Friday, August 30, 2013

The Finitude of Spinoza

I reread most of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics this week, and I have to say that he’s grown on me steadily over the years. In my first encounter with Spinoza, during a college philosophy class when I was twenty-something, I couldn’t believe anybody had ever taken him seriously at all, much less that philosophers still pondered his ideas. Then during the first Ten-Year Plan, the reading schedule that came with my set of Britannica Great Books, I read the whole Ethics a little bit at a time, and my interest and respect increased a little with each assignment. If Mortimer Adler hadn’t told me to read the book out of order over the course of about six years, I might have enjoyed it even more and even more quickly.

In that philosophy class, we mostly just talked about Spinoza’s pantheistic metaphysic. Essentially, he says that since God is infinite substance, He must be the only substance. Any other existing thing would put a limit on God. You and I and everything we see or know about, then, only seem to be separate existences; we are all actually just “modes” of the one infinite, existing Substance. That argument seems to me to make sense only if there is some kind of metaphysical space that substances occupy the way that material objects each occupy part of physical space. An infinitely large spatial object must be the only spatial object, because it would fill all of space, and two objects (so they once told us) cannot occupy the same space. But does existence itself work that way? The only limitation I can see that my mere existence puts on God is that it means something exists that He is not: He is not the thing that is not God. And that tautology doesn’t seem like a limitation I should worry about any more than the “limitation” of God not being able to make a rock so large He can’t move it. God can’t logically be what He isn’t, so it doesn’t limit Him to say that He can’t possibly be what He isn’t.

But this year, I read through that first part of the book again, chuckled a bit, and then moved on. After all, Spinoza seems to build on the idea only to say that God is sovereign over everything that exists and happens, and then to explore the tension of freedom and determinism, an important issue in almost any metaphysic. But then I ran into another snag: I couldn’t tell if Spinoza thinks humans have any freedom of choice or not. He says at first that we are so determined that all freedom is an illusion. We have no actual individual faculty of will, desire, or understanding. We only think we’re free because we are aware of our actions and thoughts and think that we have chosen them. In the last part of the book, though, he discusses the liberty that understanding can bring us, saying there that thinking correctly can deliver us from the determinism of the affections (joy, anger, pride, pleasure, etc.). First we have no freedom at all. Then we have the freedom to seek our freedom. What a muddle!

The farther I read, though, the more I saw the contradiction as a strength. As much as Spinoza tries to present his philosophy in a format as tightly logical as a geometry book, the human condition just can’t be boiled down to definitive theorems. Maybe I misunderstood him (at three different times in my life) when I read him say that freedom is an illusion. But if he simply flat contradicted himself from the urge to speak honestly about human life, I admire him for his humility. And after all, how much should I want to complain about a book that ends by teaching that we should repay evil actions in love?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bacon and Aristotle

The introduction to my edition of Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning says that Bacon developed a dislike for the philosophy of Aristotle during his years at Trinity College, Cambridge. So he surprised me by referring so often to Aristotle in the book and by basing some of his most interesting ideas on Aristotle’s theory of four causes.

Bacon certainly gets his digs in on his Greek predecessor here and there. In his outline of all possible subjects of knowledge, Bacon naturally comes to the field of ethics, and in this section he upbraids Aristotle for neglecting to mention anything about the effect of temperaments and affections on moral judgment. He admits that Aristotle “touched upon” the affections in the Rhetoric and in a few other scattered places, “but they were never incorporate into moral philosophy, to which they do essentially appertain.”

He also derides the classic treatment of logic for having no bearing on practical life. Bacon includes logic in his taxonomy of learning, but he relegates it to an obscure position that I classified in my outlined notes as C.3.a.ii.β.1.B, where C) stands for the general topic of philosophy, 3) for human philosophy, a) for philosophy of individual humans (as opposed to politics, for instance), ii) for knowledge of the mind (as opposed to knowledge of the body), β) for the faculties of the mind (as opposed to substance or nature of the mind), 1) for rational (as opposed to moral) functions of the mind, and B) for the judgment of rational ideas.

