Southern Literary Messenger, August, 1836, 2: 573-582  


  “Related” links below are to items identified as sources or potential sources in the Harvard edition, ed. B. R. Pollin, “Pinakidia,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 1-106. Item numbering herein matches Pollin’s.



Under the head of “Random Thoughts,” “Odds and Ends,” “Stray Leaves,” “Scraps,” “Brevities,” and a variety of similar titles, we occasionally meet, in periodicals and elsewhere, with papers of rich interest and value — the result, in some cases, of much thought and more research, expended, however, at a manifest disadvantage, if we regard merely the estimate which the public are willing to set upon such articles. It sometimes occurs that in papers of this nature may be found a collective mass of general, but more usually of classical erudition, which, if dexterously besprinkled over a proper surface of narrative, would be sufficient to make the fortunes of one or two hundred ordinary novelists in these our good days, when all heroes and heroines are necessarily men and women of “extensive acquirements.” But, for the most part, these “Brevities,” &c. are either piecemeal cullings at second hand, from a variety of sources hidden or supposed to be hidden, or more audacious pilferings from those vast storehouses of brief facts, memoranda, and opinions in general literature, which are so abundant in all the principal libraries of Germany and France. Of the former species, the Koran of Lawrence Sterne  is, at the same time, one of the most consummately impudent and silly; and it may well be doubted whether a single paragraph of any merit in the whole of it may not be found, nearly verbatim, in the works of some one of his immediate contemporaries.

If the Lacon of Mr. Colton  is any better, its superiority consists altogether in a deeper ingenuity in disguising his stolen wares, and in that prescriptive right of the strongest which, time out of mind, has decided upon calling every Napoleon a conqueror, and every Dick Turpin a thief, Seneca; Machiavelli;* Balzac, the author of “La Maniere de bien Penser;”   Bielfeld, the German, who wrote, in French, “Les Premiers Traits de L‘Erudition Universelle;”    Rochefoucault; Bacon; Bolingbroke; and especially Burdon, of “Materials for Thinking”   memory, possess, among them, indisputable claims to the ownership of nearly every thing worth owning in the book.

Of the latter species of theft, we see frequent specimens in the continental magazines of Europe, and occasionally meet with them even in the lower class of periodicals in Great Britain. These specimens are usually extracts, by wholesale, from such works as the “Bibliotheque des Memorabilia Literaria,” the “Recueil des Bonnes Pensées,”   the “Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses,” the “Literary Mémoires” of Sallengre,    the “Mélanges Littéraires” of Suard and André,   or the “Pièces Intéressantes et peu Connues”   of La Place. D‘Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” “Literary Character,”   and “Calamities of Authors,”   have, of late years, proved exceedingly convenient to some little American pilferers in this line, but are now becoming too generally known to allow much hope of their good things being any longer appropriated with impunity.

Such collections, as those of which we have been speaking, are usually entertaining in themselves, and for the most part, we relish every thing about them save their pretensions to originality. In offering, ourselves, something of the kind to the readers of the Messenger, we wish to be understood as disclaiming, in a great degree, every such pretension. Most of the following article is original, and will be readily recognized as such by the classical and general reader — some portions of it may have been written down in the words, or nearly in the words, of the primitive authorities. The whole is taken from a confused mass of marginal notes, and entries in a common-place-book. No certain arrangement has been considered necessary; and, indeed, so heterogeneous a farrago it would have been an endless task to methodize. We have chosen the heading Pinakidia, or Tablets, as one sufficiently comprehensive. It was used, for a somewhat similar purpose, by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.1  


*  It is remarkable that much of what Colton has stolen from Machiavelli, was previously stolen by Machiavelli from Plutarch. A MS. book of the Apophthegms of the Ancients, by this latter writer, having fallen into Machiavelli’s hands, he put them nearly all into the mouth of his hero, Castruccio Castricania.  


The whole of Bulwer’s elaborate argument on the immortality of the soul, which he has put into the mouth of the “Ambitious Student,”  may be confuted through the author’s omission of one particular point in his summary of the attributes of Deity — a point which we cannot believe omitted altogether through accident. A single link is deficient in the chain — but the chain is worthless without it. No man doubts the immortality of the soul — yet of all truths this truth of immortality is the most difficult to prove by any mere series of syllogisms. We would refer our readers to the argument here mentioned.


The rude rough wild waste has its power to please,

a line in one Mr. Idiorne’s poem, “The Progress of Refinement,”  is announced by the American author of a book entitled “Ante-Diluvian Antiquities,”  “the very best alliteration in all poetry.”


The Turkish Spy is the original of many similar works — among the best of which are Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, and the British Spy of our own Wirt. It was written undoubtedly by John Paul Marana, an Italian, in Italian, but probably was first published in French. Dr. Johnson, who saw only an English translation, supposed it an English work. Marana died in 1693.


The hunter and the deer a shade

is a much admired line in Campbell’s Gertrude of Wyoming  — but the identical line is to be found in the poems of the American Freneau.


Corneille’s celebrated Moi of Medea is borrowed from Seneca. Racine, in Phædra, has stolen nearly the whole scene of the declaration of love from the same puerile writer.




Augustus Wilhelm von Schlegel, tr. John Black, A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, 1833  


The peculiar zodiac of the comets is comprised in these verses of Cassini — Antinous, Pegasusque, Andromeda, Taurus, Orion, Procyon, atque Hydrus, Centaurus, Scorpius, Arcus.




Baron Jacob Friedrich Bielfeld, Elements of Universal Erudition, 1771    


Speaking of the usual representation of the banquet-scene in Macbeth, Von Raumer, the German historian, mentions a shadowy figure thrown by optical means into the chair of Banquo, and producing intense effect upon the audience.    Enslen, a German optician, conceived this idea, and accomplished it without difficulty.


A religious hubbub, such as the world has seldom seen, was excited during the reign of Frederic II, by the imagined virulence of a book entitled “The Three Impostors.” It was attributed to Pierre des Vignes, chancellor of the king, who was accused by the Pope of having treated the religions of Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet as political fables. The work in question, however, which was squabbled about, abused, defended, and familiarly quoted by all parties, is well proved never to have existed.




Lucas, Jean Maximilien [?], The Three Impostors, 1846


The word τυχη, or Fortune, does not appear once in the whole Iliad.


The “Lamentations” of Jeremiah are written, with the exception of the last chapter, in acrostic verse: that is to say, every line or couplet begins, in alphabetical order, with some letter in the Hebrew alphabet. In the third chapter each letter is repeated three times successively.


The fullest account of the Amazons is to be found in Diodorus Siculus.


Theophrastus, in his botanical works, anticipated the sexual system of Linnxus. Philolaus of Crotona maintained that comets appeared after a certain revolution — and Æcetes contended for the existence of what is now called the new world. Pulci, “the sire of the half-serious rhyme,” has a passage expressly alluding to a western continent. Dante, two centuries before, has the same allusion.

De’ vostri sensi ch’ e del rimanente

Non vogliate negar l‘esperienza

Di retro al sol, del mondo senza gente.


Cicero makes finis masculine, Virgil feminine. Usque ad eum finem. — Cicero. Quæ finis standi? Hæc finis Priami fatorum. — Virgil.


Dante left a poem in three languages — Latin, Provençal, and Italian. Rambaud de Vachieras left one in five.


Marcus Antoninus wrote a book entitled, Των εισf;εαυτον — Of the things which concern himself. It would be a good title for a Diary.


Lipsius, in his treatise, “De Supplicio Crucis,” says that the upright beam of the cross was a fixture at the place of execution, whither the criminal was made to bear only the transverse arm. Consequently the painters are in error who depict our Savior bearing the entire cross.


The stream flowing through the middle of the valley of Jehoshaphat, is called, in the Gospel of St. John, “the brook of cedars.” In the Septuagint the word is κεδρον, darkness, from the Hebrew Kiddar, black, and not κεδρων, of cedars.


Seneca says that Appion, a grammarian of the age of Caligula, maintained that Homer himself made the division of the Iliad and Odyssey into books, and evidences the first word of the Iliad, Μηνιν, the Μη of which signifies 48, the number of books in both poems. Seneca however adds, “Talia sciat oportet qui multa vult scire”.


The tale in Plato’s “Convivium,” that man at first was male and female, and that, though Jupiter cleft them asunder, there was a natural love towards one another, seems to be only a corruption of the account in Genesis of Eve’s being made from Adam’s rib.


Corneille has these lines in one of his tragedies: —

Pleurez, pleurez, mes yeux, et fondez — vows en eau —

La moité de ma vie a mis l‘autre au tombeau

which may be thus translated,

Weep, weep, my eyes! it is no time to laugh

For half myself has buried the other half.


Over the iron gate of a prison at Ferrara is this inscription — ” Ingresso alla prigione di Torquato Tasso.”


Hédelin, a Frenchman, in the beginning of the 18th century, denied that any such person as Homer ever existed, and supposed the Iliad to be made up ex tragediis, et variis canticis de trivio mendicatorum et circulatorum — a la maniere des chansons du Pontneuf.


The Rabbi Manasseh published a book at Amsterdam entitled “The Hopes of Israel.” It was founded upon the supposed number and power of the Jews in America. This supposition was derived from a fabulous account by Montesini of his having found a vast concourse of Jews among the Cordilleras.


The word assassin is derived according to Hyle from Hassa, to kill. Some bring it from Hassan, the first chief of the association — some from the Jewish Essenes — Lemoine from a word meaning “herbage” — De Sacy and Hammer from “hashish” the opiate of hemp leaves, of which the assassins made a singular use.


“Defuncti injuria ne afficiantur” was a law of the twelve tables.


The origin of the phrase “corporal oath” is to be found in the ancient usage of touching, upon occasion of attestation, the corporale or cloth which covered the consecrated articles.


Montgomery in his lectures on Literature (!) has the following “Who does not turn with absolute contempt from the rings and gems, and filters, and caves and genii of Eastern Tales as from the trinkets of a toyshop, and the trumpery of a raree-show?” What man of genius but must answer “Not I.”


The Abbé de St. Pierre has fixed in his language two significant words, viz.: bienfaisance, and the diminutive la gloriole.


There is no particular air known throughout Switzerland by the name of the Ranz des Vaches. Every canton has its own song varying in words, notes, and even language. Mr. Cooper, the novelist, is our authority.


Incidis in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdim

is neither in Virgil nor Ovid, as often supposed, but in the “Alexandreis” of Philip Gualtier a French poet of the thirteenth century.


Under a portrait of Tiberio Fiurilli, who invented the character of Scaramouch, are these verses:

Cet illustre Comedien

De son art traça la carrière:

Il fut le maitre de Moliere

Et la Nature fut le sien.


