January 7th, 2008


Ailz is taking her mother for a hospital appointment, so I'm up before dawn, providing ancillary support- by which I mean pouring orange juice and making cups of tea. The plop, plop, plop of big raindrops hitting the glass roof of the kitchen bay is not a friendly sound.

Mother-in-law broke her hand about a week ago. It was several days before she bothered to tell anyone about it- no doubt thinking, "Oh it'll sort itself out". Just as I would have done.  Mother-in-law and I are much alike.
I'm reading An Instance Of The Fingerpost by Ian Pears- which means I'm spending a portion of my waking life in mid-17th century Oxford. It's a grotty place. The town is provincial and the dons are all boors. Well, most of them are;  there are also geniuses at large- Robert Boyle (father of chemistry) and the philosopher John Locke. Mind you, we're seeing things through the eyes of a super-subtle Venetian for whom England is Barbary. Our Venetian and a man called Lower (who really existed) are experimenting with blood transfusion. And we've just attended an autopsy in the kitchen at New College- with the corpse laid out on the table where the college servants will shortly be preparing breakfast.  

Our ancestors lived on very easy terms with death.

It's something I envy them.  I really do wish the whole business of bodily decay and hospitals and funerals didn't faze me so.

Here (courtesy of wikipedia) is John Locke's epitaph. The coolness- the urbanity- is like nothing you'd find on a modern gravestone.  One has to suppose he composed it himself.  

Hic juxta situs est JOHANNES LOCKE. Si qualis fuerit rogas, mediocritate sua contentum se vixesse respondet. Literis innutritus eo usque tantum profecit, ut veritati unice litaret. Hoc ex scriptis illius disce, quae quod de eo reliquum est majori fide tibe exhibebunt, quam epitaphii suspecta elogia. Virtutes si quas habuit, minores sane quam sibi laudi duceret tibi in exemplum proponeret; vita una sepeliantur. Morum exemplum si squaeras in Evangelio habes: vitiorum utinam nusquam: mortalitatis certe (quod prosit) hic et ubique.
Natum Anno Dom. 1632 Aug. 29
Mortuum Anno Dom. 1704 Oct. 28
Memorat haec tabula brevi et ipse interitura.

Near this place lies John Locke. If you ask what kind of a man he was, he answers that he lived content with his own small fortune. Bred a scholar, he made his learning subservient only to the cause of truth. This you will learn from his writings, which will show you everything else concerning him, with greater truth, than the suspect praises of an epitaph. His virtues, indeed, if he had any, were too little for him to propose as matter of praise to himself, or as an example to you. Let his vices be buried with him. Of good life, you have an example in the gospel, should you desire it; of vice, would there were none for you; of mortality, surely you have one here and everywhere, and may you learn from it. That he was born on the 29th of August in the year of our Lord 1632, and that he died on the 28th of October in the year of our Lord 1704, this tablet, which itself will soon perish, is a record.