A Curious Miscellany of Items Philosophical, Historical, and Literary

Manus haec inimica tyrannis.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Self-Sorting of America

A basket of deplorables.
When the result of the 2016 US presidential election became clear, most of my liberal friends — which essentially means most of my friends — were shocked. They were truly convinced that victory would be a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. With a couple of exceptions, they never for a moment imagined that there were enough people who would vote for Trump to propel him to the presidency, since they never socialized with any. Other than in a few pockets of ignorance and/or irrational disaffection, they held fast to the delusion that “progressive” good would prevail over retrograde evil. Their delusion was enabled by almost all of the mainstream media, including The New York Times and CNN (or the “Clinton News Network”, as a libertarian friend of mine likes to call it).

Yes, I say delusion advisedly. I too did not predict a Trump win, though I was less sanguine about the notion that liberalism in America was anywhere near as predominant as my friends seemed to believe. The real America is far different from my liberal friends’ imaginings, especially my academic liberal friends. These latter suffer from an extreme form of the delusion, because they are even less likely than regular liberals to socialize with conservatives.

In a post back in April 2014, I noted a certain tendency, though specifically with reference to the Canadian political context:

“Despite signs that conservatism, broadly speaking, and in one form or other, is a majority view in this country, I would contend that liberals (again, speaking broadly and in one form or another) tend to view themselves as forming a majority, while conservatives tend to view themselves as a minority, the exact reverse of what I believe is more likely the case. I don’t have a completely plausible explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps more liberals live in cities than in rural areas, and since people generally hang out with their own kind, it’s easier for liberals to hang out with each other and form the belief that they are the majority, whereas conservatives are more spread out geographically, and perhaps feel more isolated? This would require empirical verification.”

I further noted some consequences of this illusion:

“On the liberal side, it results in a certain complacency, with liberals mistakenly tending to assume that their political view on a given issue is the consensus one. When reality rudely intervenes, they are shocked, surprised, and can only conclude that dark, secret forces are at work to thwart the will of the people. Or if they are brought to perceive that perhaps the people truly have spoken, then they conclude that said people must be vicious, benighted, or ill-informed puppets being manipulated by a few plutocrats. For their part, conservatives are led by this illusion of minority status into a sort of siege mentality, believing that an ever-growing legion of decadents and evildoers is massing on the frontier, waiting for the opportunity to stage the coup that will bring some Marxist or atheistic despot to power. When they win political battles, as they do more often than not, they too are surprised, but they believe it to be an aberration in the overall tendency towards creeping liberalism. Thus they are neither contented nor gracious in victory. And because they see themselves as so utterly disadvantaged, I would contend that they are more likely than liberals to view underhanded means as justified in the political struggle.”

That liberal complacency was clearly on display in the lead-up to the US election. The Onion made this clear when, following the election, it published a satirical article headlined “Area Liberal No Longer Recognizes Fanciful, Wildly Inaccurate Mental Picture of Country He Lives In”. Like the man in that Onion article, most of my liberal friends, I contend, live in a private nation of their own imagining.

In that 2014 post of mine, I also noted some benefits that might come from both conservatives and liberals jettisoning their delusive beliefs about their relative numerical strength. I wrote that “liberals, with a correct view of their situation, might lose their infuriating tendency to speak on issues in the ‘royal we’ where it is not necessarily warranted — as in ‘We all know that the death penalty is wrong’”, and that it might eliminate “much of their complacency about their views and make them a more effective political force than they currently are”. Conservatives, on the other hand, in realizing that they are not as numerically beleaguered as they had believed, “might lose their unpleasant siege mentality and paranoia, which is a huge turnoff to many people who might otherwise be disposed to support at least some of their views.”

I think the latter realization is slowly starting to dawn on conservatives, whether for the better remains to be seen. The election results seem to have surprised many conservatives just as much as they did liberals. Let us hope conservatives are gracious in victory, though I’m not seeing it so far.

