Tuesday, September 18, 2012

She Also Knew Her Horace

Herewith another quote—with a nod to a fellow blogger—from Angela Thirkell’s 1961 novel, Three Score and Ten.

    “Only an old Roman poet,” said Lord Stoke. “And now I come to think of it, it isn’t particularly applicable [the quote he just made]. Quotations mostly aren’t. My dear mother used to keep a book of quotations, one for every day in the year. A biggish book it was with violets or something sticking up on the cover.”
     Mrs. Morland said Perhaps embossed.
     “I daresay, I daresay,” said Lord Stoke. “Words are queer things. My mother had north-country blood and she used to put two pieces of thin bread and butter together with hundreds and thousands between them and called it Matrimony. I daresay there aren’t any hundreds and thousands now,” but Mrs. Morland indignantly opposed, saying that the children at the village school bought them regularly.
     “Not what they were in My young days,” said Lord Stoke, determined to be a laudator temporis acti.

So whence comes that phrase? It comes from Horace, Ars Poetica, line 173, and here it is in Latin and then in three different translations into English.

Multa senem circumueniunt incommoda, uel quod
quaerit et inuentis miser abstinet ac timet uti,         
uel quod res omnis timide gelideque ministrat,
dilator, spe longus, iners auidusque futuri,
difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti
se puero, castigator censorque minorum.
     [Horace, Ars Poetica]

Many troubles surround the aged man, because he
Seeks savings, yet sadly won’t touch them, fears their use,
And because in all he does he’s cold and timid,
Dilatory, short on hope, sluggish, greedy for life,
Surly, a moaner, given to praising the years when
He was a boy, chiding and criticising the young.
     [Translated by A.S. Kline (link)]

Many troubles assail an old man, whether because he seeks gain, and then wretchedly abstains from what he possesses and is afraid to use it, or because he attends to all his affairs feebly and timidly; a procrastinator, he is apathetic in his hopes and expectations, sluggish and fearful of the future, obstinate, always complaining; he devotes himself to praising times past, when he was a boy, and to being the castigator and moral censor of the young.
     [Translated by Leon Golden (link)]

A thousand ills the aged world surround,
Anxious in search of wealth, and when ‘tis found,
Fearful to use what they with fear possess,
While doubt and dread their faculties depress. 
          Fond of delay, they trust in hope no more,
Listless, and fearful of th’ approaching hour;
Morose, complaining, and with tedious praise
Telling the manners of their youthful days;
Severe to censure; earnest to advise,
And with old saws the present age chastise.
     [Translated by someone labeled Francis (link)]

The word “curmudgeon” does not appear above, but comes to mind—not least when we contemplate that old charmer, Thirkell’s Lord Stoke.


  1. Funny, as I read this post the Joan Baez song, "Pity the Poor Immigrant" came to my mind. Perhaps, in a way, aging may leave us feeling a bit like a person in a foreign land.

  2. Which may be because we're getting ever closer to "home."


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