Saturday, June 28, 2014

BOOK: Frédéric de Janzé, "Tarred With the Same Brush"

Frédéric de Janzé: Tarred With the Same Brush. London: Duckworth, 1929. 193 pp. (The book doesn't mention his name; it just says “Le Comte de Janzé”.) Now also on Project Gutenberg Australia.

This book is a kind of sequel to Vertical Land, which I read a few years ago (see my post about it from back then; it also includes more about the author's background and how I got to know about him in the first place). Just like Vertical Land, it is inspired by the author's experiences while living among the wealthy British settlers in 1920s Kenya.

After my big disappointment with Vertical Land, I naturally approached this next book with considerably reduced expectations, and almost out of a sense of duty and completism rather than pleasure — I expected merely another boring slog and just wanted to finish the job, so to speak, and prepare an e-text of his second book so that both will be freely available to everyone.

Thus I was extremely pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed reading this book than I did Vertical Land! I can safely say that at least 50% of Tarred With the Same Brush made for very pleasant reading, and the rest was at least tolerable; overall I liked it a lot better than Vertical Land.

Perhaps it's because the style of Tarred is less vague, and is much of the time closer to something like normal storytelling than the extremely hazy impressionism of Vertical Land. I suppose that some of that haziness was due to the fact that many of his tales were inspired by real people and real events, and he had to make things vague to avoid causing offence. But here in Tarred With the Same Brush, he used a somewhat different approach by reworking his material into a more conventional fictional narrative, and the result is much more pleasant to read. (And I guess that for the right sort of reader, of which I am not one, Tarred still has a lot of connection to real people and events, as you can see e.g. from the way it's quoted in Errol Trzebinski's book about the murder of Lord Erroll.)

That is not to say that the style of Tarred is completely different than that of Vertical Land, of course; it's still somewhat aloof and sparing with the details, and another thing that contributes to a feeling of vagueness are the ellipses — I don't think I've ever seen a book with as many ellipses as this one.

In any case, I suppose one has to be careful before making any sort of inferences from the tales in this book to the lives of real people. Judging by the contents of these books, the wealthy white settlers in Kenya didn't have anything much to do besides going on safaris, sleeping with each other's wives and then getting divorced and/or committing murder in fits of jealousy. This makes for entertaining reading, but one would hope that things were a bit better than that in reality.

Incidentally, de Janzé includes a sort of disclaimer in the introduction (p. 12), though I'm somewhat skeptical if we were meant to take it seriously: “These stories have naught to do with any living humans [. . .] go your way, untrue stories of mine.” Later he includes a sketch of a man who complains about the “damned foreigner” who “put me in his book” (p. 183), and one of a different man who complains about not being mentioned in Vertical Land (pp. 187–8).

The first half or so of Tarred consists of short stories told by a group of people on a safari trip, embedded in a framework that I guess was inspired by the Decameron. This was my favorite part of the book, and most of these stories were quite enjoyable to read. Most of them have some drama — people cheating on their spouses, trying to get married for money, trying to kill their rivals and the like. There's often a bit of a twist ending, and they don't even all take place in Kenya; one of the stories involves smuggling alcohol in prohibition-era America.

The second half of the book consists of shorter sketches that are perhaps more similar to Vertical Land than the first half. (In fact at the very end there's a section of extremely short and extremely vague character portraits exactly like those at the end of Vertical Land.) I didn't enjoy this part of the book as much as the first half, but some of these shorter stories were still pleasant. Most of them are told from the perspective of the same first-person narrator, nicknamed Tiny, who also told one of the stories in the first half of the book; I liked this approach as it makes the book feel a bit more coherent than Vertical Land did. Many of these stories are about animals, for which Tiny has a great fondness. He seems to live with a woman named Delecia (p. 141ff.), and incidentally the book is also dedicated to a Delecia (p. 5), so I'm wondering if this part of the book was partly based on the experiences of some real people whom de Janzé knew well.

There's a very touching tale in which the narrator adopts a lion cub whose mother had been shot by hunters; the lion becomes a cherished pet even after it grows up, but eventually the owner has to move back to Europe and leave the lion behind. By an amazing coincidence, he encounters the lion again a couple of years later, as the poor animal has been sold to a circus, where it is being treated badly. The story has a sad ending and also includes a touching and impassioned plea against the abuse of animals for entertainment. That struck me as a very decently progressive sentiment for 1929, and I was also pleasantly surprised by it because in the rest of the book the writer doesn't exactly come across as a bleeding-heart humanitarian in the way he treats his human characters. (In the introduction, he deplores hunting even while he admits he'd done plenty of it himself; and he adds a sentiment that is not often seen outside the most radical animal-rights circles: “Why should laws prevent you from going hunting another man with a gun when it lets you massacre the innocent?” P. 9.) In fact the author's fondness of animals is a recurring theme in this book.