What about my liberal friends? Have they been shaken from their delusions into a realization that they might not be as numerous as they thought? Again, I’m not seeing it so far, but it’s still early days and the emotions are still raw. Below, I am going to present a series of maps to hopefully ease some of them into the process, to convince them that they are not necessarily the moral majority they like to think they are.

The maps are taken from a post-election New York Times piece. Or they may have come from The Atlantic. In any case, I can’t seem to find the article now. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the maps come from a legitimate source, and not from Breitbart or Stormfront. What they show are districts in successive presidential elections which voted either landslide Democrat (blue), landslide Republican (red), or no landslide (grey):

As you can see, there is a lot more red on the map now than there was in, say, 1992 or 1996, and there is somewhat less blue. This was the main message of the article from which these maps were drawn: Republican support has been deepening and spreading. That is what I want my liberal friends to understand, if for no other reason than so they can arm themselves with this knowledge and stop their complacent slide into irrelevance.

But there are a couple of other messages that these maps are trying to tell us. First, notice that the biggest loser on these maps over time has not been red or blue; it has been grey. Simply put, the population of the United States seems to be geographically self-segregating along party lines. There are more areas where the voting is not close. This cannot possibly be healthy. If the two sides do not start acknowledging each other’s basic humanity, there will no longer be a United States of America as such. The cracks are already appearing. Such a future is not a good one, for either red or blue Americans.

Second, at least to my mind, these maps belie the cherished liberal belief that the forces of racism took this election. If that were the case, how did Barack Obama manage to temporarily reverse the growing tide of red? Of course there have always been racists out there, plenty of them. But I doubt very much that any of them were voting Democratic in the elections that produced these maps. In order for these maps to be consistent with the racism narrative, you’d have to convince me that that many Americans across the nation suddenly became hard core racists since 2012. It’s just too implausible.

I have one more thing to say about these maps. A lot of the liberal friends I know have been expressing sentiments to the effect that all those red areas can go screw themselves. After all, Democrats won more of the popular vote in this election (as many as 2 million more votes at last count), so the democratic majority was in that sense “cheated”. In other words, this line of thought says, democracy ought to “trump” (pardon the pun) geography.

This is a dangerous way of thinking, and here’s why. The maps above show that the United States is increasingly “two nations warring within the bosom of a single state,” to use Lord Durham’s words. Now, let us suppose that demographically, one of those warring nations can be expected always to outnumber the other, as Blue Nation currently outnumbers Red Nation. Let us further imagine that there has been some kind of electoral “reform” in America, such that the electoral college has been abolished and presidents are simply elected by a plurality of the popular vote, period. The predictable result would of course be an America dominated by Blue Nation, indefinitely. If you think a two-party state is bad, try a one-party state.

What do we call it when one nation is dominated politically and subjected to the will of another nation? I think “empire” is the commonly accepted term. In such a situation, how much loyalty and obedience can be expected from the subject people? Very little. And how much political legitimacy can the dominators claim in the eyes of the dominated under such a system? Again, very little.

The American Founders were wise enough to realize that their new nation had little chance of holding together under a unicameral system of purely democratic representation. They knew that eventually a coalition of like-minded populous states could dominate the smaller ones and that the smaller ones would not stand for it. So they counterbalanced the democratic element by instituting a Senate that apportioned an equal number of representatives to each state regardless of population. Democracy is desirable, but it is not everything.

We in Canada are perhaps more aware of this than our American cousins, since Lord Durham’s words were intended to describe us. Canada is first and foremost a confederation of regions. Our nation is an ongoing experiment in holding together against the centrifugal forces of “regionalism”, an ongoing experiment in making compromises that seem on their surface to violate the democratic will of the majority. If, for example, Quebec seems to get a “special treatment” sometimes, it is because our confederation will not hold together without them. And they ultimately stay because their national identity is more secure in the long run within the confederation than outwith it.