But Bacon appears perfectly comfortable with Aristotle’s theory of the four causes: material, efficient, formal, and final. We tend to define cause only in terms of the efficient and final causes. If I ask, “Why is the tire flat?” I’m looking for an efficient cause. Perhaps I drove over a nail, and the hole caused the flat tire. But if I ask, “Why did you go to the store?” I don’t expect my wife to answer, “Because I put myself in the car and pointed it in that direction.” I’m not asking here about the efficient cause, the actions that resulted in her motion; I’m really asking about her purpose or goal. I don’t want to know what happened before that led her to go but what she hoped would happen after getting to the store. Maybe she went to buy milk, for instance.

To explain the other causes, Aristotle uses (somewhere) an example of a table. In his theory, a cause of thing X is whatever must exist in order for X to exist. What all must exist in order for this table to exist? First, the wood it’s made of must exist. In everyday parlance, we don’t tend to think of wood causing the table’s existence, but considering cause as a necessary condition suddenly makes the existence of wood a quite obvious cause. Second, the table’s existence depends on a table maker and his act of table making: the efficient causes. Third, the table must have a plan or design: the formal cause. A carpenter randomly sawing and hammering won’t produce a table. Fourth, the table has to have a final cause, a purpose. Put a carpenter, some wood, and a blueprint in a room, and still no table will come to be if the carpenter sees no need for the table. The most obvious purpose for the table is to support lamps and vases and dinner plates. But the final cause might also include the carpenter’s need to make money or simply his desire to exercise and display his skills.

Francis Bacon makes two intriguing points out of the theory of causes. First, he posits that since science looks for material and efficient causes, it really doesn’t ever contradict faith, which is directed to formal and final causes. I don’t know that any part of that explanation is completely true, but I admire his attempt, at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, to clarify that the movement was not, as far as he and other Christians were concerned, aimed at or in danger of opposing sacred doctrine. Second, Bacon offers a generic plan for each field of study centered on the causes. Knowledge of any subject, he says, is like a four-tiered pyramid. The base of the pyramid comprises history: the pertinent elements, observed facts, and terminology. The second layer, which he terms physic, examines the material and efficient causes. On top of physic lies the metaphysic of the field, knowledge of formal and final causes. The opus Dei, that is, the ways and purposes of God regarding the subject matter, we may never know, he says, but still stands conceptually at the apex of the pyramid.

I planned at first to speculate on applications of this model to several topics. But the post has already gone on too long, so I’ll just experiment with one. Knowledge of literature might fit into the pyramidal scheme in this way. The history of literature would consist of, well, the bare facts of the history of literature, the stuff that would help you play a game of Authors. The physic of literature might delve more deeply into the lives of authors. Who was Dickens or Dante? When did they write their books? Who published them? What social or familial or financial or linguistic influences led to the composition of the work? The metaphysic gets more personal. What themes tie the work together? What did the author hope to accomplish artistically? How does the plot work? How do I, the reader, interpret the characters?

And now, both the excessive length of my post and the alarm on my computer tell me to stop and leave it to the reader to think out more examples.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bacon for Lunch

It happens sometimes. I get excited about a book when I don’t have a lot of time to blog, and then 20%, 40%, or 80% of the way through, I finally get some spare time only to find my head full of more ideas than I can possibly write about before forgetting them all. In the previous post, I wrote some thoughts about a book on the Shakespeare authorship question. I finished the section on Francis Bacon in that book and then remembered that I had Francis Bacon on my reading list for this year. So I jumped ahead a bit to start reading The Advancement of Learning, and now I find my lunch “hour” growing and growing. It’s been so good that when I started this paragraph, I really didn’t know how to select what the rest of the post would concentrate on. So I’ll cheat and not concentrate at all. Instead, here are three disconnected details that really made me happy.

1. In the 1990s, American education suffered the Critical Thinking Movement, an initiative seeking to replace memorization of facts with higher-level cognitive skills such as judgment and synthesis. My critical thinking on the subject, though, tells me that without facts with which to work, one has nothing to judge and synthesize. We mustn’t replace memorization with critical thinking; one leads to the other – or should. Bacon saw the same problem in his time and denounced educational systems that jumped too quickly to logic and rhetoric, the arts of “setting forth and disposing matter.” But, he points out, minds that have no matter have nothing to think about or to express. Beginning with judgment and expression of matter without having acquired any matter to judge or express, Bacon says, is like painting the wind.

