December 30, 2009

The Victorian Tongue

We may live without poetry, music, and art:
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books,—what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope,—what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love,—what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?

—Owen Meredith, Lucile (1860)

Owen Meredith was the pen name of Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton; as Viceroy of India, Lytton counted on his résumé the Great Indian Famine of the late 1870s as well as the Pyrrhically expensive Second Anglo-Afghan War, the latter decisively contributing to the 1880 downfall of Disraeli's second (and final) premiership. For his efforts, Lytton was created 1st Earl of Lytton. "Genius does what it must," Lytton/Meredith famously wrote, "talent does what it can."

4 comments:

Daniel Wolf said...

Those lines, of course, will never have the well-earned immortality that has come to the opening of the novel Paul Clifford, by your Bulwer-Lytton's father, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

PWS said...

Heya Matthew, what's your e-mail? I have a query.

Matthew said...

PWS: Bottom of the sidebar on the front page—if I put it here, spam ahoy!

Daniel: I dipped into a couple of the elder Bulwer-Lytton's novels a while back (The Last Days of Pompeii is still the best of a wildly inconsistent lot), but I just had occasion to dip into his non-fiction England and the English. Surprisingly awesome! One of these days, I'll tackle The Coming Race, which supposedly inspired secret cabals that conspiracy theorists have connected the Nazis to—look up "Vril Society," named after the novel's miracle elixir (which also inspired the name of Bovril in the UK).

Michael said...

Let us not forget the elder Bulwer-Lytton's novel "Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes", turned into an opera by Richard Wagner!