Similarly, to Americans living in the Blue islands on the electoral map who ask why they should continue to tolerate an “unfair” system of representation that “discounts” their votes, I can only repeat the slogan of a certain Democratic candidate for president: Americans are “Stronger Together”. Such is the price of living in a federal republic, and much better than the alternative. In the meantime, rather than clamoring for recounts, and reforming the electoral system or the constitution to make them more “democratic”, it might be more constructive (or rather, less destructive) to work on ways of reversing the process of self-segregation reflected in the maps above. Such a process will necessarily involve listening and trying to understand each other.

Blue America, meet Red America. Red, meet Blue. Now start talking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

An Elegy for "Patient Zero"

This photo haunts me. I first saw it when I was a young man of around 15. It was in the Toronto Star, and the year must have been either 1987 or 1988, because it was not long after the publication of Randy Shilts’ mostly excellent book As the Band Played On (1987). The man pictured is Gaetan Dugas, the Air Canada flight attendant who became infamous as “Patient Zero” after Shilts’ book introduced him to the world. Dugas was an early AIDS patient at the centre of a study by the Centres for Disease Control published in 1984, which came to be known as the “cluster study”. CDC researchers interviewed a number of those early AIDS patients and traced their sexual histories. It was found that 40 of these patients could be linked, directly or indirectly, to one case — Dugas. In the original study, all the patients were assigned a number within their geographical area. Dugas was labelled as patient “O” (the letter, not the number), standing for “Outside the area”. Through some miscommunication in the media, he came to be called “Patient 0” (the number). This was unfortunate, as it gave the misleading impression that he was somehow the first AIDS patient (he was not). It should also be noted that the cluster study was not intended to figure out who had the disease first. It was intended to help ascertain whether or not the new disease was sexually communicable (it was).
The cluster study

In any case, it came to be popularly believed that Patient Zero was the person “responsible” for bringing AIDS to the United States. The fact that Dugas happened to be a flight attendant probably helped this narrative along. It also probably helped that he was not an American — he was Canadian — and had a foreign-sounding name.

Shilts portrayed Dugas as a cold-bloodedly negligent sexual athlete who didn’t much care whether he was spreading AIDS. Shilts’ publisher went a step further: their marketing for And the Band Played On portrayed Dugas as intentionally infecting people, i.e. as murderous rather than merely negligent. Shilts never claimed that Dugas was the person who imported AIDS to the US. That was the publisher’s angle, to sell more books. Still, I don’t want to let Shilts off the hook: he inserted scenes villainizing Dugas — including internal monologue — that neither Shilts nor anyone else could possibly have been privy to, scenes that, in other words, were fiction.

A Long Time Ago, In a Decade Far, Far Away…

As I said, that photo of Gaetan Dugas haunts me. It used to haunt me because of the demonizing media coverage which made it somehow seem to me like the face of evil. I know better now. Instead, it haunts me now because it brings me back to a different time, and to the accompanying fears of that time. In the late 1980s I was just upon the threshold of the world of the sexually active and, with the possible exception of the late 1490s, there has likely never been a less auspicious time to do so. During the eighties, the very same Toronto Star that ran the above photo of Dugas also ran a dedicated space in every Saturday issue of the paper to news about the AIDS epidemic. That space was invariably accompanied by the grisly tally of new infections and AIDS deaths. In 1988 the epidemic was raging, with no end in sight. Those ever-growing weekly numbers seemed apocalyptic to me, like my generation’s very own Bill of Mortality. Doomsayers regularly warned us about the inevitable proliferation of AIDS in the heterosexual community. I can remember reading predictions about how, for example, by the year 2000 the health care system would be swamped and that something like one in every two hospital beds in the US would be occupied by an AIDS patient. This heterosexual proliferation never happened, at least not to the degree we were led to expect, and at least not in North America.

A Bill of Mortality for 1665.