A curious passage in a letter from Cicero to his literary friend Papyrius Pætus, shows that our custom of annexing a farce or pantomime to a tragic drama existed among the Romans.


In Cary’s “Dante” is the following passage

And pilgrim newly on his road with love

Thrills if he hear the vesper bell from far

That seems to mourn for the expiring day.

Gray has also

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.


Marmontel in the “Encyclopédie” declares that the Italians did not possess a single comedy worth reading — therein displaying his ignorance. Some of the greatest names in Italian Literature were writers of comedy. Baretti mentions a collection of four thousand dramas made by Apostolo Zeno, of which the greater part were comedies — many of a high order.


* Baretti mentions a collection ... comedies (verbatim). ... Some of the greatest names in Italian literature were writers of comedy.”


A comedy or opera by Andreini was the origin of “Paradise Lost.” Andreini’s Adamo was the model of Milton’s Adam.


Milton has the expression “Forget thyself to marble.” Pope has the line “I have not yet forgot myself to stone.”


The noble simile of Milton, of Satan with the rising sun in the first book of the Paradise Lost, had nearly occasioned the suppression of that epic: it was supposed to contain a treasonable allusion.


Campbell’s line

Like angel visits few and far between,

is a palpable plagiarism. Blair has

Its visits

Like angel visits short and far between.


In Hudibras are these lines —

Each window like the pillory appears

With heads thrust through, nailed by the ears.

Young in his “Love of Fame” has the following

An opera, like a pillory, may be said

To nail our ears down and expose our head.


Goldsmith’s celebrated lines

Man wants but little here below

Nor wants that little long,

are stolen from Young; who has

Man wants but little, nor that little long.


The character of the ancient Bacchus, that graceful divinity, seems to have been little understood by Dryden. The line in Virgil

Et quocunque dens circum caput egit honestum

is thus grossly mistranslated,

On whate‘er side he turns his honest face.


There are about one thousand lines identical in the Iliad and Odyssey.


Macrobius gives the form of an imprecation by which the Romans believed whole towns could be demolished and armies defeated. It commences “Dis Pater sive Jovis mavis sive quo alio nomine fas est nominare,” and ends “Si hæc ita faxitis ut ego sciam, sentiam, intelligamque, tum quisquis votum hoc faxit recte factum esto, ovibus atris tribus, Tellus mater, teque Jupiter, obtestor.”


The “Courtier” of Baldazzar Castiglione, 1528, is the first attempt at periodical moral Essay with which we are acquainted. The “Noctes Atticæ” of Aulus Gellius cannot be allowed to rank as such.


These lines were written over the closet door of M. Menard,

Las d’espérer, et de me plaindre

De l’amour, des Brands, et du sort

C’est ici que j’attends la mort

Sans la d´esirer ou la craindre.


Martin Luther in his reply to Henry VIIIth’s book by which the latter acquired the title of “Defender of the Faith,” calls the monarch very unceremoniously “a pig, an ass, a dunghill, the spawn of an adder, a basilisk, a lying buffoon dressed in a king’s robes, a mad fool with a frothy mouth and a whorish face.”


The Psalter of Solomon, which contains 18 psalms, is a work which was found in Greek in the library of Augsburg, and has been translated into Latin by John Lewis de la Cerda. It is supposed not to be Solomon’s, but the work of some Hellenistical Jew, and composed in imitation of David’s Psalms. The Psalter was known to the ancients, and was formerly in the famous Alexandrian MS.


An unshaped kind of something first appeared,

is a line in Cowley’s famous description of the Creation.


It is probable that the queen of Sheba was Balkis — that Sheba was a kingdom in the southern part of Arabia Felix, and that the people were called Sabxans. These lines of Claudian relate to the people and queen,

Medis, levibusque Sabæis

Imperat hic sexus; reginarumque sub armis

Barbariæ magna pars jacet.


Sheridan declared he would rather be the author of the ballad called Hosier’s Ghost, by Glover, than of the Annals of Tacitus.


The word Jehovah is not Hebrew. The Hebrews had no such letters as J or V. The word is properly Iah-Uah — compounded of Iah Essence and Uah Existing. Its full meaning is the self-existing essence of all things.




Antediluvian Antiquities  


The “Song of Solomon,” throwing aside the heading of the chapters, which is the work of the English translators, contains nothing which relates to the Savior or the Church. It does not, like every other sacred book, contain even the name of the Deity.


In the Vatican is an ancient picture of Adam, with the Latin inscription “Adam divinitus edoctus, primus scientiarum et literarum inventor.”


The word translated “slanderers” in 1 Timothy iii, 2, and that translated “ false accusers ” in Titus ii, 3, are “female devils” in the original Greek of the New Testament.


The Hebrew language contains no word (except perhaps Jehovah) which conveys to the mind the idea of Eternity. The translators of the Old Testament have used the word Eternity but once.


“The slipper of Cinderella,” says the editor of the new edition of Warton “finds a parallel in the history of the celebrated Rhodope.” (a) Cinderella is a tale of universal currency. (b) An ancient Danish ballad has some of the incidents. (c) It is popular among the Welch — also among the Poles — in Hesse and Schwerin. (d) Schottky found it among the Servian fables. (e) Rollenhagen in his Froschmauseler speaks of it as the tale of the despised Aschen — possel. (f) Luther mentions it. (g) It is in the Italian Pentamerone under the title of Cenerentola. (h)


Porphyry, than whom no one could be better acquainted with the theology of the ancients, acknowledged Vesta, Rhea, Ceres, Themis, Priapus, Proserpina, Bacchus, Attis, Adonis, Silenus, and the Satyrs to be one and the same.