I couldn’t help thinking here of Dorothy Sayers’s article called “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Employing the same terms Bacon used, terms from the medieval Trivium, Sayers cites the importance of mastering grammar before proceeding to logic and rhetoric. She defines grammar broadly as the study of the basic facts of each field. Teach children the alphabet, she says, the multiplication table, periods of history, names of animals, capitals of countries, poems, color theory, and key signatures while you can. They can and will argue with you about them and express themselves about them readily enough when they become teenagers.

2. In book II of The Advancement of Learning, Bacon divides up all possible fields of study systematically and tries to give advice on how best to proceed in each area. He begins by making three large classifications according to what he sees as the three “parts of man’s understanding.” History, he says, has reference to the memory, the arts to imagination, and philosophy to reason. History and philosophy sound to us like particular subjects that a typical college student might take a class or two in. But as Bacon defines it, history is as broad as Dorothy Sayers’s grammar. In addition to chronicles of events, it includes taxonomy of plants and animals and minerals and other natural phenomena as well as the mechanical and productive arts. And philosophy includes mathematics, natural sciences, logic, linguistics, metaphysics, and – of course! – music theory.

Now a person can memorize, imagine, and reason about all these topics. But I enjoyed contemplating the basic nature of the division, and Bacon convinced me with his correspondences. Our mind acquires and stores ideas (memory), manipulates and judges ideas (reason), and creates new ideas (imagination). And subject matter generally seems to fall into one of the three categories: concrete things and events that we observe in the world, abstract things that we discover only through thought, and new things that we design and create. The same division could be made on the terms of time: past (memory, history), present (philosophy, reason) and future (imagination, the arts). Or we could call the Trivium into service again, since Bacon’s history corresponds to Sayers’s grammar, logic easily expands to incorporate all that Bacon classes in philosophy, and rhetoric and expression clearly go with imagination and the arts.

3. Bacon foresees and almost prophetically responds to several issues that play a major part in the course of philosophy after his time. First, just when philosophers begin to divide themselves into rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, etc.) and empiricists (Hobbes, Locke, etc.), Bacon calmly and, as I see it, correctly informs us that both “the notions of the mind and the reports of the senses” provide springs of knowledge. Then, with a short, simple argument he tries to forestall the skepticism that the empiricists would bog down in over the course of the next century or so: the senses may be untrustworthy to a degree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t verify and correct their “reports” with careful measurement and reason. After all, Bacon argues by analogy, the inability of the unaided human hand to draw an accurate circle doesn’t mean we can’t use a compass to achieve that goal. The inaccuracy of the senses isn’t the true source of uncertainty, anyway, he says. All of our knowledge is in the form of arguments made up of propositions consisting of words, and words only betoken the “popular notions of things.” Here Bacon’s observation links way back to the confusion of language at Babel and forward several centuries to the linguistics of Saussure and Derrida.

If I could work the Trivium into that third topic, this post would have a neat theme running through it like warp through woof. (Or maybe it’s woof through warp. I can never remember.) But I can’t work it in, so I’ll have to leave today’s post as three mostly random observations about the book that has kept my mind so animated during lunch the last few days.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?

After watching an interesting but slightly confusing movie called Anonymous, I started reading a book on a topic I’ve wanted to know more about for a long time: the authorship of Shakespeare. John Michell’s Who Wrote Shakespeare? takes a neutral approach, tracing the history of the question and laying out the arguments for each of the candidates. Since most of the negative arguments have elements of rationality while most of the positive arguments smack of the kind of theory that might come out of a shed covered with paper and criss-crossed with a hundred taut strands of red yarn, Michell almost has me convinced that no one could have written the famous plays and poems. And yet there they are, and my only other option – the infinite number of monkeys with their infinite number of typewriters – has yet to be found. So I suppose some human or humans did actually write them.