I remember one person in the pages of the Toronto Star at the time who told us that these warnings were overblown, and that a widespread breakthrough into the heterosexual community was unlikely: Dr. Morton Schulman, physician, politician, and for a time Ontario’s chief coroner. It was his opinion that the threat of AIDS to the heterosexual population was purposely being overblown in order to generate funding and sympathy from mainstream society. He became Public Enemy #1 among activists. Of course, it turns out Schulman was (mostly) correct. Even so, there were extremely good reasons to fund research into AIDS regardless of whether it was primarily a heterosexual disease or not. After all, homosexuals are citizens too. In any case, I only bring it up to remind people of the somewhat paranoid and frightening atmosphere of the AIDS years, the atmosphere in which Gaetan Dugas became a media bogeyman.

(An aside: If anyone reading this can remember when the Star stopped publishing its weekly AIDS feature, I’d like to know. I stopped reading that paper around 1990. Sometime after the 1997 introduction of the AIDS “drug cocktails” I remember reading something about how San Francisco’s Bay Area Observer was celebrating the fact that it had no AIDS deaths on its obituary pages for the first time since the epidemic began. Perhaps with the AIDS threat perceived to be subsiding in the developed world the Star feature no longer warranted all that column space?)

Generationally speaking, there are two geopolitical circumstances or events that I would say were fundamental in forming the person that I am, and that probably had a disproportionate effect in forming a certain generation. One was the Cold War, with its constant threat of instant nuclear annihilation. The other was AIDS, with its threat of slow and horrifying physical annihilation. Neither of these makes the news much anymore, so I sometimes feel like I’m an old soldier mentally fighting wars that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, are long over.

(Though mark my words: sooner rather than later we’ll find that our historical business with Russia is not concluded — they know it, while we’re only gradually coming to the realization. And contrary to common belief, AIDS is not over either if you happen to live outside the developed world.)

Some New News, Some Old News

So imagine my surprise about a month ago when I came across a story accompanied by that same photo of Gaetan Dugas. And in the Toronto Star no less! For me it was a real blast from the past. The story was about a study recently published in Nature on the early history of AIDS in North America. The methodology of the study was interesting. However, to someone who is fairly well-versed in the early history of the AIDS epidemic, the results of the study demonstrated that which was already known independently of the methodology.

Let’s begin with the methodology. In a nutshell, the researchers mapped the genes of HIV viruses extracted from old blood samples. Since in some cases the material they were working with was degraded, they developed a method to fill in the missing parts of the viral samples. They then worked out how the virus had evolved and placed the versions of it in a rough timeline. This is fascinating stuff and merited the media attention

This process led them to infer that the HIV virus was circulating in the US since around 1970, well before Gaetan Dugas came on the scene, and that the strains in circulation probably were imported to North America via the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. Neither of these inferences is new. Indeed, the researchers were working with blood samples preserved from hepatitis B studies done on gay men in New York and San Francisco in 1978 and 1979. These had already been tested for HIV a long time ago, so it was no surprise that they would find HIV there. In fact, between 3.7% and 6.6% of the subjects tested were already infected with the virus back then. The study did find that the strain of the virus Dugas carried was not one of the strains in common circulation at the time, meaning that it could not be the case that Dugas was the man who was doing most of the transmitting.

So again, Dugas did not give America AIDS. And again, this was known before this study. One might note, for example, that well before the first medical reports in 1981 of what would eventually be called AIDS, there had been numerous reports of what was then variously called “junkie pneumonia” or “the dwindles” killing off IV drug users in New York in the 1970s. This was a population mostly invisible to the media at the time, so a new disease spreading there could go undetected for a long time (as it did among the homosexual community).

And, of course, there was the sad case of Robert Rayford, an African-American teenager who showed up in a hospital in St. Louis in 1969 suffering from an array of florid infections, including Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a telltale AIDS-related opportunistic infection. Tests done on Rayford’s stored blood samples in 1987 confirmed the presence of HIV. Repeat testing done years later found the same results. There were possible earlier cases than Rayford’s, for which blood samples weren’t preserved but for which convincing diagnoses could be made based on criteria in use in the early 1980s, when a blood test was not yet available.

