but unless you know what books any generation of men read and took pleasure in, the mind of that time is closed to you.

On translating English texts into modern English

The modern eye cannot travel freely, picking up its clues on the page, where even the commonest word is an orthographical monster, and the stops give no clue to the articulation of the sentence. In this respect Mayor’s text is a monument of laborious pedantry. Consider this phrase for example :

“Every one of them wolde execute all that perteyneth to his office quykly without fayninge or parcyalyte.”

It looks a queer enough collection of beasts to set on a modern page, and one takes some little thought to discover what “quykly” and “parcyalyte” may mean. Show this to the railway traveller at the bookstall, and his shilling will not rise to such a bait with much eagerness. Yet nothing is amiss with it but the disguise. Put it in modern form:

“Every one of them would execute all that pertaineth to his office quickly without feigning or partiality.”

and nothing is left that need disconcert an ordinarily literate reader. All that outlandishness, all that air as of some quaint half-real thing raised up on the farther side of a vast chasm of time, across which we have no equal and familiar communications, is almost wholly a matter of dressing and presenting, or, in other words, of spelling and pointing.