Servius on Virgil’s Æneid speaks of a bearded Venus. The poet Calvus in Macrobius speaks of Venus as masculine. Valerius Soranus among other titles calls Jupiter the Mother of the Gods.


In Suidas is a letter from Dionysius, the Areopagite, dated Helipolis, in the fourth year of the 202d Olympiad (the year of Christ’s crucifixion) to his friend Apollophanes, in which is mentioned a total eclipse of the sun at noon. “Either,” says Dionysius “the author of nature suffers, or he sympathizes with some who do.”


The most particular history of the Deluge, and the nearest of any to the account given by Moses is to be found in Lucian (De dea Syria).


The Greeks had no historian prior to Cadmus Milesius, nor any public inscription of which we can be certified, before the laws of Draco.


So great is the uncertainty of ancient history that the epoch of Semiramis cannot be ascertained within 1535 years, for according to


The book of Jasher, said to have been preserved from the deluge by Noah, but since lost, was extant in the time of Joshua, and in the time of David. Mr. Bryant thinks, however, very justly, that the ten tables of stone were the first written characters. The book of Jasher is mentioned Joshua x. 13, and 2 Samuel i. 18.


André Chénier, imprisoned during the French Revolution, began thus some lines on his unhappy situation,

Peut-être avant que Pheure en cercle promenée

Ait posé sur l‘émail brillant

Dans les soixante pas où sa route est bornée

Son pied sonore et vigilant,

Le sommeil du tombeau pressera ma paupière —

At this instant André Chénier was interrupted by the officials of the guillotine.


Archbishop Usher, in a MS. of St. Patrick’s life, said to have been found at Louvain as an original of a very remote date, detected several entire passages purloined from his own writings.


An extract from the “Mystery of St. Denis” is in the “Bibliotheque du Théatre François, depuis son origine, Dresde. 1768.” In this serious drama, St. Denis, having been tortured and at length decapitated, rises very quietly, takes his head under his arm and walks off the stage in all the dignity of martyrdom.


The idea of “No light but rather darkness visible” was perhaps suggested to Milton by Spenser’s

A little glooming (sic) light much like a shade.


In the Dutch Vondel’s tragedy “The Deliverance of the Children of Israel” one of the principal characters is the Divinity himself.


Darwin is indebted for a great part of his “Great poem” to a Latin one by De La Croix, published in 1727 and entitled “Connubia Florum.”


Mr. Bryant in his learned “Mythology” says that although the Pagan fables are not believed, yet we forget ourselves continually and make inferences from them as existing realities.


The shield of Achilles in Homer seems to have been copied from some Pharos which the poet had seen in Egypt. What he describes on the central part of the shield is a map of the earth and of the celestial appearances.


Anaxagoras of Clazomenae is said to have prophesied that a stone would fall from the sun. This is a mistake of the learned. All that Anaxagoras averred may be seen in the Scholiast upon Pindar (Olymp. Ode, 1). It amounts only to this, that Petros was a name of the sun.


The Hebrew language has lain now for two thousand years mute and incapable of utterance. The “Masoretical punctuation” which professes to supply the vowels was formed a thousand years after the language had ceased to be spoken, and disagrees in many instances with the Seventy, Origen and other writers.


James Montgomery thinks proper to style M’Pherson’s Ossian, a collection “of halting, dancing, lumbering, grating, nondescript paragraphs.”


The paucity of spondees in the English language, is the reason why we cannot tolerate an English Hexameter. Sir Philip Sidney, in his Arcadia, thus speaks of Love in what is meant for Hexameter verse

So to the woods Love runnes, as well as rides to the palace:

Neither he bears reverence to a prince, nor pity to a beggar;

But, like a point in the midst of a circle, is still of a nearnesse.


His form had not yet lost

All her original brightness,

is a very remarkable passage in Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein a person is personified.

Quoted is Paradise Lost, 1.591-92.


It is certain that Hebrew verse did not include rhyme: the terminations of the lines where they are most distinct, never showing any thing of the kind.


Francis le Brossano engraved these verses upon a marble tomb which he erected to Petrarch at Arqua.

Frigida Francisci tegit hic lapis ossa Peterarcæ.

Suscipe, virgo parens, animam: sate virgine, plarce,

Fessaquejam terris, cceli requiescat in arce.


“Statua Statuae” was an inscription handed about at Paris for the equestrian statue of Louis XV, begun by Bouchardon and finished by Pigal. The following also,

Bouchardon est un animal

Et son ouvrage fait pitié:

Il place les vices à cheval

Et les vertus à pied.

and another,

Voilà noire roi comme il est à Versailles

Sans foi, sans loi, et sans entrailles.


Bochart derives Elysium from the Phœnician Elysoth, joy, through the Greek Ηλυσιον. Circe from the Phœnician Kirkar, to corrupt — Siren from the Phœenician Sir, to sing — Scylla from the Phœnician Scol, destruction — Charybdis from the Phœnician Chor-obdam, chasm of ruin.


