Philobiblon: The distraction of news

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The distraction of news

Pierre Bayle was a man with a big idea. In his own words:

"Somewhere about the month of December 1690 I conceived the idea of compiling a critical dictionary, i.e. a dictionary which should comprise a complete inventory, as it were of the various errors perpetrated, not only by lexicographers, but by writers in general; the details of each such error to be set out under the name of the individual town or city associated with it." (p. 131.)

Like most of us, however, he was easily distracted: he implored his friends in various European capitals to send him news. "I recognise quite plainly that my insatiable craving for news is one of those inveterate diseases that set all treatment at defiance. It's dropsy; that's what it is. The more you give it, the more it wants." p.125

And what happened to his ideas?
"Bayle's brand of criticism is much too potent to be taken neat. It needed to be diluted ... Being decanted into the Dictionaire it was removed from the province of purely theological controversy and came within the reach of people in general: there were the arguments plain as plain could be, and so it became the inspirer of heterodoxy in every land, the sceptic's bible." (p.141.)

(This from P. Hazard, The European Mind 1680-1715, Penguin, 1964 (French original 1935). A fascinating little book, in the most amazingly florid language, which I can only presume reflects the original French. I don't think even in French they write like this any more, at least I hope not!)

What am I supposed to be doing at the moment? The ironing - shifting the wardrobe from summer to winter -- ahh, that explains this post. Funny how when you've got a writing deadline to meet the ironing becomes a distraction, but when there's no deadline, the trend of attention is reversed.


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