A library at its most essential, a space that holds a collection of books. A dedicated room or building is not technically necessary…But whatever form a library takes, someone had to have chosen the books in it, which reveal the secrets of heart and mind—their cares, their greeds, their enthusiasms, their obsessions.
Dressed in muslin gowns, they sip Assam tea and nibble on cucumber sandwiches. A maid refills the silver teapot while her mistress and her guests discuss the merits of Lyme Regis over Bath. Outside in the garden, trees drip from a recent shower and birds hop on a damp lawn. It could be afternoon tea in Mansfield Park, the seat of the Bertram family in Jane Austen’s novel – except that the trees are banyans, the birds are Indian hoopoes and the maid wears a shalwar kameez. This is not Northamptonshire but Lahore.
On the afternoon of 31 January 1827, a new vision of literature was born. On that day, Johann Peter Eckermann, faithful secretary to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, went over to his master’s house, as he had done hundreds of times in the past three and a half years. Goethe reported that he had been reading Chinese Courtship (1824), a Chinese novel. ‘Really? That must have been rather strange!’ Eckermann exclaimed. ‘No, much less so than one thinks,’ Goethe replied.
Rushing to publish and overlooking glaring typos may have become part of the new economics of traditional publishing. But on the Web, typos sometimes come with a price. “Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales,” said a BBC headline last week. The article cited an analysis of British Web figures that suggested that a single spelling mistake on an e-commerce site can hurt credibility so much that online revenues fall by half.
From new Silicon Valley-funded startups in the thicket of Calcutta slums to ramen shops in Kansas City, globalism as both concept and an everyday fact of life is embraced by today’s well-minded liberal body. So if that’s the case, if the argument for globalism is so water-tight and damn-near irreproachable, why in the area of literature does one find so many supposedly progressive voices constantly bashing the very books that come out of the cauldron of heterogeneity?
When George Orwell was born in 1903, a young Winston Churchill had just begun building a career for himself in politics; his “finest hour,” as Prime Minister of Britain during the Second World War, was still some thirty years to come. By the end of Orwell’s brief life, Churchill had become, along with Hitler and Stalin, among the most important figures of the 20th Century.
In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, the 19th-century American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age. In the latest instalment of The Devil’s Guide, we channel Bierce’s sardonic spirit to explore the true meanings of the jargon and fancy Latin terms that litter the landscape of the law.
At the end of the 18th century, a Frenchman by the name of Xavier de Maistre had to undergo house arrest for duelling. He made the best of it and traveled about his room. He was inspired by the paintings, the books on the shelf, his servant, his dog, his lover. And he wrote a book about it. Voyage Around My Room is a stroll across a room where in fact nothing really happens.
“Old English,” also termed “Anglo-Saxon,” was and is simply the form of the English language that predates the Norman Conquest of 1066. The first line of the earliest poem in Old English, a prayer called “Cædmon’s Hymn,” largely unfamiliar to modern English speakers, offers a taste of this forgotten language: Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard (“Now we must praise the guardian of the heaven-kingdom”).
You might not have thought so when you were struggling through your Spanish class at school, but as we get older, most of us come to appreciate the wonder that is language. It’s one of the few things that distinguishes us from other animals, and each of the 6,000 languages in the world today embodies the rich history and culture of its speakers.