Sunday 5 October 2014

Favourite snatches (16)

I haven't included a favourite snatch this year, so here's one.

From Chapter 8 of Through the Looking-glass (1871), in which Alice meets the kindly White Knight, who offers to sing to her and adds, by way of clarification: "[t]he name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes.'"

"Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.
"No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name   really is 'The Aged, Aged Man.'"
"Then I ought to have said 'That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.
"No you oughtn't: that's another thing. The song is called 'Ways and Means' but that's only what it's called, you know!"

This is not mere whimsy but an example of 'use–mention distinction', a concept central to analytic philosophy, according to which it is necessary to make a distinction between using a word (or phrase) and mentioning it, a distinction which may strike non-analytical philosophers as obtuse. Wikipedia gives this example: 

Use: Cheese is derived from milk.  Mention: "Cheese" is derived from the Old English word "cyst".

The first sentence is a statement about the substance called cheese; it uses the word "cheese" to refer to that substance. The second is a statement about the word cheese as a signifier; it mentions the word without using it to refer to anything other than itself.

But I'm tapping this out early on Sunday morning, and that's not the best time for this sort of thing, so let's get back to Carroll's White Knight. Here's his poem, or song. The last lines are magnificent.
I'll tell thee everything I can;
    There's little to relate.
I saw an aged, aged man,
    A-sitting on a gate.
'Who are you, aged man?' I said.
     'And how is it you live?'
And his answer trickled through my head
     Like water through a sieve.

He said 'I look for butterflies
     That sleep among the wheat;
I make them into mutton-pies,
    And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men,' he said,
     'Who sail on stormy seas;
And that's the way I get my bread -
     A trifle, if you please.'
But I was thinking of a plan
    To dye one's whiskers green,
And always use so large a fan
    That it could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
     To what the old man said,
I cried, 'Come, tell me how you live!'
    And thumped him on the head.
His accents mild took up the tale;
     He said, 'I go my ways,
And when I find a mountain-rill,
     I set it in a blaze.
And thence they make a stuff they call
     Rowland's Macassar Oil -
Yet twopence-halfpenny is all
     They give me for my toil.'
But I was thinking of a way
     To feed oneself on batter,
And so go on from day to day
    Getting a little fatter.
I shook him well from side to side,
     Until his face was blue;
'Come, tell me how you live,' I cried
    'And what it is you do!'

He said, 'I hunt for haddocks' eyes
     Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat-buttons
     In the silent night.
And these I do not sell for gold
    Or coin of silvery shine,
But for a copper halfpenny,
    And that will purchase nine.
'I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,
     Or set limed twigs for crabs;
I sometimes search the grassy knolls
    For wheels of hansom-cabs.
And that's the way' (he gave a wink)
     'By which I get my wealth -
And very gladly will I drink
    Your Honour's noble health.'
I heard him then, for I had just
    Completed my design
To keep the Menai bridge from rust
    By boiling it in wine.
I thanked him much for telling me
     The way he got his wealth,
But chiefly for his wish that he
    Might drink my noble health.
And now, if e'er by chance I put
    My fingers into glue,
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
    Into a left-hand shoe,
Or if I drop upon my toe
     A very heavy weight,
I weep, for it reminds me so
Of that old man I used to know -
Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow,
Whose hair was whiter than the snow,
Whose face was very like a crow
With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,
Who seemed distracted with his woe,
Who rocked his body to and fro,
And muttered mumblingly and low,
As if his mouth were full of dough,
Who snorted like a buffalo -
That summer evening long ago.
    A-sitting on a gate.

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