He now refers to coconuts as coco-nuts, which is a considerable improvement from the cocoanuts which we saw in Vertical Land.

“Norma went back to her motherland to stagger the play-goers by her acting on the stage and the morning papers by her acting in her home.” (P. 46.)

Here's a very funny passage from p. 81, which evokes wonderfully the stereotype of the overfed British aristocrats and colonialists: “these people who, when they live past the days when they can get killed out hunting, terminate their useless careers with a stroke after too good a luncheon or in some home for arterial over-pressures.”

And here's one from pp. 121–2, in which a guest after a long and drunken party wakes up to find a lion in his bed: “The eldest souse of us all was sitting up in bed wildly gesticulating and asking us to hold him down as he was seeing things—that a lion was in bed with him and that the last time it had only been lizards and biting fishes, but this time it was lions and he could feel it too, and would we shoot him quick.”

In the copy of the book I've got, there is a pencilled inscription on the front free endpaper, which suggests that some previous owner of the book did a bit of genealogical research about de Janzé; it says: “Vicomtesse de Janzé, great-granddaughter of Mrs. Jordan & William IV / Comte de Janzé's mother? or grandmother? / C. de J., husband of Alice Silverthorne, whose Wanjohi farm was our home in Kenya.”

Sic transit gloria mundi?

There's an interesting passage on pp. 38–9, listing the contents of a rich woman's investment portfolio. “General motors, American Tel. and Tel.—St. Gobain—Suez—Wagon-lits. . . . Deutsche Algemeine Elek­trische Gesellschaft—Siemmens . . . and nearer home . . . B.S.A.; Shell Trans.; Daily Sketch Deb.; Guinness . . . and others.”

So those, I guess, were considered to be big and important companies of the day, solid and reliable investments. Naturally I was curious about where they are now, so I did a bit of searching on the wikipedia:

  • General Motors is, of course, still around and still important;
  • AT&T is also still around and still important, but the monopoly position it used to enjoy as a telephone provider is long gone.
  • St. Gobain, of which I never heard before, is apparently also still around and still a big corporation, producing building materials.
  • “Suez” probably refers to the Suez Canal Company, which managed the canal until it was nationalized by the Egyptian government in 1956. The canal is now managed by an Egyptian agency (Suez Canal Authority), but the Suez Canal Company still exists in some form, as part of an electric utility company.
  • The Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits, known for operating trains with sleeping cars, went into decline after the WW2 and apparently now exists as part of another company called Newrest.
  • The Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft, a manufacturer of electrical equipment, disappeared over several mergers in the second half of the 20th century. The AEG brand name is now used by various manufacturers of household applicances.
  • The British South Africa Company mostly came to an end with the 1960s due to decolonization, though apparently it formally “still exists, and is registered as a non-trading business”.
  • The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company was one half of the Shell group throughout the 20th century, the other helf being called Royal Dutch Petroleum Company. Both were finally merged for good in 2005, forming a company called Royal Dutch Shell.

  • The Daily Sketch was a British tabloid which merged into the Daily Mail in 1971. “Deb.” probably stands for debentures, a kind of bonds.
  • Guinness still exists and makes beer, but is now a part of Diageo, a multinational alcoholic beverages company.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Despite various economic crises, a world war, and numerous other changes, about half of the companies in that 1929 portfolio are still around and apparently doing reasonably well. I wonder what an equivalent present-day portfolio would be like, and what it would then look like in 2100.


Both Vertical Land and Tarred With the Same Brush seem to be relatively rare books, the latter one even more so; I often looked for it on and it took a long time before a copy showed up for sale. I ended up paying £150 for it, which felt a bit horrible as I don't think I've ever spent that much on a single book, not to mention how little text there is in it.

But on the positive side, buying the book enabled me to prepare an e-text of it, just like I did for Vertical Land a few years ago, so that anyone can now read it at no cost. The author died in 1933, so the copyright on his books has expired in many parts of the world. You can now get an e-text of Tarred With the Same Brush from Project Gutenberg Australia (direct link: HTML, plain text).

  • Paul Spicer: The Temptress (2011). A recent biography of Alice de Janzé, an American socialite who was married to Frédéric during the 1920s and lived with him in Kenya.
  • Frances Osborne: The Bolter (2008). A biography of Idina Sackville, another notorious member of the same milieu that inspired de Janzé's books. (Is it wrong that I think of hobbits every time I see that surname? :P)

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

BOOK: Pietro Bembo, "History of Venice" (Vol. 1)

Pietro Bembo: History of Venice. Vol. 1: Books I–IV. Edited and translated by Robert W. Ulery, jr. The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Vol. 28. Harvard University Press, 2007. 0674022831. xv + 358 pp.