In a nutshell, the case against the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon rests on the seeming unlikelihood that a man from a country town with a country school, a man whose father and daughter were illiterate, could have written the most elegant, complex, moving, creative, beautiful expressions in the history of the English language – perhaps of any language. To expand just a bit, anti-Stratfordians ask how the country rube, even going to London for a few years to act on stage, could have known about court life, hunting, falconry, mythology, music, seamanship, the law, horticulture, and fifty other esoteric subjects. Several answers come to mind. (1) He read about all these topics in books and, with his inarguably brilliant mind, became fluent with their terms and ideas. (2) Some of these topics – hunting, law, and horticulture, for instance – don’t seem surprising at all for a landowner from a rural town. (3) Brilliant minds can come from small towns. (4) Brilliant minds generally find a way to succeed in spite of their schooling.

But I also wonder just how knowledgeable Shakespeare actually was on all these topics. I can only speak with any certainty about music, and there he uses enough vocabulary to show that he had met with music theory, but doesn’t really say enough to be either accurate or inaccurate. Mercutio, for instance, uses musical terminology when complaining that Tybalt fights tepidly: “He fights as you sing pricksong – keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom!” I can’t tell from this whether Shakespeare could be called an expert in music, whether, for instance, he could have taught a beginning class competently. But I have no doubt he read a book and picked up terminology that satisfied his interest in “words, words, words.” After all, did he really need to know what pricksong was in order to see the potential for a ribald pun in the term? “Time, distance, and proportion” could represent a faulty memory of the trio of metrical terms from Renaissance music theory: mode, time, and prolation. But even if that’s true, I don’t know if I should ascribe the mistake to Shakespeare or to Mercutio. Maybe Shakespeare knew what he was talking about, but he certainly didn’t prove it. How many of the Bard’s allusions to other subjects sound like expert knowledge to me without truly indicating any more mastery than Mercutio does of music?

Then, too, I also wonder, after all the questions of how a laborer’s son could have depicted royalty so faithfully, how the Earl of Oxford or Sir Francis Bacon or any of the other aristocrats put forth as the “true” author could have depicted lower-class patter so well. Baconians ask: How did the man from Stratford know how to write the lines of Henry VIII? But I haven’t yet read that anyone asks the Baconians: How did the Lord Chancellor of England know how to write the lines of Mistress Quickly?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Three Years Ago

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been writing this blog for three years now, but it’s true. Three hundred forty-seven posts have preceded this one. I’ve reached twenty thousand views and average over eight hundred a month. The blog keeps me accountable for keeping up with my plan and focuses my thinking: I definitely get more out of what I read knowing that I’ll report my thoughts to strangers around the world. (17% of the hits come from Russia.)

Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year:
The Dramatic Death of Julius Caesar
On the Border of Love
Re: My Hackles
Charles Williams See Reality, Part I
Charles Williams See Reality, Part II
Charles Williams See Reality, Part III
Monarchs and Memories
The Beauty of Guilt
Shelley's "A Summer Evening Churchyard"
The Probability of Peirce
Who Talks Like Shakespeare?
I posted similar lists in August of 2011 and August of 2012. I don’t think I quite matched the quality of some of those earlier pieces, but I’m still very happy with these. I’m grateful for my readers, and I’ll try to stick with the blog and with you for another three years. May all the books we read in that time be great!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Discovery

I’ve made a discovery. My discovery doesn’t have anything like the weight of the benzene circle or the Rosetta Stone’s hieroglyphics. I can’t even claim a victory on the order of Michael Ward’s for uncovering the secret organization to The Chronicles of Narnia. But my discovery does have something to do with C. S. Lewis, specifically with his “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” trilemma.

In book II, chapter 3 of Mere Christianity, Lewis offers one version of the argument:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
The reasoning actually represents a specific case of a more general argument. Anyone making any claim either (A) speaks the truth or (B) doesn’t. If the claim is not true, either (B1) the speaker knows it is not true, or (B2) he doesn’t. Three possibilities. When the claim is trivial – say someone claims to have enough money in her purse to buy lunch – B1 constitutes mild dissembling and B2 represents a sincere mistake in judgment. When the claim, though, declares the speaker’s equality with God, scenario B1 involves a very bad lie indeed, and scenario B2 changes from the statement of a sincerely mistaken person to the ravings of a lunatic. (The claim of equality with God also makes totally moot a trivial but logical fourth possibility: that the speaker tells the truth but doesn’t really know it. Surely God knows that He is God.) In the case of Jesus, the exemplary nature of his moral teaching and life rule out B1 (Liar) and B2 (Lunatic) and leave us only A: He is Lord.