Attrogs, a fruit common in Palestine, is supposed to have been “the forbidden.” It has a rough rind, and resembles a citron or lemon.


The following quaint sentence is found in Saint Evremond. “I own I do not envy him, when I consider that there are in the next world such people as Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Eacus.”


The standard of Judas Maccabæus displayed the words “Mi camoca baelim Jehovah” — Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the Gods? This being afterwards intimated by the first letter of each word, in the manner of the S. P. Q. R., gave rise to the surname Maccabæus — for the initials in Hebrew form “Maccabi.”


Josephus, with Saint Paul and others, supposed man to be compounded of body, soul, and spirit. The distinction between soul and spirit is an essential point in ancient philosophy.


Lord Lyttelton acknowledged the authorship of two dialogues, in the first of which the personages were the Savior and Socrates, in the second, king David and Cæsar Borgia.


Dante gives the name of sonnet to his little canzone or ode beginning

O voi the per la via d‘Amor passate.


Boileau is mistaken in saying that Petrarch, ‘qui est regarde comme le pere du sonnet’ borrowed it from the French or Provençal writers. The Italian sonnet can be traced back as far as the year 1200. Petrarch was not born until 1304.


The learned Menage has this epitaph on Sannazarius

Ci git, dont l‘esprit fut si beau,

Sannazar, ce pooee habile,

Qui par ses vers divins approche de Virgile,

Plus encore que par son tombeau.


The two reprehensible lines in Pope’s Eloisa,

Not Cæsar’s empress would I deign to prove;

No — make me mistress to the man I love,

are to be found in the original letters of Eloisa — at least the thought.


Mercier, in “L‘an deux mille quatre cent quarante” seriously maintains the doctrines of the Metempsychosis, and I. D‘Israeli says there is no system so simple, and so little repugnant to the understanding.


One of the best epigrams affixed to the statue of Pasquin was the following upon Paul III,

Ut canerent data multa olim sunt vatibus æra

Ut taceam quantum to mihi, Paule, dabis?


Milton in Paradise Lost, has this passage,

——— when the scourge

Inexorably, and the torturing hour

Call us to penance.

Gray, in his Ode to Adversity, has

Thou tamer of the human breast

Whose iron scourge, and torturing hour

The bad affright.


Gray tells us that the image of his bard, where

Loose his beard, and hoary hair

Streamed like a meteor to the troubled air

was taken from a picture by Raphael: yet the beard of Hudibras is also likened to a meteor,

This hairy meteor did denounce

The fall of sceptres and of crowns.


The lines

For he that fights and runs away

May live to fight another day,

But he that is in battle slain,

Will never rise to fight again

are not to be found, as is thought, in Hudibras. Butler’s verses ran thus;

For he that flies may fight again,

Which he can never do that’s slain.

The former are in a volume of ‘Poems’ by Sir John Mennes, reign of Charles II. The original idea is in Demosthenes: Ανηρ ο φευγων και παλιν μαχησεται.


“Semel insanivimus omnes” is not from Horace but from Mantuanus, an Italian. In a work entitled “De honesto amore” is this line,

Id commune malum, semel insanivimus omnes.


Dryden in ‘Absalom and Achitopel’ has these lines,

David for him his tuneful harp had strung

And heaven had wanted one immortal song.

Pope in his Epistle to Arbuthnot has

Friend of my life which did not you prolong

The world had wanted many an idle song.


Tickell’s lines

While the charmed reader with thy thought complies

And views thy Rosamond with Henry’s eyes,

are evidently borrowed from those of Boileau,

En vain contre ‘Le Cid’ un ministre se ligue;

Tout Paris pour Chimene a les yeux de Rodrigue.


The expressions ‘nemorumque noctem’ occurring in one of Gray’s Latin odes, has been repeatedly found fault with — yet Virgil has ‘media nimborum in nocte.’


Selden observes of Henry VIII, that he was a king with a pope in his belly.


In the ‘Nubes’ of Aristophanes, there are several Greek verses in rhyme


Of the ten tragedies which are attributed to Seneca, (the only Roman tragedies extant,) nine are on Greek subjects.


Ariosto says of one of his heroes, that, in the heat of combat, not perceiving that he was a dead man, he continued to fight valiantly, dead as he was.

Il pover’ huomo the non s‘en era accorto,

Andava combattendo, ed era morto.


The author of ‘La Maniere de bién Penser’ speaks of a French divine who, to prove that young persons sometimes die before old ones, cited the text, ‘Praecucurrit citius Petro Johannes et venit primus ad monumentum.’


There is no passage among all the writings of antiquity more sublime than these lines of Silius Italicus. The words are addressed to a young man of Capua, who proposed to assassinate Hannibal at a banquet.

Fallis to mensas inter quod credis inermem,

Tot bellis qua?sita viro, tot caedibus armat

Majestas eterna ducem: si admoveris ora

Cannas et Trebiam ante oculos, Trasymenaque busta,

Et Pauli stare ingentem miraberis umbram.


Giace l‘alta Cartago: a pena i segni

De l‘alte sui ruine il lido serba:

Muoino le cittA, muoino i regni;

Copre i fasti e le pompe arena et herba:

E l‘huom d‘esser mortal per the si sdegni.