One of the first books I bought (and read) after I started buying books of my own instead of just borrowing them from libraries was J. J. Norwich's History of Venice. I found it very interesting, but by now I have no doubt forgotten nearly everything about it, since I read it a fair bit of time ago. So I was excited to see that a history of Venice by another author now showed up in the ITRL series, written by a 16th-century humanist author (see my post about his book of poems from a few years ago); I was curious how things would have looked like from his perspective.

On the other hand, I was careful not to keep my expectations high, as I still remembered my encounter with Bruni's history of Florence earlier in the same series (see my posts from back then: 1, 2, 3). The early history of Florence was described very briefly there, whereas the times that would have been recent past from Bruni's perspective were described in much more low-level detail than I was interested in.

Bembo's History of Venice turned out to be a similar sort of book. As the introduction explains (p. ix), an earlier author had in fact written a history of Venice from its foundation down to his own day, in 1487; a few decades later, the Venetian government hired Bembo to write a sequel that would cover history from the time where the previous work finished. Thus, Bembo's work covers a period of less than 30 years (1487–1513). This is not quite ideal from my perspective; first of all, because it means he goes into more detail than I care about, and secondly because (as far as I can vaguely remember from Norwich's history that I read all those years ago), by the time covered in Bembo's book, the best years of Venice's history were already far in the past. The Byzantine empire had collapsed, and with it much of Venice's influence in the eastern Mediterranean; they still controlled various Greek islands but would soon find it harder and harder to defend them from the Turks; their status as the prime importers of oriental goods into Europe would soon be pushed into irrelevance by the discovery of direct sea routes to India, America and so on; and whereas Venice had once proudly sat on its islands and lagoons, scorning the dry land next to them, focusing entirely on the sea and the trade with the East, it was now increasingly being reduced to just another squabbling little state, one of many such states in the turbulent history of Renaissance Italy, conducting a bewildering series of wars with its neighbouring statelets, mostly involving dinky little towns and pathetic strips of territory. If I could choose which 30 years of Venetian history I could read a book about, I would probably have chosen something earlier than that :)

That being said, Bembo's book isn't as boring as I feared it would be. When he describes warfare, there's the inevitable overload of boring details about battles, campaigns and the like; but there are plenty of other, more interesting things in the book, and it was enjoyable enough when read in moderate doses.

There's an interesting biographical sketch of Bembo in the introduction; apparently he even had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia (p. x). There's also an interesting discussion on the censorship of Bembo's book; the Venetian politicians regarded it as an official history of their state and thus modified certain passages that didn't show them in a good light (p. xii).

Book I

After some introductory remarks, Bembo plunges straight into just the sort of boring description of a war that I was afraid of. A neighbouring potentate named Sigismund picks a fight with Venice over some mining and trading rights (1.3–4); this results in some warfare in Tyrol and things go back and forth for a bit without anything terribly interesting happening. Eventually Sigismund grows “weary of the expense of war” (1.29), and they conclude peace. The final outcome, after some mediation by the pope (1.55), seems to be more or less like the status quo ante.

There are a few interesting passages in this part of the book anyway. Bembo describes a new sort of siege weapon in 1.8: “Iron balls, not specially solid and filled with tar and pitch, were set alight inside and hurled from siege catapults.” Another innovation he describes are guns (1.48); unlike cannons, which his readers already knew, these guns “are made of iron and are carried by a single soldier [. . .] with the bullet loaded, they are lifted onto the shoulder and turned on the enemy”. Sounds more like modern-day RPGs :P

There's a very dramatic scene from the war in 1.25; a captain, trying to prevent his panicky soldiers from retreating across a bridge, orders it to be demolished, hoping that this will cause his men to defend their positions more fervently. “But it turned out quite contrary to what he had expected, since fear does not generally encourage rational judgement. [. . .] when they saw the bridge gone, nearly all leapt into the river and perished”.

This is something that happens a lot in this book: you can see that Bembo is originally more a writer than a historian, and therefore he manages again and again to come up with interesting and picturesque dramatic scenes even amidst events and details that would otherwise be boring.

Once the war is over, foreign affairs get more varied and interesting. There's the melancholy story of Caterina Cornaro, a Venetian woman who got married to the king of Cyprus and now ruled the island herself after the death of her husband and their son. The Venetians successfuly pressure her into handing the island over to them and returning home (the main argument being that she couldn't defend it from a likely Turkish invasion anyway); 1.35–41. (She died in 1510; Bembo describes her splendid funeral in 10.49.) We see emperor Frederick's state visit to Italy (1.45). A Venetian senator's daughter gets married to an Illyrian prince (1.47), who, judging by his Wikipedia page, has the distinction of being the founder of the first printing house in Serbia.