The argument possesses great strength and has influenced Charles Colson, Ronald Reagan, and Bono. But it isn’t airtight. As Peter Kreeft points out (somewhere), a fourth option that isn’t moot exists: Jesus as Legend. The Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument doesn’t deal with the issue of whether Jesus actually said the things recorded in the first five books of the New Testament. I’ve wondered, too, if the meta-argument doesn’t need to include the possibility of Jesus as Lyric Poet. (It’s two words, I know, but it’s the best I can do while still starting with an L.) Maybe Jesus spoke figuratively, delivering a truth, but one that didn’t correspond literally with the meaning on the surface of the words. In the words of Poet Jack Gilbert:
Poetry is a kind of lying,
necessarily. To profit the poet
or beauty. But also in
that truth may be told only so.
Of course, I have reasons not to pick either Door No. 4 or Door No. 5. I have reasons to believe the words of the New Testament; if it says that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and “Before Abraham was, I am,” then I believe that Jesus said these things. And I can’t see Jesus accepting the tortures of his trial and execution if He had meant his words only poetically. But still, the argument seems a pentalemma at least.

Prof. Lewis’s version, though, involves only three options, and I believe I’ve discovered an important source. Wikipedia reports a number of nineteenth-century expositions of the trilemma, and the author of Mere Christianity may well have known about and read all of them. But I’ve found an interesting footnote in a book I’m sure Lewis read that may well have served as the fillip (two chances to use that word in one week!) to Lewis’s thinking about this important exercise of apologetics. In chapter XI of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon says in footnote 63:
Apollonius of Tyana was born about the same time as that of Jesus Christ. His life (that of the former) is related in so fabulous a manner by his disciples, that we are at a loss to discover whether he was a sage, an imposter, or a fanatic.
Gibbon mentions Jesus Christ ostensibly only to establish an historical timeframe. Then he clarifies, with tongue in cheek I think, that the rest of the footnote has nothing to do with Jesus. But surely he suggests that it does; if Jesus’ disciples had not also recorded his life in a “fabulous” manner, Gibbon wouldn’t have needed to clarify. Neither would he have needed a clarification had he simply dated the birth of Apollonius by a numbered year. No, Gibbon sees the connection, and in the not-so-hidden parallel, he acknowledges three possible ways to view the central Character of the Gospels. Those three ways are almost exactly those of Lewis’s Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument. “Imposter” lines up neatly with “Liar,” “Fanatic” with “Lunatic.” But again, the specific nature of Jesus’ claims about Himself sharpens the horns of the trilemma: a Man saying truthfully, “No one comes to the Father but by Me,” is no mere sage.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

More Lessons from Gibbon

A couple of posts back, I praised Edward Gibbon for interspersing his account of emperors and legions with lessons: general patterns that he observes, interpretations of events based on his knowledge of human nature, and even moral lessons. The reader’s goal should be not simply to learn history but to learn from history, and Gibbon does his best to get his readers started on that project.

In the second chapter of The Decline and Fall he offers an observation on economics. “It might,” he begins, “perhaps be more conducive to the virtue, as well as happiness, of mankind, if all possessed the necessities, and none of the superfluities, of life. But in the present imperfect condition of society, luxury, though it may proceed from vice or folly, seems to be the only means that can correct the unequal distribution of property.” Property owners want to improve the pleasantries of their lives with the products of mechanics and artisans, so mechanics and artisans get money. And the denarii that flow to the city of Rome as tax from the provinces flow back again in payment for their manufactures. Any Economics 101 class covers the circulation of wealth, but how many freshman textbooks observe that mankind might be happier if everyone had what they needed and no more?

In chapter III, again looking out for the greater happiness of our race, Gibbon draws another distinction between the ideal and the actual. The clergy, he says, might be expected to stand up for the rights of the people against a tyrant. But in actuality, they tend to side with the king. Therefore, “a martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.” (He almost said “a well regulated militia.”)

