Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Dogs barking idiotically..."

Michael Dirda reviews Farnsworth's Classical English Metaphor in "What does this remind you of?" After reading his description I couldn't resist ordering the book. Dirda:
.... Most of this handsome book’s examples are drawn from works written in the 18th and 19th century. Samuel Johnson, Herman Melville and, best of all, Charles Dickens are probably quoted most often. Given their extraordinary linguistic gusto, G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse and H.L. Mencken are also included but no authors more modern. ....

Although Farnsworth structures his book as a scholarly anatomy of metaphors, he recognizes that most people will find it a grab-bag of memorable quotations, an ideal browsing book for the nightstand. Discussing images of cold, he cites Robert Louis Stevenson on old age: “After a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through.” ....

Let me end with a glorious passage from H.L. Mencken in full throat as he destroys the prose of Warren G. Harding:
“He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of tosh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”
Lord, what I’d give to be able to write like that! [more]
More, from Anecdotal Evidence: `The Permanent College of Rhetoric'