Bembo reports on the birth of a “two-headed child” in 1488 (1.37); “Each of the two heads had its own neck and shoulders”.

The winter of 1490/91 was so cold that the sea around Venice froze; you could reach the town on foot and “horses were sent for sport into the central and widest canal of the city” (1.50). That gives me nostalgic memories of my childhood walk to the island in lake Bled when it froze during winter. Alas, I think it's been a long time since it last froze enough to make such a walk safe, and with the global warming who knows when it will happen again.

Occasionally we get some curious glimpses into the laws of those days. Apparently Venetian law used to punish theft more leniently if the thief was from the same household as the victim: “The result was that the boldness of slaves and lodgers increased” and they eventually dropped this distincton in 1490 (1.49). There are also some interesting paragraphs on the changes in the design of ballot-boxes to ensure that nobody can see how other people voted (1.58–60).

At some point two politicians propose what appears to be an early form of social security, but the government accuses them of trying to simply buy popularity, and sends them into a strict exile (1.61–2).

I didn't think they had slaves in Venice around the year 1500, but they are mentioned several times: 1.31 (slaves to be rewarded with freedom if they report on their masters' violations of sumptuary laws); 1.49 (theft laws for slaves to be the same as for people from outside the household).

Book II

More or less the whole book deals with a war that took place in 1494–5 and involved a number of Italian states. As usually with such things, I found the description of the war itself very boring, but the lead-up to the war and its conclusion were a bit interesting. The conflict started between the kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan; the latter then invited king Charles of France to get involved by convincing him he had a right to claim Naples for himself (2.3).

The war proceeds in the chaotic style typical of Italian renaissance history and after a while, Charles finds himself at war against an alliance (2.32) that consists of Naples, the papal state, and confusingly also the duchy of Milan (which grew worried after seeing Charles's successes and the growth of his influence in Italy; 2.29) and Venice (which had been friends with Charles at first).

This alliance now gets Charles worried that he might not be able to withdraw his army from Naples back to France, and besides he's running out of money anyway, so they conclude peace (2.63). “The king was induced to ratify this peace treaty all the more quickly for the further reason that a Swiss force, much greater than he himself had sought, had finally left home to assist him in the war” (2.63); he had no money to pay these mercenaries and wanted to be able to dismiss them with the good excuse that they hadn't arrived until after the war was already over.

A funny remark on the besieged French forces in Novara (2.62): “Many of them died [. . .] by drinking water, which the French and Germans are quite unaccustomed to.” I imagine that the real reason was that water contained plenty of bacteria that wouldn't normally be present in fermented drinks such as beer and wine.

Book III

The war, which I thought had been finished towards the end of the previous book, seems to be continuing after all; if for no other reason, at least because there are still French forces in various parts of Italy. There's an interesting story in 3.11–15: Pisa, finding itself under attack by Florence, offers to accept Venetian rule in exchange for protection against the attackers (which is a nice illustration of how all government is basically like a mafia protection racket, I suppose :P — and in fact things like this happen again and again in this volume; everyone and their grandmother is asking for Venetian protection). Bembo reports on the debate in the Venetian senate, which is initially favorable to the proposal but then rejects it on the basis that Pisa would be too hard for Venice to defend, since it's surrounded by enemies of Venice and can't be reached from the other Venetian territories otherwise than by going through enemy lands.

I was amused to learn that there is a town named Monopoli on the Adriatic coast (3.6). I hope their mayor looks like Uncle Pennybags :P

A captain Pietro Bembo is mentioned in 3.6 and 3.9, but our writer doesn't say whether it's a relative of his or not. The writer's father, Bernardo Bembo, shows up in 3.70, as he was a high official in the Venetian government in the 1490s.

Ferrandino, king of Naples, gets married to his half-aunt in 3.21 (he “took in marriage Giovanna, the daughter of his grandfather Ferrante and sister of his father Alfonso by another mother”). This idea becomes a little less bizarre after you read Ferrandino's wikipedia page: “At the time of marriage, Ferdinand was 27 years old and Joanna 18.”

In a welcome and all too rare diversion from the endless descriptions of warfare and diplomatic squabbling, there's a paragraph on the first appearance of syphilis (“the ‘French disease’ ”) in Venice, in 1497 (3.43).

