Dance of the Concords

March 5, 2008

I was recently asked for links on the subject of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and, hunting around, came across, the utterly bonkers Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury, a collection of over 78,000 notes on the Wake, gathered from numerous written sources. Very easy to get lost in.

It reminded me of another great resource for comprehension: HyperArts’ excellent Thomas Pynchon site, which has grown dedicated wikis since I last visited, in addition to the most useful concordance to Gravity’s Rainbow:

White Visitation
34; former mental hospital located in the fictional town of Ick Regis on the coast of southern England; now part of SOE; location of PISCES; D-Wing still has “loonies”; “devoted to psychological warfare” 35; “they’re all wild talents–clairvoyants and mad magicians” 40; 72-74; described, 82-83; D-Wing, 230; 533; 627

I was also, just this morning, researching a favourite phrase of my Father’s: “‘Tis a poor heart that never rejoices.” He’s always attributed it to Wodehouse, but I uncovered several older sources. Dickens uses the phrase in Barnaby Rudge:

“What happened when I reached home you may guess. … Ah! Well, it’s a poor heart that never rejoices.”
[1841 Dickens, ‘Barnaby Rudge‘ iv.]

but it appears that Captain Marryat is the originator, using it in several books:

“Well,” continued he, “it’s a poor heart that never rejoiceth.” He then poured out half a tumbler of rum.
[1834 Marryat, ‘Peter Simple‘ I. v.]

“You had a drop too much, that’s all, and what o’ that? It’s a poor heart that never rejoiceth. Rouse a bit, wash your face with cold Thames water, and in half-an-hour you’ll be fresh as a daisy.”
[1834 Marryat, ‘Jacob Faithful‘ I. v.]

“Tis a long while since I have sung, but it’s a ‘poor heart that never rejoiceth.'”
[1848 (posthumous), Marryat, ‘The Little Savage‘]

There’s also an occurrence in an 1844 text in Oxford University Library, called Hampton Court, or, The Prophecy Fulfilled, so the phrase appears to date from around this time.

My personal favourite site, however, is Bartleby‘s edition of Brewer’s peerless Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which is endlessly rewarding:

Tom O’Bedlams.
A race of mendicants. The Bethlem Hospital was made to accommodate six lunatics, but in 1644 the number admitted was fortyfour, and applications were so numerous that many inmates were dismissed half-cured. These “ticket-of-leave men” used to wander about as vagrants, chanting mad songs, and dressed in fantastic dresses, to excite pity. Under cover of these harmless “innocents,” a set of sturdy rogues appeared, called Abram men, who shammed lunacy, and committed great depredations.
         “With a sigh like Tom O’Bedlam.”
         Shakespeare: King Lear, I. 2.

Frazier’s Golden Bough is pretty great too, but Brewer’s, originally published in 1870, and highly idiosyncratic in style and frequently venturing into trivia and apocrypha, seems made for the web. Old reference works are joining journals and epistolary novels – like recent web editions of Pepys and Swift – in finding new audiences, hungry for information.