Monday, July 30, 2007


No real time to post today, so all I've got for you are a couple of descriptive lines that struck my eye recently.

The first, from Wilfrid Sheed's casual, anecdotal book about the creators of the American songbook, The House That George Built, with Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty (2007) is deployed to help explain Irving Berlin's prickliness:
New York in the early twentieth century was less a melting pot than a chafing dish, and if Irving could seem abrasive in later years, it's worth remembering that he was rubbed raw himself at an impressionable age.

Here, also from The House That George Built, Sheed tells how Arthur Schwartz explained his writing of his lovely "Dancing in the Dark":
His partner Howard Dietz had greeted some life crisis or other with the repeated phrase, "What is life, but dancing in the dark?" "So," he said, "I dashed off the tune in twenty minutes." And I thought of the unusual soliloquy in the middle of that song ("What though love is old?/What though song is old?" etc.) and I asked it that only took twenty minutes, and Arthur conceded that it actually took three weeks.

And the, because a few weeks ago I promised you more from C. V. Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War, here's her description of Pope Urban VIII:
In so far as he stands out at all in Papal history, he stands out as a negative quality. Depressed, nervous, well-intentioned, he was not a bad man and he was not a bad pope. Perhaps he was scarcely a Pope at all. His fame with posterity rests on nothing that he did, but on the fact that Velaszquez painted him. He lived in the Vatican, played bowls in its magnificent garden, set his hand to Papal bulls and went through the religious duties of the Holy Father, but his political and private life were alike swamped by the activities of an ambitious sister-in-law, who used his position as a mounting stone for her social elevation and a missile in her personal quarrels. As for his being a "Holy Father" somebody unkindly commented, the very children ran away from him, "tant il etait effroyable a voir."

French readers, am I right that the closing phrase means more or less, "So much that it was appalling to see"?


  1. Anonymous8:20 AM

    Hmmm. "Even Homer nods..." Either Dame Veronica or you slipped up slightly: the pope Velazquez painted and who had the dreadful sister-in-law was Innocent X.

    Just discovered your blog. Love it. Read Dance four times, about to start it again. And thanks for "A Naked Singularity." Best new novel I've read in years; just reviewed it for Amazon.

    Yrs, Robert Barrett

  2. Oops. That's my mistake, Robert--good catch: Urban VIII was Innocent's predecessor.

    Oh, and glad you liked A Naked Singularity! (And are a Powell fan!)