There's an interesting anecdote in 3.70; certain people propose a plan to assassinate the French king Charles, but the Venetian government refuses it in a surprising burst of high-mindedness: “the Republic had never used such schemes against its enemies, although it could often have done so, and was not about to start now”. I was surprised by this because I always imagined the Venetian republic as a cloak-and-dagger affair ruled by secrecy and backstabbings, in which enemies of the regime disappear in the middle of the night, etc., etc. Perhaps they didn't acquire this reputation until later, or maybe they simply did't like that particular assassination plan and then used a high-minded excuse to reject it. Admittedly they rejected a similar offer earlier as well, for the assassination of Ludovico il Moro, the duke of Milan (2.65–6).

Book IV

This book starts with a peace treaty between France and Spain (4.1), which gave me hope that the amount of warfare would finally be a bit lower than in the previous books, but I was soon to be disappointed. War is still raging over Pisa (4.5), with Venice against Florence and probably others that I couldn't be bothered to keep track of. This war is eventually resolved by arbitration, but in a way which seems much more favorable to Florence than to Venice (4.59–61). A naval war with Turkey is also looming (4.50–3). Furthermore, king Charles of France dies (4.15) and his successor, Louis, decides to make war against Ludovico, the duke of Milan (4.55); the Venetians support France in this war, even though they had been her enemies in one of the previous wars a couple of years earlier. Ludovico seems to be rather unpopular and his support crumbles like a house of cards, with France and Venice easily dividing up Milanese territory amongst themselves.

Even the author himself admits that this is all very boring! “It is tiresome for me to go through the minor points of the war. Who can read every last detail without aversion, especially if, as in most cases, the reader is only looking to reach the conclusions as soon as may be?” His excuse is that he doesn't want to risk overlooking any important “public deeds of my fellow citizens” (4.46).

There are some descriptions of naval warfare against Turks and pirates, which are slightly more interesting than the warfare on land that prevails in the rest of the book (4.6–10).

There's a gruesome anecdote in 4.27: when the town of Buti was captured by the Florentines, “all the gunners had their right hands cut off so that they would no longer be able to practice their profession, and with each man's hand hung from his neck they were sent away.” Coming to Venice, they “gave their word to the Senate that once they had artificial iron hands, they would return to their trade [. . .] and, if sent back to Pisa, would avenge their injuries.”

In one of the rare non-war-related passages in this book, the Spanish ambassador presents Venice with “the king of one of the Islands of the Blessed as a gift to the Senate” (4.3). I initially imagined that this ‘king’ must be some unfortunate Indian chieftain dragged from the Caribbean by Columbus, but according to the translator's note on p. 341, Bembo here uses the term “Islands of the Blessed” (originally a fictional place in classical mythology) to mean the Canary islands. Bembo uses this opportunity to praise the geographical discoveries of his day a little, which made me realize just how extremely localized the focus of the rest of this volume had been; if someone asked me what was happening in the 1490s, surely one of my first thoughts would be that this was the decade of the great geographical discoveries, of Columbus and Vasco da Gama and the like; and yet this volume only mentions geographical discoveries in this one paragraph, and even that is about the Canary Islands and not America or India.

There's an amusing tale in 4.52 about the Turkish preparations for war against Venice. To lull the Venetians into a false sense of security, the Turkish sultan “renewed the treaty of alliance with Zancani [the Venetian ambassador], but the clauses of the treaty he gave him were written in Latin. Now there is a provision in their law that what is not written in their own language need not be fulfilled.” A Venetian living in Constantinople warns the ambassador of this, but the efforts to get the Turks to sign a Turkish text of the treaty come to nothing. I don't know if I should laugh or cry at the extent to which people go to delude themselves that their actions are better than they really are. ‘Oh no, we aren't stabbing our allies in the back, of course not — we took the precaution of signing the treaty in one language and not another, and therefore it doesn't count. . .’

I remember reading somewhere that the Venetian word doge comes from the Latin dux (which is also the source of the English duke), so I thought that Bembo's Latin text would use this word to refer to the doge, but it doesn't — he always uses princeps instead. On a semi-related note, I find it damn annoying that the first thing I think about nowadays when I see the word doge is a picture of that damn meme... :S

(Continues in Vol. 2.)

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

KNJIGA: Léo Taxil, "Izpovedanja bivšega prostomisleca"

Léo Taxil: Izpovedanja bivšega prostomisleca. Prevedel Martin Žiltir [sodeč po spodaj omenjenem Hladnikovem članku je to psevdonim, prevajalčevo pravo ime pa je Jurij Rozman]. Izšlo kot feljton v časopisu Slovenec od 2. januarja do 13. junija 1890. Zdaj tudi na wikisource.