These lines of Tasso are a curious specimen of literary robbery — being made up entirely of passages from Lucan and Sulpicius. Lucan says of Troy

Jam tota teguntur

Pergama dumetis: etiam perire ruinae:

and Sulpicius in a letter to Cicero says of Megara, Ægina, Corinth, &c — “Hem! nos homunculi indignamur si quis nostrum interiit, quorum vita brevior esse debet, cum uno loco tot oppidorum cadavera projecta jaceant.”


An epigram upon the subject of François de Bassompiere being released from the Bastille upon the death of Richelieu, is a strange mixture of lofty thought and puerile conceit.

Enfin dans farriere — saison

La fortune d‘Armand s‘accorde avec la mienne:

France, je sors de ma prison

Quand son Ame sort de la sienne.

The line, “France, je sors de ma prison,” is the anagram of François de Bassompière.


The epigrams of the Greek Anthology are characterized more by näiveté than point. They are for the most part insipid.


Longinus calls pompous and inflated thoughts, “reveries of Jupiter” — insomnia Jovis.


A French writer of celebrity dedicated a book to Richelieu in terms of the most blasphemous flattery. But being disappointed in his expectations, he suppressed all his praises in a second edition, and re-dedicated his volume “a Jésus Christ.”


The following inscription intended for the Louvre, possesses both simplicity and dignity:

Pande fores populis, sublimis Lupara: non est

Terrarum imperio dignior ulla domus.


Under a fine painting of St. Bruno in solitude, some Italian wrote these words, “Egli e vivo, e parlarebbe se non osservasse la regola del silenzio.” Malherbe has taken the hint in his epigram upon a picture of Saint Catherine.


A fine sample of galimatias is to be found in an epigram of Miguel de Cervantes:

Van muerte tan escondida,

Que no to sienta venir;

Porque el plazer del morir

No me torne a dar la vida.


Quintilian mentions a pedant who taught obscurity, and who was wont to say to his scholars, “This is excellent — I do not understand it myself.”


An Italian metaphysician, to disprove that greatness of mind is proportioned to the size of the skull, argues thus: “Non sano, the la mente è it centro del capo; ed it centro non cresce per la grandezza del circolo.”


A horse is often seen on ancient sepulchral monuments. Caylus quotes a passage from Passeri, “de animae transvectione,” implying that the horse designates the passage of the soul to Elysium.


The Satyre Ménippée of the French is, in prose, the exact counterpart of Hudibras in rhyme.


A remarkable instance of concord of sound and sense is to be seen in the following stanza by M. Anton. Flaminius:

Ast amans chars? thalamum puellæ

Deserit flens, et tibi verba dicit

Aspera amplexu tenerae cupito a —

— vulsus amicæ.


Voltaire’s ignorance of antiquity is laughable. In his Essay on Tragedy, prefixed to Brutus, he actually boasts of having introduced the Roman senate on the stage in red mantles. “The Greeks,” as he asserts, “font paraitre leurs acteurs (tragic) sur des especes d‘échasses, le visage couvert d‘un masque qui exprime la douleur d‘un côté et la joye de 1‘autre!” The only circumstance upon which he could possibly have founded such an accusation is, that in the new comedy masks were worn with one eyebrow drawn up and the other down, to denote a busy-body or inquisitive meddler.


Several ancient tragedies, viz: Eumenides, Philoctetes, and Œdipus at Colonos, besides many pieces of Euripides, have a happy and enlivening termination.


The only historical tragedies by Grecian authors were The Capture Of Miletus by Phrymcus and the Persians of Æschylus.


The foundation of all the erroneous opinions on the subject of the old Greek comedy (Voltaire’s opinion particularly) may be found in the comparison between Aristophanes and Menander, in Plutarch.


Schlegel says justly, that Harlequin and Pulcinello descend in a direct line from the buffoons of the ancient Romans. On Greek vases are seen also dresses like theirs — long breeches and waistcoats with arms, articles worn by neither Greeks nor Romans except upon the stage. At present Zanni is one of the names of Harlequin, and Sannio in the Latin farces was a buffoon who had a shaven head, and a dress patched together of all colors.


In Racine’s Bérénice Antiochus says to the queen

——— Je me suis to cinq ans

Madame, et vais encore me taire plus long tems,

and to give a direct proof of his intention, recites immediately no less than fifty verses in a breath.


In Voltaire’s scruples about unity of place he has committed a thousand blunders. In the Mort de Cæsar the scene is in the Capitol, but the people seem not to know their precise situation. On one occasion Cæsar exclaims, “Courons an Capitole!”


Denis de Sallo’s “Journal des Sçavans,” in 1665 may be considered as the origin of Literary Journals or Reviews.


Sous ce tombeau git Le Sage abattu

Par le ciseau de la Parque importune,

S‘il ne fut pas ami de la fortune

Il fut toujours ami de la vertu,

was Le Sage’s epitaph.


These lines although extremely French are forcible,

Et comme un jeune coeur est bientot enflamme

Il me vit, il m‘aima, je le vis, je 1‘aimai.


On Cardinal Richelieu, Benserade made the following epitaph:

Cy gist — ouy gist par la mort bleu

Le Cardinal de Richelieu,

Et ce qui cause won ennuy

Ma pension avec lui.


The Jesuits called Crébillon ‘Puer ingeniosus, sed insignis nebulo.’


Dr. E. Young published “A true Estimate of Human Life, Part I,” dedicated to Queen Anne, and describing the shades of existence. The second part, however, which should have contained the lights never appeared.


