Notes from my knapsack 8-14-14
Mysteries unveiled, thanks to the internet
We're getting down to the last of the Denison gateway inscriptions, though not the end of my narrative about "Carved in Stone" around Granville. From "Education Safeguards the Nation" at the elementary school, to the Denison gateways, a few more carved considerations up within the campus but in plain view of the village, and finally a few words set for the centuries in granite that are a bit outside our town, we have many of these around us that are easy to overlook even when we're looking right at them.
Of the two pedestrian gateways, built in 1904 each with two pithy quotes flanking the entrance to the stairway up from the Fine Arts Quad to the academic areas above, we've discussed three quotes. Edging over to the beginning of Burg Street, our last enduring observation goes like this: "Languages are no more than the keys of sciences; he who despises one, slights the other."
Most sources refer to this quote as "unattributed," or even "anonymous," which just means that somewhere since President Emory Hunt picked it out over a century ago, no one's been sure where it came from.
It's kind of appropriate that the obscurity of the quote is tied to the quotation, which is hard to track down in part because the original is in French, from an author named Jean de La Bruyere. De La Bruyere was a student of Pascal and Montaigne, a contemporary of Racine and Corneille, and over to the English side of the channel, he strongly influenced Joseph Addison with his single bestseller: a collection of personal essays called "The Characters, or Manners of the Present Age," from whence this quote derives.
Addison, for himself, went on to create the idea of short essays in cheap, public settings like broadsheets and newspapers, each largely unconnected to the print piece that came before.
Or, you could just say that Addison invented the role of newspaper columnist!
So there was a time when de La Bruyere was a big name, but that time is long past, and his name has tended to fade into the darker corners of scholarly illumination. When I first started investigating the authors and contexts and reasons for these large public quotations here in Granville, I was able to simply type in pieces of the full phrase until I found my match, and my no-longer-anonymous author.
What the internet could not help me do, back in 2007, was figure out what, if anything, brought these four sages together, or what motivation caused Denison President Emory Hunt to select them for this august setting.
The internet has grown, as has my knowledge of how to dig about in it; the possible explanation for "why these four apothegms?" will be our next subject…
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him where you find pithy inspiration at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.