Léo Taxil je bil francoski publicist iz druge polovice 19. stoletja. Podobno kot pri nas je tudi v Franciji takrat divjal srdit kulturni boj med klerikalci in liberalci. Taxil je bil sprva precej let zagrizen antiklerikalec; urejal je več časopisov in objavljal kopico protiklerikalnih člankov, pamfletov, brošur in podobnega. Potem se je s precej hrupa spreobrnil in odtlej objavljal prav tako zagrizene članke za nasprotno stran.

Seveda je odveč poudarjati, da je velika večina tega, kar je pisal (v obeh obdobjih), popolnoma rumeni žurnalizem, poln izmišljotin, laži, pretiravanj in podobnega. Tisto, po čemer je dandanes najbolj znan, je razvpita prevara, ki jo je organiziral po svoji spreobrnitvi v klerikalca. Trdil je, da znotraj prostozidarskega reda obstaja neka še ožja in bolj skrivnostna druščina, paladisti, ki da prirejajo nezaslišane okultistične obrede, orgije, žrtvovanja in podobne stvari. O tem so on in njegovi sotrudniki napisali več knjig, ki so se med klerikalci (ki so bili izrazito proti-prostozidarsko nastrojeni) dobro prodajale; sčasoma se je seveda izkazalo, da je vse skupaj izmišljeno. Jaz sem zanj prvič slišal ravno v zvezi s to potegavščino; omenjal jo je Sprague de Camp v svoji Ragged Edge of Science, kasneje pa sem prebral célo knjigo o tem (A. E. Waite: Devil-worship in France).

Pred nekaj meseci sem v članku Mirana Hladnika Začetki slovenskega feljtonskega romana naletel na zanimiv seznam stvari, ki so bile v slovenskih časopisih objavljene kot feljtoni do leta 1918; med drugim so tam omenjeni tudi tile spomini Lea Taxila, ki so izhajali kot feljton v klerikalnem časopisu Slovenec leta 1890. Glede na pestro kariero tega možakarja sem upal, da bodo tudi njegovi spomini zanimivi, pa sem se odločil, da jih bom prebral. Na srečo so te stare številke Slovenca lepo poskenirane na, tako da je prav lahko priti do njih. (Kasneje istega leta je stvar po vsem videzu sodeč izšla tudi kot samostojna knjiga, vendar tiste na nisem našel.)

Ti spomini se mi sicer sami po sebi niso zdeli tako zanimivi, kot sem upal, se mi je pa vseeno zdelo, da sem skoznje dobil nekakšen pogled na čas, o katerem piše — o Franciji 70. in 80. let devetnajstega stoletja drugače nisem kaj dosti vedel. Videti je, da so bili to kar razburkani časi. Taxil je odraščal v precej verni družini in hodil v cerkvene šole, vendar se je že kot srednješolec vsemu skupaj pošteno uprl in se začel približevati raznim republikanskim in liberalnim agitatorjem, politikom in časnikarjem. Z bratom sta celo pobegnila od doma, da bi se v izgnanstvu v tujini pridružila enemu od teh ljudi, vendar so starši poskrbeli, da so ju na meji prestregli. Ni mi sicer čisto očitno, da bi bil Taxil pri tem storil kaj protizakonitega; no, ker je bil še mladoleten, se je njegov oče kar zmenil z nekim zaporom, da bodo sina za nekaj mesecev zaprli tja — očitno je po takratni zakonodaji kot starš to pravico imel, kar se mi je zdelo precej ekstremno, ampak v 19. stoletju nas to najbrž ne bi smelo presenetiti :S Ni si težko predstavljati, da mladega Lea to ni odvrnilo od njegovih republikanskih in protiverskih nagnjenj, pač pa ga je kvečjemu še radikaliziralo.

Zanimive epizode so tudi v času okoli francosko-pruske vojne (1870–1). Taxil je bil star komaj 16 let, a je ponaredil svoj rojstni list, da so ga sprejeli v vojsko kot prostovoljca; imel je nekaj manjših pustolovščin na urjenju v severni Afriki, preden so njegovi starši ugotovili, kaj se dogaja, in obvestili vojsko o njegovi pravi starosti, tako da je bil nato iz nje odpuščen.

Tista vojna je bila sicer za Francijo kar prelomen dogodek; poraz proti Prusiji jih je šokiral, državo pa pahnil v nekakšno revolucionarno vrenje, tako da so cesarja Napoleona III. odstavili in uvedli republiko, pri čemer so potem ostali vse do danes. Spomnil sem se, da je v tistem času potekala na primer pariška komuna, ampak očitno so se podobne stvari v manjšem obsegu dogajale tudi drugod po Franciji, na primer v Marseillu, kjer je živel Taxil.

