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capacity to enjoy the better and eschew the worse. The claim, for the moment fashionable, that a general philosophy of aesthetic can be constructed by a thinker who, in practice, cannot distinguish Virgil from Bavius, or Rodin from William Dent Pitman, seems to me to presume a credulity almost beyond the dreams of illicit therapeutics. By 'poetry,' in these pages, I mean what has been written by Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and some others
May ro, 1918
AMONG the fascinating books that have never been
w ritten (and they are still the most fascinating of all) I think my favourite is Professor So-and-So's History of Trade-Routes from the Earliest Times, a magnificent treatise, incomplete in three volumes. The title may not allure you; possibly you suspect it of promising as much dullness as the title of this lecture, and it is even conceivable that you secretly extend your mistrust to professors as a class. Well concerning us, as men, you may be right: the accusation has been levelled: but I shall try to persuade you that you are mistaken about this book.
For a few examples—Who, hearing that British oysters, from Richborough, were served at Roman dinner-parties under the Empire, does not want to know how that long journey was contrived for them and how they were kept alive on the road? Or take the secret of the famous purple that was used to dye the Emperor's robe. As Browning asked, “Who fished the murex up? How did it reach the dyeing-vat? What was the process? Was the trade a monopoly? Again, you remember that navy of Tarshish, which came once in three years bringing Solomon gold and silver, ivory and apes and peacocks. Who would not wish to read one of its bills of lading, to construct a picture of the quays as the vessels freighted or discharged their cargo? As who would not eagerly read a description of that lumberer's camp on Lebanon to which Solomon sent ten thousand men a month by courses: 'a month they were in Lebanon and two months at home, and Adoniram was over the levy'? The conditions, you see, must have been hard, as the corvée was enormous. What truth, if any, underlies the legend that when Solomon died they embalmed and robed him and stood the corpse high on the unfinished wall that, under their great taskmaster's eye, the workmen should work and not 'slack' (as we say)? What a clerk-of-the-works!
Yet again—Where lay the famous tin-islands, the Cassiterides? How were the great ingots of Cornish tin delivered down to the coast and shipped on to Marseilles, Carthage, Tyre? We know that they were shaped pannierwise, and carried by ponies. But where was the island of Ictis, where the ships received them? Our latest theorists will not allow it to have been St Michael's Mount—the nearest of all, and the most obviously correspondent with the historian's description. They tell us hardily it was the Isle of Wight-or the Isle of Thanet. Ah, if these professors did not suffer from sea-sickness, how much simpler their hypotheses would be! Image the old Cornish merchant taking whole trains of ponies, laden with valuable ore, along the entire south of England, through dense forests and marauding tribes, to ship his ware at Thanet, when he had half a dozen better ports at his door! Imagine a skipper from Marseilles—But the absurdities are endless, and I will not here pursue them.
For what other hidden port of trade was that Phoenician skipper bound who, held in chase off the Land's End by a Roman galley and desperate of cheating her, deliberately (tradition tells) drove his ship ashore to save