Damien Broderick (
Mon, 06 Dec 1999 23:33:24 -0800

At 12:11 AM 6/12/99 -0500, Bob Owen wrote in pain and indignation:

>> > I saw Eternity the other night,
>> > Like a great ring of pure and endless light

>> I always crack up when I see that, because the first line is almost a
>> perfect example of the literary crime of bathos.

>Your comment, Damien, is neither tasteful, nor literate, nor amusing;

Oh well.

>Allow me to tell you something about Henry Vaughan [1622-1695].

No need. Useful primer for the list, though (as Robert Bradbury mentioned).

>Finally, "bathos" is hardly a "crime"; it is a perfectly legitimate literary

I'm using it in the standard current way, as defined in my Oxford dictionary (I don't know what Webster's says):

bathos - Fall from sublime to commonplace; anticlimax; performance absurdly unequal to occasion.

The poet's `the other night' might well have lacked its present idiomatic off-hand throw-away coloring when he wrote it, but we read it now and it's risible. A pity, but there it is.

>simply bewildered by your appearance here as the
>philistine George Babbitt, a crass and prosaic bourgeois who was guided
>entirely by materialistic rather than artistic or intellectual values.

No, you're missing my point by 180 degrees; it was precisely that `artistic or intellectual values' are largely contextual, and the current demotic overlay on Vaughan's words deflates them preposterously.

I made the same kind of point about a Wordsworth poem (`Margaret' or `Ruth', my footnoting was terrible), when I was an undergraduate more than 30 years ago, to my tutor's fury.

< The `Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold' is a dire amalgam of the Hero and the Villain of the worst Victorian melodrama. He is the horrid and pretentious incarnation of the hopes and dreams of blushing, fainting and corsetted fan-wielding Colonels' daughters:

	He was a lovely Youth! I guess
	The panther in the wilderness
	Was not so fair as he;
	And, when he chose to sport and play,
	No dolphin ever was so gay
	Upon the tropic sea. >

My tutor thought it relevant to object that Wordsworth was pre-Victoria. Sigh. And I hope nobody thought I was sniggering at `gay' = `homosexual' - that usage was not then known outside the theatre.

Damien Babbitt