Srboriti mladeniči, ki bi se v normalnih razmerah zabavali z igranjem računalniških iger, prepiranjem na socialnih omrežjih, popivanjem in plesanjem v diskotekah (oz. karkoli je bil že v 19. stoletju ekvivalent teh stvari), so se zdaj začeli igrati revolucionarje; Taxil je skupaj z nekaj somišljeniki ustanovil „mlado mestno legijo“ in z njo marširal po Marseillu, pisal je revolucionarne članke in imel številne primerno fanatične govore v revolucionarnih društvih in klubih, ki so rasli kot gobe po dežju. Divji časi — zanimivo mi je bilo brati o njih, po svoje pa sem vesel, da nisem sam doživel česa takega. (Po drugi strani je treba priznati, da bi tudi dandanes bilo nekaj priložnosti za takšne reči, če bi imel človek veselje z njimi; saj smo imeli antiglobalistično gibanje, pa occupy movement, pa vstajniško gibanje in podobne stvari.)

V četrtem in petem poglavju, kjer piše o revolucionarnem času, je tudi precej raznih bizarnih anekdot, saj revolucije pogosto naplavijo na površje vse mogoče čudake, ki jemljejo dogajanje (in sami sebe) preveč resno. Ko takšni v revolucionarnih okoliščinah pridejo na kak pomemben položaj, ki mu niso dorasli, so bizarnosti skoraj zagotovljene.

Ko so se razmere počasi malo stabilizirale, se je začel Taxil vse bolj resno ukvarjati z novinarstvom in protiklerikalnim pisanjem; kmalu se je tudi preselil v Pariz. Osrednji del spominov je tako zanimiv pogled na to, kako je izgledalo táko bolj pogrošno politično novinarstvo v tistih časih. Časopisov je bilo ogromno, novi so rasli kot gobe po dežju, prav tako hitro pa tudi propadali. Taxil je neusmiljeno udrihal po cerkvi in njenih privržencih, bil zaradi tega mnogokrat tožen, enkrat za krajši čas celo zaprt, po drugi strani pa je s svojim šokantnim in škandaloznim slogom pisanja pridobil številne bralce; nekateri njegovi časopisi so bili finančno prav uspešni, pa tudi njegova založba „Protiklerikalna knjižnica“, prek katere so on in njegovi somišljeniki objavljali razne pamflete in brošure, je dobro poslovala.

Sodeč po Taxilovem pisanju v teh spominih ga je sicer še bolj kot želja po dobičku gnal čisto iskren protiklerikalni fanatizem; je pa možno, da nalašč malo bolj poudarja ta vidik, da bi se kot spreobrnjenec bolj prikupil svojemu novemu klerikalnemu občinstvu. Kakorkoli že, vsekakor je imel zelo dober smisel tudi za poslovne vidike svojega dela. Na začetku 9. poglavja na primer opisuje svoje inovacije pri distribuciji protiklerikalnih pamfletov: tiskal jih je v Parizu in razpošiljanje takšnih reči po celi Franciji ni bilo ravno najcenejša in najpreprostejša stvar na svetu; zato se je zmenil z izdajatelji nekaj pariških republikanskih časopisov, ki so že itak razpošiljali vsak dan grmade papirja z vlaki po Franciji, da bi zraven prevažali še Taxilove brošure, ki bi jih potem tudi prodajali isti trafikanti kot časopise. Ta aranžma je distribucijo pamfletov pocenil in bil v korist vsem udeleženim.

Poleg novinarskega dela je Taxil tudi pomagal organizirati razna prostomiselska in protiklerikalna društva. V začetku 11. poglavja navaja odlomke iz pravilnika antiklerikalne lige in zanimivo se mi je zdelo, da se kaže v tem pravilniku tudi močna socialna komponenta, celo socialistična. V praksi pa je imel ateizem v tistih časih tako obroben položaj, da so imela ta ateistična društva polne roke dela že s tem, kako svoje člane odvračati vsaj od javnega obiskovanja cerkvenih obredov, cerkvenih porok in pogrebov in podobnega.

Zanimivo je tudi zadnje poglavje, kjer opisuje, kako se je potem spreobrnil nazaj v katolištvo. Videti je, da ga je po eni strani težilo pomanjkanje sloge v republikanskem taboru — njegovi politični zavezniki so udrihali po njem skoraj tako marljivo kot klerikalci; in po drugi strani se je tudi malo naveličal tega, da se mora v svojih spisih ves čas tako na debelo lagati, da bi lahko primerno črnil cerkev, duhovščino, papeže in podobne stvari. Te stvari so ga očitno pripeljale v tako duševno stanje, v katerem so ga spet obšla verska čustva.

