Friday, 21 January 2011

Beer/Bear | Justification Of This Week's Theme | A Hist-Lit-Fic Epistolary Novel (in one part)

Dearest Mother,

Thank you for the candied fruits and better-than-average claret. We saw off both during one of the eternal parties we have here – y’know, those congregations of gamblers, boxers, authors, parsons and poets in B’s rooms that I was telling you about. The ones that begin with a kind of simultaneous braying, a sort of aristocratic music-making, debating baronets and trochees and nectarines, and end with us all bumming one another in a curious sequence that I’m told goes back 200 years. Be assured, good my mother: as a freshman, I was soundly bummed!

It’s lovely here at Trinity – dawdling in the bootsteps of Elizabeth’s Essex, Dryden, Newton, all the lads. B can afford to live on campus – en suite, for goodness’ sake. The man really is astonishingly affluent. Subject of which, you really mustn’t worry about my lodging in town. A beautiful boy with an unfortunate name, Scrope Davies (I shall bum him for sure!) came round with a pamphlet yesterday entitled Hints to Fresh-men at the University of Cambridge. I’ll include a paragraph to set your mind at rest:

Suspect danger from WOMEN; those women, I mean, who haunt the lanes, and ends, and corners of the town, who are Hebes at night, and Hecates in the morning. But for them, the once healthful HORATIO would not now be secluded from his friends, stung with disease, and stupefied with spleen.

I insist that you inform father that, like the good Westminster praefectus that I am, I shall not deviate from the path of intellectualised sodomy. I should mention that B is more of a cynic than I – I enclose a transcription of something he said at table the other day (I keep a pad with me at all times so that, as B’s notoriety begins to throb outside of Cambridge’s walls – as it surely will – I shall be known also, by association. For I am notoriety’s documenter! I am Louis Theroux! I’ve also begun to sketch little illustrations for B’s poesy. He doesn’t seem to mind. He wrote a filthy little thing called ‘To Mary’ all aquiver with ‘ecstatic postures’ and ‘dusky mantles’ and I designed a delicate pattern of tits and arses for him to use as a calligraphic border. Á la that engraver that went bananas in Soho. Brake? Bake?). Here it is:

This place is the Devil, or at least his principal residence. They call it the University, but any other appellation would have suited it much better, for Study is the last pursuit of the Society; the Master eats, drinks and sleeps, the Fellows drink, dispute and pun, the employments of the undergraduates you will probably conjecture without my description.

He, dear mother, would know! He has been spending an awful lot of time with Regius Professor of Greek Richard Porson, a genial cove whose translation of Aeschylus is quite extraordinary – almost as extraordinary, indeed, as the consistency with which he is likely to be found under a table in the Trinity beer cellar in the early hours of a weekday morning, bellowing the following to himself:

I went to Frankfurt, and got drunk
With that most learn’d professor, Brunck;
I went to Worms, and got more drunken
With that more learn’d professor, Ruhnken.

Which reminds me of why I began this missive in the first place, belovedest mater. An interesting dialectic, concerning Porson and B. And, I think, a justification for my choosing a life of letters despite father’s (if you won’t mind me saying so) rather provincial concerns (how is Bristol, incidentally? B and the chaps claim to have never heard of the place). For at the heart of this interesting thing is a single letter, the tiniest twist of an E into an A – the sort of thing a fellow who doesn’t know his Xenophontis Anabasin couldn’t possibly appreciate the significance of...

So this Porson character, he’s in the process of losing his fellowship, he’s refusing to take holy orders, he’s writing journalism, would you believe – the man is waning, mother, and he shall be spent before the year is out. And all because of the brews. Because of beer. This, mother, this double E of Porson’s is the Old Literature. Drunken translation of translation of translation and so on and so forth and, frankly, yawn.

Out with the Old and in with the New, I say.

And the New Literature’s name begins with a B. For get this, mama: some horrible little jobsworth told B that he wasn’t allowed to keep dogs in his rooms (I know, right?!) so he bought a bear. A fucking bear, mother, he installed a bear in his lodgings, on a leash, with a foxglove garland round its neck – a bear who dances with a tambourine whilst we sip brandy from each others clean, pink sphincters. A bear who shall surely form the centrepiece of all B’s future writings. A bear who shall inform all future writing, via B. Unless, of course, B's bear simply becomes another fragment of a fruitily literary biography that hinges on an intellectually irrelevant conception of poetic depravity that actively gets in the way of the man's actual, y'know, work, because of its titillating simplicity. But that's not going to happen, is it? I mean, people aren't idiots. Anyway, I shall never forget his announcement:

I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear. You shall ask me what I mean to do with him. And my reply shall be that he should sit for a fellowship!

The age of BEER has become the age of BEAR and literature will change for ever, mother. It will be no accident, for example, that A.A. Milne will choose to study at Trinity. And it will be an astute blog that, 200 years down the line, appreciates the fact that the Beer/Bear moment is as valid a theme for a week of literary commentary as, say, the translation of the bible into English, or Heminges and Condell’s First Folio. Or something. Anyway, Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua, quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi, et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti, tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Christum Dominum nostrum and all that sort of thing,


John Hobhouse, your devoted son

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