I mentioned the misleading and sensationalist marketing and media coverage of the “Patient Zero” story from Shilts’ book. The marketing around the recent Nature study has ironically carried on the same theme. The study is described in various media reports as “exonerating” Dugas, as if he stood in need of exoneration, as if he was guilty of something. The disease was new at the time Dugas suffered from it, and in any case nobody was entirely sure whether it was spread through sexual contact — hence the whole point of the cluster study in the first place. And it’s not like Dugas could have intended to bring a new disease to the US, nor was he purposely trying to infect people. As we’ve seen, the first charge lacks a factual basis: he did not bring AIDS to the US. Regarding the second charge, of malice aforethought, he is likewise innocent, according to any real evidence (excluding Shilts’ dubious hearsay) yet presented. Perhaps he was negligent, and if so, he certainly wasn’t alone. Dugas would only stand in need of “exoneration” if his portrayal by Shilts and his publisher were true. Largely it is not. But the study would be a lot less interesting to the lay public without this villain narrative.

Ironically, in separate work, Richard McKay, a medical historian who is one of the Nature study’s co-authors, had already ably debunked this villain narrative, while reconstructing a sympathetic portrait of Dugas as a human being, with friends, family, interests and hopes that were cut short. It is well worth reading. One concern I have about Shilts' portrayal of Dugas, aside from its inaccuracy, is the questionable morality of naming "Patient Zero" in the first place. The ethical question here is twofold: 1. Was it ethical for Shilts to name the patient? and 2. Was it ethical for Shilts to be made privy to that name in the first place? Which leads to a third question, one having more to do with accountability: 3. Who, among the researchers involved in that cluster study, outed Gaetan to Shilts as "Patient Zero"? If a villain be required, we might begin our search there.

Given the Toronto Star’s early complicity in propagating the Patient Zero myth, that article last month should have come with a formal apology to Gaetan Dugas and his family and friends. At least now in my mind I no longer imagine Dugas as an evil Typhoid Mary. Instead, I imagine him as what he probably was, a very frightened young man unfairly cut down in his prime by a disease little understood at the time, a disease which no decent person would wish on their worst enemy. As I said, that photo still haunts me.


Since writing the above I went back and re-read the McKay paper to which I referred. I'm glad I did, for two reasons. First, it allows me to make a correction/clarification. I had posed a question of accountability, asking who "among the researchers involved in that cluster study, outed Gaetan to Shilts"? It turns out it was not anybody connected to the study. The researchers themselves seem to have maintained confidentiality. Shilts put two and two together based on his interviews with people in the community who were acquainted with Dugas. It is worth noting, however, that Shilts got much personal information about Dugas from interviewing his friends in Vancouver. This information was given on the understanding that Shilts would not reveal Gaetan Dugas' name an understanding which Shilts obviously violated.

The second reason I'm glad I re-read McKay's paper is that I found information about that Toronto Star article buried in an endnote. It turns out the date of the article was December 12, 1987 and consisted largely of an excerpt from And the Band Played On. To give a sense of its demonizing tone, the headline was "Patient Zero: The airline steward who carried a disease and a grudge". Even back then, this bit of character assassination prompted a critical letter to the editor on December 29, the anonymous writer of which took particular issue with Shilts' claim that Dugas represented "what every man wanted from gay life".

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Some Remarks on Pope’s “Rape of the Lock”

As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Not Christmas. Rather, Autumn, also known as college book sale season. Among my finds this year are a well-bound three-volume facsimile edition of the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible (Old Testament 1635, New Testament 1582) and Clarendon Press editions of various 17th-century Cavalier poets (Carew, Crashaw, Cleveland, Lovelace). But  the Holy Grail for this year (so far) has been finding a near-complete set of the Twickenham Edition of the poems of Alexander Pope (it's only missing the volume containing his minor poems). For those not in the know, the Twickenham Edition — published by Methuen in the UK and Yale University Press in North America — is the gold standard in Pope scholarship, excellently edited and printed, and quite difficult to get hold of. Each volume was priced at only $5, but because they were having a buy-two-get-one free sale, two of the volumes were free. So I paid $20 total. You, dear Reader, will just have to take my word for it when I tell you that I am very excited about this.

