Monday, March 20, 2006

occasion turneth a bald noddle

A while ago I pointed to Paul Ford's essay on distraction and now I've firm evidence that though the Web be a time sink, it's one with a venerable heritage.

I've been looking up the names of people, places, and events in Lady Shelburne's Diary. This in itself is an excellent distraction, but it's not my topic.

Occasionally I'll try Google Scholar or Google Book Search as sources when the Web proper yields naught and I lately tried them to find what I could about Thomas Coulinan Phœnix (or Phoenix) and was given a tiny snippet of text from a page in Notes and Queries, no series, volume, year, or page number given. (The Google Book Search project leaves a lot to be desired with respect to this publication.) It took little time to track down the Wikipedia entry for the periodical which told me that it's a journal which has been published since 1859. Wikipedia names three online sources: (1) Internet Library of Early Journals which is frustrating because poorly organized, having a bad search interface, and ultimately inaccessible because the server holding its images is down, or down at the moment anyway, (2) Oxford University Press (publisher of the journal) which has an excellent search interface but which charges money to view pages, and (3) Project Gutenberg, which is redoing the ILEJ in a better interface, with slightly better searching, and full accessiblity to OCR'ed pages. {Note: A Web search also turned up this useful page: The Online Books Page SERIAL ARCHIVE LISTINGS for Notes and Queries.} Neither ILEJ nor Gutenberg has yet gotten to the piece on Thomas Coulinan Phœnix (or Phoenix) however. They are working chronologically. The Oxford Press search shows that it appeared on page 186 in series 5, vol. VII, 1877, and the digitization projects are a decade or more behind.

Before I tracked down the online versions, I retrieved a copy from the collections of the library where I work. I didn't then know which volume to look in so I asked for the first. It, of course, didn't have anything about Thomas Coulinan Phœnix (or Phoenix), but -- here's the distraction -- Notes and Queries turns out to be a little like a blog and a lot like a Usenet Newsgroup or listserv. I opened it to a page which contained a note on Francis Bacon's essay, On Delays, wherein Bacon quotes a "common verse" to this effect:—"Occasion turneth a bald noddle after she hath presented her locks in front, and no hold taken."

That's my distraction.

And here is the whole brief essay:
Sir Francis Bacon
Essays (1625)
Essay 21
Of Delays
by Francis Bacon

Fortune is like the market; where many times if you can stay a little, the price will fall. Again, it is sometimes like Sibylla's offer; which at first, offereth the commodity at full, then consumeth part and part, and still holdeth up the price. For occasion (as it is in the common verse) turneth a bald noddle, after she hath presented her locks in front, and no hold taken or at least turneth the handle of the bottle, first to be received, and after the belly, which is hard to clasp. There is surely no greater wisdom, than well to time the beginnings, and onsets, of things. Dangers are no more light, if they once seem light; and more dangers have deceived men, than forced them. Nay, it were better, to meet some dangers half way, though they come nothing near, than to keep too long a watch upon their approaches; for if a man watch too long, it is odds he will fall asleep. On the other side, to be deceived with too long shadows (as some have been, when the moon was low, and shone on their enemies' back), and so to shoot off before the time; or to teach dangers to come on, by over early buckling towards them; is another extreme. The ripeness, or unripeness, of the occasion (as we said) must ever be well weighed; and generally it is good, to commit the beginnings of an great actions to Argus, with his hundred eyes, and the ends to Briareus, with his hundred hands; first to watch, and then to speed. For the helmet of Pluto, which maketh the politic man go invisible, is secrecy in the counsel, and celerity in the execution. For when things are once come to the execution, there is no secrecy, comparable to celerity; like the motion of a bullet in the air, which flieth so swift, as it outruns the eye.

Here's a sample page from the issue for June 18, 1870. Note Dante G. Rossetti's mildly intemperate reply to someone's query (click to enlarge).

No comments: