|The Forced Marriage has been described as one of the best of all one-act plays while Adventures Among Birds speaks about loneliness of animals
Last week, some of my cousins who live in the family house in Pune rang me to say they had been cleaning out the loft and had come across books belonging to my father. I had lost track of them years ago. Among the ones I remember best are several volumes of The World’s Library of Best Books, given to my father by his (in Christian terms), godfather.
They were a treasure house during my school years, and looking through them again, I still find them a delight. There are extracts from fiction, plays, poems, non-fiction, in English, French, German, Greek, Spanish and others.
There are lively notes on the extracts, photographs of performances, and of relevant paintings from various galleries. Here, for instance is the introduction to Moliere’s The Forced Marriage, described as “one of the best of all one-act plays.”
It was written in 1664 as court entertainment, and the king himself, Louis XIV, who was then 26 took part in it. “The caricatures of the two philosophers were very daring; for the University of Paris was trying to promote an Act by which all attacks on the philosophy of Aristotle should be crimes deserving death.”
Cervantes, author of Don Quixote was born in 1547 and died in 1616, ten days before Shakespeare... “He was a gentle, genial humourist, somewhat on the lines of Dickens, but with more subtlety and refinement…” Of Boswell, author of a biography of Samuel Johnson, “The only reasonable explanation of his extraordinary triumph as a biographer is that he was enjoyable because he enjoyed, and interesting because he was interested.
His self-indulgence, his vanity, his often foolish candour, and his lust for notoriety do not count much against his alertness of observation, his boundless good humour, and his enviable self-satisfaction.” The extracts don’t seem to follow any discernible order: Virgil appears in the same volume as John Galsworthy, Henry Fielding, an anonymous ballad, Longfellow’s poems, Shakespeare, Horace. Here is a quotation from Horace’s ode, The Golden Mean.
“Licinius, trust a seaman’s lore: /Steer not too boldly to the deep,/Nor, fearing storms, by treacherous shores/Too closely keep./Who makes the golden mean his guide,/ Shuns miser’s cabin, foul and dark, /Shuns gilded roofs, where pomp and pride/ Are envy’s mark.”
Another old favourite, to be recited with conviction, W E Henley’s Invictus. “Out of the night that covers me/Black as the pit from pole to pole,/I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul./…It matters not how strait the gate,/How charged with punishments the scroll,/I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
And, irresistibly, the great natural history writer, W H Hudson, one of whose books on the Argentinian pampas, Far Away and Long Ago was a school text in our final year. About the extract from his book Adventures Among Birds, the editor writes, “So intolerable is loneliness to some animals, Mr Hudson says, that they will attach themselves to any creature they can scrape acquaintance with, and he instances the case of a pony confined by itself in a field, and a solitary partridge, the only one of its species in that place; they were always to be seen together in close companionship.”
Then, from the book itself, the story of a lonely swan, driven away by his parents, who eventually made friends with a trout. “The fish had its place by the side of the bird, just below the surface, and together they would rest and together move like one being…Those who first saw it could hardly credit the evidence of their own senses.”
The volumes were edited by Wilfred Whitten (1864-1942), a British writer and editor whose pseudonym was John O’London, and published by The Standard Literature Co., Ltd Calcutta by arrangement with George Newnes, Limited, London. I couldn’t find a date of publication, however, or the price. But the volumes still appear to be available from online book dealers.
Missing on people, culture
This refers to ‘Everything and Nothing’, (PM, July 26). The interesting thing about Eunice de Souza’s articles is that there’s no scope for any distraction. She is spontaneous and precise. Her views are mostly substantiated with numerous quotes. However, this often confuses a reader and makes him lose interest mid-way.
I used to find her columns uninteresting until I started reading about the authors and their works. Later, when I took a relook at one of her pieces, I found it quite insightful. Since then I have been consistently reading de Souza’s articles. Yet I would request her to be a bit simple. Of late, she has restricted herself to writers. I would appreciate if she starts writing on people and culture, like she has done in the past.
- Bishvesh Barua