So excited am I, in fact, that within a week I had already read three of the six volumes (along with Geoffrey Tillotson’s little volume, On the Poetry of Pope). In other words, I have decided to immerse myself in Pope for awhile. I just finished with volume II, The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems. I had read The Rape of the Lock as a first-year undergraduate English major, which was a long time ago. I was perhaps too young to appreciate its artistry then. Now I rank it high amongst Pope’s works. (At the same time, a work of Pope's that I used to rank very highly, An Essay on Man, has now a much lesser share in my esteem.) The poem is a mock epic, using the loftiest of language and all the devices of the Iliad to depict a trivial event: a man cutting a lock of hair from the fair Belinda. It does not mock the epic form; rather it uses the epic form to mock the banality of 18th-century consumer society.

There are two versions of The Rape of the Lock. The first came out in 1712, followed by an expanded version in 1714. I may be singular in preferring the 1712 version. Of course, I understand what Pope was doing in introducing the divine “machinery” of sylphs and nymphs into the 1714 poem, that he had to do so in order to more closely follow (and lampoon) the received epic form. Still, it seems to me that there is more integrity in the 1712 edition, as well as an energy that seems to have been rendered more diffuse as the poem was expanded.

I have less to say about the poem itself than about the Twickenham Edition of it. Again, the Twickenham is excellently edited and printed. The introductions to each work are very long; though they are informative, they do at times border on the tedious. The copious footnote annotations are a wonder of scholarship, though, as is almost inevitable with such scholarly editing, there is a fine line between information and intrusion that is sometimes crossed. However, for any scholar truly interested in Pope, the notes are indispensable. Perhaps the highest praise that can be bestowed on the Twickenham Edition is that, despite being over 50 years old, it is still referred to as the definitive edition. The only other such editing masterpiece in this class that I can think of off the top of my head is the Latham and Matthews edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

To give a flavor of the thoroughness of the notes, here is Canto V, lines 105-106 (1714 ed.):
        Not fierce Othello in so loud a Strain
        Roar’d for the Handkerchief that caus’d his Pain.

In his footnote, editor Geoffrey Tillotson, rightly points out the allusion to Thomas Rymer, A Short View of Tragedy (1693), who had criticized Shakespeare for overemphasizing the handkerchief as a plot device in Othello: “So much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about an Handkerchief! Why was not this call’d the
Tragedy of the Handkerchief?” (p. 135). Besides citing literature that could have influenced Pope, the footnotes give much information connecting passages to details about his life and work, through his correspondence and the accounts of others such as Spence.

However, as thorough as the notes are, they occasionally miss something. I will give two such examples from The Rape of the Lock. The first is from Canto III, lines 117-118 (1714):

        Coffee, (which makes the Politician wise,
        And see thro’ all things with his half-shut Eyes)

In the footnote inserted there, Tillotson cites the Tatler and the Spectator for contemporary references to the connection between politicians and coffeehouses. Valid as this observation may be, by focusing blindly (pardon the double pun) on the coffeehouse connection, he misses the connection between politicians and their eyes, and hence to allusions to, for example, Shakespeare and Samuel Butler. See, for example, Act V, scene iv of King Lear:

        Get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician, seem
        to see the things thou dost not.