The “Batrachomyomachia,” is nothing more than a burlesque poem, much in the manner of Aristophanes, and doubtfully attributed to Homer. Philip Melancthon however, wrote a commentary to prove the poet’s object was to excite a hatred for tumults and sedition. Pierre La Seine going a step farther, thinks the intention was to recommend to young men temperance in eating and drinking.


“Amare et sapere vix Deo conceditur,” is not Seneca’s as generally supposed.


The heathen poets are mentioned three times in the New Testament. Aratus in the seventeenth chapter of Acts — Menander in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians — also Epimenides.


“Semper sub Sextis perdita Roma fuit,”

was a line written during the pontificate of Alexander VI. Sextus Tarquinius provoked by his tyranny the expulsion of the kings of Rome. Urban VI began the great schism of the West. Alexander VI astonished the world by the enormity of his crimes, and Pius VI did not falsify the saying.


A letter was once addressed from Rome “Alla sua Excellenza Seromfidevi,” in London. It caused much perplexity at the Post-office and British Museum, and after foiling the acumen of a minister of state, was found to be intended for Sir Humphry Dav[e]y.


The vulgar Christian era is the invention of Dionysius Exiguus.


The book of Judith was originally written in Chaldee, and thence translated into Latin by St. Jerom. There are several particulars in our English version which are not to be found in St. Jerom’s, and which seem to be those readings which he professes to omit as vicious corruptions.



Dr. E. Young published “A true Estimate of Human Life, Part I,” dedicated to Queen Anne, and describing the shades of existence. The second part, however, which should have contained the lights never appeared.


The “Batrachomyomachia,” is nothing more than a burlesque poem, much in the manner of Aristophanes, and doubtfully attributed to Homer. Philip Melancthon however, wrote a commentary to prove the poet’s object was to excite a hatred for tumults and sedition. Pierre La Seine going a step farther, thinks the intention was to recommend to young men temperance in eating and drinking.


“Amare et sapere vix Deo conceditur,” is not Seneca’s as generally supposed.


The heathen poets are mentioned three times in the New Testament. Aratus in the seventeenth chapter of Acts — Menander in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians — also Epimenides.


“Semper sub Sextis perdita Roma fuit,”

was a line written during the pontificate of Alexander VI. Sextus Tarquinius provoked by his tyranny the expulsion of the kings of Rome. Urban VI began the great schism of the West. Alexander VI astonished the world by the enormity of his crimes, and Pius VI did not falsify the saying.


A letter was once addressed from Rome “Alla sua Excellenza Seromfidevi,” in London. It caused much perplexity at the Post-office and British Museum, and after foiling the acumen of a minister of state, was found to be intended for Sir Humphry Dav[e]y.


The vulgar Christian era is the invention of Dionysius Exiguus.


The book of Judith was originally written in Chaldee, and thence translated into Latin by St. Jerom. There are several particulars in our English version which are not to be found in St. Jerom’s, and which seem to be those readings which he professes to omit as vicious corruptions.


The proverb, “Evil communications corrupt good manners,” which is found in Corinthians, is a quotation, intended as such, from Euripides.


Varro reckons three epochs: the first from the beginning of the world to the first flood, which he calls uncertain; the second from the flood to the first Olympiad, fabulous; the third from the first Olympiad to his own time, historical.


Politian, the poet and scholar, was an admirer of Alessandra Scala, and addressed to her this extempore:

To teach me that in hapless suit

I do but waste my hours,

Cold maid, whene‘er I ask for fruit,

Thou givest me naught but flowers.


In the Latin version of Herodotus, the lowest of the towers forming the temple of Belus, is said to be a furlong thick and a furlong high; and some writers concluding each of the eight to be as high, make the whole one mile in height. In the Greek text, however, the lowest tower is merely said to be a furlong through — nothing is said of its height. Strabo makes the temple a furlong altogether in altitude.


Jacobus Hugo was of opinion that by the Harpies Homer intended the Dutch; by Euenis, John Calvin; by Antinous, Martin Luther; and by the Lotophagi, Protestants in general.


“Impune quæ libet facere id est esse regem,” is a definition of a king to be found in Sallust.


The first collection of the Iliad was by Pisistratus, or some of the Pisistratidæ. There were, after this, innumerable editions — but Aristarchus in the reign of Ptolemy Philometer, B. C. 150, published from a collection of all the copies then existing, a new edition, the text of which has finally prevailed.


Some one after the manner of Santeuil, composed the following quatrain for the gates of the market to be erected on the site of the famous Jacobin Club at Paris,

Impia tortorum longos hic turba furores

Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit.

Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris antro,

Mors ubi lira fuit, vita salusque patent.


A version of the Psalms was published in 1642 by William Slatyer, of which this is a specimen:

The righteous shall his sorrow scan

And laugh at him, and say ‘Behold!

What hath become of this here man

That on his riches was so bold.’


At the bottom of an obelisk which Pius VI was erecting at great expense near the entrance of the Quirinal Palace in 1783, while the people were suffering for bread, were found written these words,

Signore, di a questa pietra the divenga pane.

Lord, command that these stones be made bread.


Constantine Koliades wrote a book to prove that Homer and Ulysses were one and the same — but Joshua Barnes attributes the authorship of the Iliad to Solomon.


In 1. xviii. 192, of the Iliad, Achilles says none of the armor of the chieftains will fit him except the shield of Ajax: how then did his own armor fit Patroclus?


