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Books – Lesser Known But a Beauty to Behold

July 1, 2012

"thoughts from the corner"

Once again our guest blogger, Prof. Seredip, treats us to a gem that looks like disappearing from our library shelves.

When I was  undergraduate reading English in the early 1980’s, computers were as big as houses and the World Wide Web was but a twinkle in the eye of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. We used to rush off to the university library to get our research books before someone else nabbed them. Home Sociology teachers and one to one English tutors today have laptops and the internet. But does that make it intellectually and morally right to dump books, that do not have a vast readership, into the skip of oblivion?

"home sociology teacher"

A MISCELLANY

Excerpts from

Books that have been unnecessarily culled by libraries

Books that have been serendipitously encountered

Books that need to be saved for browsers

MANX GODWOTTERY

The Collected Poems of T.E. Brown/With Introduction by W.E. Henley

(The Manx Museum and National Trust 1976, first published by Macmillan in 1900)

This volume of 736 pages was found on a charity stall in a supermarket. The prolific poet was no McGonagall but critics will sense that the skilled editor W.E. Henley felt some difficulty in assessing Brown’s poetic status. Brown’s poems include short personal pieces as well as lengthy narratives and tales. He frequently uses Manx dialect. Faced by such quantity, one would hesitate to hunt for excerpts for a notional selection or anthology.

But we have a surprise. Our hypothetical common room browser’s library will contain The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. In it you will find two quotations from Brown. The first is “A garden is a lovesome thing. God wot!” from a poem published in 1876. The second has two rather quaint lines:

O blackbird, what a boy you are!

How you do go it!

Most of us might feel that God-wot sentiments would belong to a poet of the 16th or 17th century. But they were familiar enough to many recent writers satirizing sentimental attitudes towards gardening. The evidence for this can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary which, believe it or not, has the entry “God-wottery”.  Brown’s quotation is supplied as the etymological culprit for the term or notion. The dictionary gives the date range of 1939-1969 for its examples of the notion. Its definition of “Godwottery” is “An affected or over-elaborate style of gardening or attitude towards gardens.” The Guardian quotation of 1969 has: “the sentimental preconception of what a garden should be”.

From the Dictionary of National Biography we learn that Thomas Edward Brown (1830-1897) was a schoolmaster (W.E. Henley had been a pupil of his) and clergyman. He was also a distinguished scholar being an elected fellow of Oriel College, an appointment similar to that of John Henry Newman. Brown was offered the Archdeaconry of the Isle of Man but refused. Some of his writings contain a salty humour which may have shocked the prim. It is interesting to note the last  two sentences of his obituary in DNB: “An uncensored edition of Fo’c’sle Yarns was published in 1998. His contribution to the preservation of the Manx dialect is unsurpassed.”

"one to one english tutor"

As a home English tutor in Stoke On Trent I am saddened that our council have seen fit to close local libraries this past year. Cutting costs is one thing, cutting people’s free education is another!

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