And Butler’s Hudibras (1662), III.ii.351-356:

        ‘Mong these there was a Politician,
        With more heads than a Beast in Vision,
        And more Intrigues in ev’ry one,
        Than all the Whores of Babylon:
        So politick, as if one eye
        Upon the other were a Spy;

Before moving on to the next example, there is something else notable about the above lines from Pope. If one reckons “half-shut” as two words rather than one, as I believe one ought, then the second line is technically a ten-monosyllable heroic, which Pope had declaimed against in his An Essay on Criticism (1711), lines 344-349:

        These Equal Syllables alone require
        Tho’ oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
        While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
        And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line,
        While they ring round the same unvary’d Chimes,
        With sure Returns of still expected Rhymes.

On the other hand, in a letter to William Walsh (22 October 1706), Pope allowed for the practice under certain limited conditions:  “Monosyllable Lines, unless very artfully manage, are stiff, or languishing: but may be beautiful to express Melancholy, Slowness, or Labour.” This would excuse its appearance in the example from the Essay on Criticism (“And ten low words…”), but not from The Rape of the Lock (“And see thro’ all…”).

(The editors of the first volume of the Twickenham Edition, containing the Essay on Criticism, duly note that Lord Shaftesbury had also inveighed against “Ten-Monosyllable Heroicks” in the same year as Pope’s Essay came out.)

The next example from The Rape of the Lock where Tillotson has missed something worthy of a footnote occurs in Canto I, lines 75-76 of the 1712 version, or Canto III, lines 11-12 of the 1714 version. I reproduce both versions:

        In various Talk the cheerful hours they past,
        Of, who was Bitt, or who Capotted last:

        In various Talk th’instructive hours they past,
        Who gave the Ball, or paid the Visit last:

The lines are an homage to the opening lines of Lord Rochester’s “A Ramble in St. James’s Park” (Poems on Several Occasions, Antwerpen, 1680, p. 14):

        Much Wine had past with grave discourse,
        Of who Fucks who, and who does worse;

This escaped Tillotson, which is a pity, as it gives us an interesting standpoint from which to discuss the relative merits of the two versions. It helps to discuss each of the couplet’s lines in turn. Since the second line contains more slang in the 1712 version (“bitt” = cheated at cards, “capotted” = scored all of the tricks), it preserves the sinking effect of Rochester’s use of “fuck”. In Rochester we move from “grave discourse” to fucking. There is sinking in Pope’s lines too, but in the later version the bottom to which the reader sinks in the second line is effectively raised. It is a shorter fall. As frivolous as they may be, giving balls and paying social visits are certainly more elevated than cheating at cards. As such, I wish Pope had left his second line unchanged.

If the second line contains the bottom to which the reader sinks, the first line contains the height from which he dives. In changing “cheerful hours” to “th’instructive hours” Pope has raised the height from which the whole sentiment leaps. There is also more irony in the later version, since though the conversation may be cheerful enough (1712), it is certainly not instructive (1714). The alteration also has the merit of bringing the sense much closer to Rochester’s: “grave” discourse better corresponds to “instructive” than to “cheerful”.

In short, the alteration of the first line was felicitous; that to the second was not.

Finally, one more observation on The Rape of the Lock. When the editors refer to period literature in their footnotes, it is almost always to literature that predates Pope’s. In other words, they are more interested in what may have influenced Pope than in who was influenced by him. As an editorial decision this is fair enough, and at least it prevents the notes from swelling even further. But I was struck by something I’d not thought of before. I recently read Charlotte Lennox’s novel The Female Quixote (1752) for the first time. Its heroine is a young lady named Arabella who is rendered romantically delusional by reading of too many 17th-century French romances. I though of this when I came across these lines from The Rape of the Lock, Canto II, lines 37-38 :

        But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built,
        Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.

This is much the way Arabella’s volumes are described as her father is attempting to set fire to them — they are large gilt folios. Furthermore, Pope’s dedication to the 1714 edition of The Rape of the Lock reveals that the real identity of his Belinda was Miss Arabella Fermor. As Lennox’s novel makes abundantly clear, the morality depicted in these French romances was by turns frivolous and absurd. So is the morality depicted in The Rape of the Lock.