My favorite among the lessons on life comes in the fifth chapter:
The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their order, and their security, are the best and only foundations of his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virtue, prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the same rule of conduct.
Substitute “director” or “dean” for “monarch,” and I’ve said the same thing many times. Okay, my lamentation has gone, so the person I work for is self-centered and self-serving. Why does he have to treat us so poorly? Our free, productive activity, our “order and security,” offer the surest way for him to keep making two to three times as much as the rest of us. He doesn’t even have to be good: if he were only smart, he’d treat us better. Please take all the credit for what I do! Of course, you’ll have to understand what I do and appreciate its value in order to brag about it. And then you’ll have to make sure I have the time and resources to do it well. But after that, please, by all means, take all the credit and enjoy that corner office suite for many years to come!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Vocabulary from Casterbridge

Over the last few weeks, my wife and I and our friends the Fixes have been watching a course on the English language from the Teaching Company. I highly recommend this DVD series. The professor, Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan, explains her interesting material in a clear and entertaining manner, and we all look forward to the chance to watch the next couple of lessons. So far we’ve heard about prescriptive and descriptive rules, the history of dictionaries, how meanings change over time, word borrowings, the creation of new words, who decides what is and isn’t a word, and problems of pronunciation. Did you know that our era of American history is witness to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift?

Part of the fascination of this subject comes from its seeming familiarity. Anyone reading this blog post uses English every day, probably without having to think about it much. But then you learn that the word clue originally meant a ball of yarn, or that we tend to pronounce a ‘p’ before the last letter of dreamt, and you start to wonder how well you know the language after all. One mark of knowledge of a language is the number of words one knows. But it turns out that even something as conceptually simple as counting becomes quite tricky in practice. Do run and runs count as two words? How about ran? Running? Runny? Does the person who knows the meanings of run, down, and run-down know two words or three? But even if I can’t put a definitive number on the size of my vocabulary, one thing I know, thanks to Prof. Curzan, is that my active vocabulary is smaller than my passive vocabulary. In other words, I recognize and understand a lot more words than I use.

I ended up disappointed in The Mayor of Casterbridge, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone to root for. The narrative makes no judgments on actions, so what I would call right actions appear just as much the product of momentary whimsy as the evil or unwise actions. People fall in love, redirect their affections, become widowed, remarry, sell their spouses, run away from spouses, and let spouses think they’re dead with little drama. Sometimes these events occur with hardly a mention. In the middle of the book, Elizabeth-Jane falls for Daniel and suffers disappointment when, after giving her some promising attention, he marries Lucetta instead. But Lucetta dies, and a few pages later, Daniel and Elizabeth-Jane are friends again. Another quick time shift to a year later, and they’re married. No discussion, no apologies, no doubts about Daniel’s commitment.

But Hardy’s language has a rich poetic texture, and I reveled in the vocabulary as I finished MoC. Determined now to transfer some of my passive vocabulary into my active vocabulary, I paid special attention to words that I knew but had perhaps never used myself: words like maelstrom, abjure, and discomfiture. The next time I have anything to say about something related to Canada, I’m going to call it hyperborean. Rather than calling a circumstance promising, I’ll try next time to refer to it as propitious. Developing new vocabulary, though, isn’t just a matter of using unusual synonyms; some words stand for complex situations that I might not mention (or even notice!) without knowledge of the word. For instance, an invidious plan or statement or policy or action isn’t just really bad. It provokes displeasure, disapproval, or envy in others. Other candidates for my active vocabulary include inveterate, engender, dissipate, disquietude, and fillip. Okay, I didn’t know the last one at all, so it’s shooting straight to the majors without any time in the passive-vocabulary league. Watching the course was just the fillip I needed.

I can’t close this post on vocabulary from The Mayor of Casterbridge without pointing out two special words appearing closely together within one paragraph in chapter 20. At this point in the story, Elizabeth-Jane has a vocabulary project of her own: to quit using rural words in order to sound more educated. So she purposes to stop saying dumbledore for bumblebee and to say she has suffered from indigestion rather than that she was hag-rid. Now we know where J. K. Rowling got some of her vocabulary!