In the reign of Edward VI, Dr. Christopher Tye turned the Acts of the Apostles into rhyme. They begin thus,

In the former epistle to thee

Dear friend Theophilus

I have written the veritie

Of the Lord Christ Jesus.


Empedocles professed the system of four elements, and added thereto two principles which he called ‘principium amicitiæ and principium contentionis.’ What are these but attraction and repulsion?


The Count Bielfeld’s definition of poetry is ‘L‘art d‘exprimer les pensées par la fiction.’ The German terms Dichtkunst, the art of fiction, and Dichten to feign, which are used for Poetry, and to make verses, are in full accordance with his definition.


The Germans have epic poems composed in metre of sixteen and seventeen syllables.


The following Vaudeville is one of the drollest of its kind:

Quand un bon vin meuble mon estomac

Je suis plus savant que Balzac —

Plus sage que Pibrac.

Mon bras seul faisant l‘attaque

De la nation Cossaque

La mettroit an sac.

De Charon je passerois le lac

En dormant dans son bac.

J‘irois an fier Eac

Sans que mon coeur fit tic ni tac

Presenter du tabac.


On ancient monuments are often found the letters A. E. R. A. meaning Annus erat Regni Augusti. The ignorance of copyists may probably have formed of these letters the single word ÆRA. Would it not be a better derivation than the Latin ÆS?


The work of John Albert Fabricius, the Hamburg professor, entitled Bibliotheca Graeca, in which his sole object is to render an account of the Greek authors extant, occupies fourteen thick volumes in quarto.


The usual derivation of the word Metaphysics is not to be sustained. Metaphysicam is tortured into meaning super physicam, and the science is supposed to take its name from its superiority to physics. The truth is, that Aristotle’s treatise on Morals is next in succession to his Book of Physics, and this order he considers the rational order of study. His Ethics consequently commence with the words Μετα τα φυσικα, &c. from which the word Metaphysics.


The commentators upon Mr. Beckford’s Vathek say that the locusts derive their name from having been so called by the first English settlers in America. The word comes evidently from loco usto, the havoc they made wherever they passed leaving the appearance of a place desolated by fire.


M. Patru was convinced that in all his prose writings no sentence or part of a sentence could be found so cadenced as to form a verse. A friend, however immediately pointed out to him the words in his ‘Plaidoyers’

Septième plaidoyer pour unjeune Allemand.


Despréaux speaking of the caesura in French versification, asserts,

Que toujours dans nos vers — le sens coupant les mots,

Suspende 1‘hemistiche — en marquant le repos.

M. Despréaux seems to have forgotten that hemistich is a composite Greek word signifying a demi-line, and that consequently his own admired verses have no meaning at all.


Every one is acquainted with the excellent commencement of the Annals of Tacitus. From this, principally he has acquired his reputation for concision. It is singular that no notice has ever been taken of the extreme prolixity of their conclusion.


There is a dissertation upon Hebrew, or Samaritan medals by Pere Soucier, in which he proves the existence of Hebrew money struck by the Jews upon the model of the coins current before the captivity. All the Hebrew medals, however, bearing a head of Moses or of Christ, are manifestly forgeries.


There is a book by a Jesuit, Père Labbe, entitled La Bibliothèque des Bibliothèques. It is a catalogue of all authors in all nations who have written catalogues of books.


Lucretius, lib. v, 93, 96, has the words,

—— terras ——

Una dies dabit exitio.

Ovid the lines,

Carmine sublimis tunc sunt peritura Lucreti

Exitio terras cum dabit una dies.


Albert in his Hebrew Dictionary, pretends to discover in each word, in its root, in its letters, and in the manner of pronouncing them, the reason of its signification. Loescher in his treatise De causis Linguæ Hebrææ, carries the matter even farther.


In Judges is this expression, ‘And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.’ The phrase ‘to smite hip and thigh’ arises from these words. No meaning, however, can be attached to them as they stand — but the original will admit of a different signification, viz: ‘He smote them with his leg on the thigh,’ and alludes to the wrestling matches which were common in the east. In this sense the phrase exactly answers to the ‘crus femori impingere,’ and the σκελιξειν or αποσκελξειν of the ancients.


It is a remarkable fact, that during the whole period of the middle ages, the Germans lived in utter ignorance of the art of writing.


The silver shekel of the Hebrews has on its face the rod of Aaron with the inscription, Jeruschalaim Hakkedoucha, Jerusalem the Holy, and on the reverse a cup with the words Chekel Ischrael, money of Israel.


The Masoretical punctuation is a kind of critique upon the Hebrew text invented by the Jewish teachers to prevent its alteration. The first original being lost, recourse was had to the Masora as an infallible method of fixing the text. The verses, words, and even letters are there counted, and all their variations recorded.


Among the Hebrew text[s] of the Old Testament are mingled a few passages of Chaldaic. All the characters as we have them now, are properly speaking Chaldaic.


A version of the Psalms in 1564, by Archbishop Parker, has the following —

Who sticketh to God in stable trust

As Sion’s mount he stands full just

Which moveth no whit, nor yet can reel,

But standeth for ever as stiff as steel.


A part of the 137th Psalm runs thus: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,’ which has been thus paraphrased in a version of the Psalms,

If I forget thee ever

Then let me prosper never,

But let it cause

My tongue and jaws

To cling and cleave together.