Saturday, January 14, 2017

`And Leave in Books for All Posterities'

I’ve said many times that the truest tribute a writer can receive is to be read, enjoyed and passed along to other readers. In contrast, formal literary criticism is anemic and beside-the-point – academic in the modern sense (OED: “of no consequence, irrelevant”). A good book requires only a good reader to fulfill its purpose.

In 1603, John Florio published the first English translation of Montaigne’s Essays, the version read by Shakespeare. A second edition appeared in 1613. Prefixed to it is a sonnet presumed to have been written by Florio (it has also been attributed to Samuel Daniel) and sometimes titled: “Concerning the Honour of Books”:

“Since honour from the honourer proceeds,
How well do they deserve, that memorize,
And leave in Books for all posterities
The names of worthies and their virtuous deeds;
When all their glory else, like water-weeds,
Without their element, presently dies,
And all their greatness quite forgotten lies,
And when and how they flourished no man heeds
How poor remembrances are statues, tombs,
And other monuments that men erect
To princes, which remain in closèd rooms
Where but a few behold them, in respect
Of Books, that to the universal eye
Show how they lived; the other where they lie!”

Cranks have long nominated Florio as the “true” Shakespeare, but they’ll find little evidence for their case in this poem, which shows none of the convoluted brilliance and memorability we know from Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s straightforward and almost too neat a package at the end, and yet its conventionality and optimism are touching. Read “How poor remembrances are statues, tombs, / And other monuments that men erect / To princes” and think of “Ozymandias” and, on a more exalted level, Horace’s Odes III: XXX, line 1: “I have created a monument more lasting than bronze.” If Florio is the author of the sonnet, it’s not the sonnet we remember him for but the prose he gave to Shakespeare.

No comments: