“Books not burned” sensation

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 


In our post last Sunday 4 March 2012 , in a passage now deleted from the post, we said that we would commit to publishing only once a week in future. However, that statement became non-operative with immediate effect. We continued to publish on a daily basis and shall do so until further notice.


11 March 2010

We may live without poetry, music and art;


We may live without conscience, and live without heart;


We may live without friends; we may live without cooks;


But civilized man cannot live without books.

Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton, poet and statesman (Viceroy of India, 1876-1880). Nom de plume: Owen Meredith. The above lines are taken, ever so slightly modified, from “Lucile” (1860), a verse novel in anapaestic tetrameter, Part 1, Canto 2, Section 24.


A detailed analysis of the riots in London last autumn has unearthed the shocking finding that no books were burned to cinders in Clapham, an epicentre of the disturbances.

Shops were ransacked for a kilometre in all directions back from the junction of Battersea Rise, St John’s Road and Northcote Road. Looters took trainers, flat TV screens, pants and bras, mobile phones – even bottles of water. A multiple store, small businesses, corner shops – all were systematically plundered. And, in a sensational conflagration, a 100-year-old furniture store was burned to the ground.

Yet it appears that Waterstone’s Bookshop in St John’s Road escaped entirely unscathed, not a window smashed, not a parchment bookjacked.

This has caused consternation in the hood.

Clapham is widely touted in local real estate hype as an up-and-coming rapidly-gentrifying district with a lively night life and a rocking cultural scene.

Now it appears that all along its local rioter community has cared little for literature.  So little that they could not even bother to steal it when it was at their fingertips.

This will have a devastating effect on the price of local property.

Clapham yuppies have talked of nothing else since the news came out.

It has even become a national scandal.

No less a luminary than Sir Andrew Motion, UK Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009, poured out his heart in the Camden New Journal (Guardian report on 7 March):

“I felt it was a horrible manifestation of lack of educational opportunity. They didn’t care about books. Books were so unimportant. They were left untouched while everything else was taken.”

So unfair!

Couldn’t they have made a bit of an effort and taken the books as well as all the other things? If only in the interests of their own social standing. They wouldn’t want to be taken for chavs, now would they, like, innit?

Things have gone to the dogs in a big way in this sceptred isle. You don’t even get a decent class of criminal these days.

O tempora! O mores!

It wasn’t like that back in the late fourteenth century.

Here is a description by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) of the Oxford scholar of his time. It is taken from the General Prologue (lines 285 to 308) to his Canterbury Tales.


285: A clerk ther was of oxenford also,

A Clerk from Oxenford was there also,

286: That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.

Who studied philosophy long ago.

287: As leene was his hors as is a rake,

As lean was his horse as is a rake,

288: And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,

And he too was not fat as I take,

289: But looked holwe, and therto sobrely.

But he looked emaciated and abstemious.

290: Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;

Very threadbare was his overcoat ;

291: For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,

For he had gotten no benefice,

292: Ne was so worldly for to have office.

Nor was he so worldly as to take a job.

293: For hym was levere have at his beddes heed

For he would rather have at his bed’s head

294: Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,

Twenty books bound in black or red,

295: Of aristotle and his philosophie,

Of Aristotle and his philosophy,

296: Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.

Than rich robes, a fiddle, or gay psaltery.

297: But al be that he was a philosophre,

But although he was a philosopher,

298: Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;

He had very little gold in his coffers;

299: But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,

But all that he might borrow from a friend,

300: On bookes and on lernynge he it spente,

On books and learning he did it spend.

301: And bisily gan for the soules preye

And then he’d pray diligently for the souls

302: Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye.

Of those who gave him the wherewithal to get educated.

303: Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede,

He took the utmost care and heed for his study,

304: Noght o word spak he moore than was neede,

Not a word he spoke more than was necessary,

305: And that was seyd in forme and reverence,

And that was said correctly and reverently,

306: And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence;

And was short and lively and full of high morality;

307: Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,

Filled with moral virtue was his speech,

308: And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.

And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.


You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.



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