Seveda si ne morem kaj, da ne bi teh stvari jemal z nekaj rezerve. Težko si na primer predstavljam, da bi bili klerikalci toliko manj skregani med sabo, kot so bili liberalci. In tudi jadikovanje o tem, kako da ga je težilo to, da je moral v svojih protiverskih spisih toliko lagati in potvarjati dejstva, je težko jemati resno, ko pa vemo, da je v svojih kasnejših delih še naprej lagal in si izmišljeval, le da zdaj pač za klerikalno stran namesto proti njej.

Že v teh samih spominih se sprašujem, če gre res vsemu zaupati. V osmem poglavju na primer omenja župnika Meslierja, ki naj bi se na smrtni postelji odrekel veri in zapustil dolg protiverski testament. Taxil pravi, da si je tega župnika v celoti izmislil Voltaire, ki je tudi napisal omenjeni testament; po drugi strani pa v wikipediji piše, da je Meslier res obstajal in napisal svoj testament, Voltaire pa je kasneje pripravil skrajšano verzijo le-tega (in vanjo mogoče res še kaj svojega doložil).

Spominom se seveda tudi pozna, da so bili napisani že po Taxilovi spreobrnitvi v katoliški tabor in da ravno ta predstavlja ciljno publiko zanje. Zato na veliko jadikuje nad grehi in zablodami svoje preteklosti in jih obžaluje; tega je še zlasti veliko v prvih poglavjih, kjer piše o tem, kako je sploh zajadral v svoje brezbožno obdobje. Med drugim ves skrušen pripoveduje, kako je šel kot šolar enkrat brez spovedi k obhajilu, za kar imajo očitno verniki celo poseben in primerno bizaren izraz — božji rop! :)))

Po eni strani so torej ti spomini vsekakor bili zanimivo branje; po drugi strani je bilo veliko podrobnosti v njih vendarle tudi dolgočasnih, ker me pač politika in zgodovina tistega časa le ne zanimata tako zelo. Škoda se mi je tudi zdelo, da se je bil Taxil spreobrnil v klerikalca in potem pisal spomine s tega stališča, saj sem jaz zelo protiversko razpoložen in sem zato bolj simpatiziral s Taxilom v njegovi protiklerikalni fazi kot pa po njegovi spreobrnitvi.


Taxil piše o enem od svojih srednješolskih učiteljev (2. jan., str. 2–3): „nesrečnež imel je najnehvaležnejši obraz. Tako jamičast je bil, da se nikoli ni mogel popolnoma obriti. Mislite si groyski sir, ko bi mu lasje v jamicah zrastli. Temu je bil podoben.“ Ewwwwww :)))

V enem od svojih proticerkvenih člankov je objavil, da „kanoniki „Naše Gospe“, ko se zbirajo v doljnih kletih, snažijo staro mučilno orodje in se pripravljajo, da bi je rabili, ker upajo, da se bo že bližnjo prihodnost zopet ustanovila stara monarhija“ (31. mar., str. 1). ROFL :))) Res, ne bi si želeli heretikov mučiti na zaprašeni in posvinjani natezalnici :))

Spotoma sem tu in tam poškilil še na druge stvari v teh starih številkah Slovenca. Občasno se najde kaj prijetno bizarnega:

Sestava nemškega parlamenta po zadnjih volitvah: „Post poroča izid volitev v vseh 379 volilnih okrajih. [. . .] Voljenih je bilo: 16 pristašev vladne stranke, 52 nemških konservativcev, [. . .] 2 demokrata, 14 Alzačanov, 14 Poljakov, 1 Danec, 21 socijalnih demokratov, 1 antisemit in 1 divjak.“ (27. feb. 1890, str. 3).

15. aprila na str. 3 pišejo, da se bo v kratkem preselilo 25000 ljudi iz Islandije v severozahodno Kanado, pri čemer je bilo skupno prebivalstvo Islandije takrat le okoli 70000 ljudi. Radoveden sem, če je bilo potem res kaj iz tega.

Najbolj strupena kovina je uran. Prof. Robert in prof. Chitteuden sta dognala, da je uran mnogo hujši od arzena in da ima isto strupeno moč v krvi, kakor v želodci.“ (20. jan. 1890, str. 3.)

Malo o jeziku

Po svoje se mi je zdelo vedno zanimivo, kako malo stika imamo s slovenščino iz zgodnejših obdobij; v angleščini sem prebral marsikaj iz 18. ali 19. stoletja, občasno še kaj starejšega, s slovenščino iz tistih obdobij pa pridem le redko v stik. Po svoje je to seveda razumljivo, saj takrat niso napisali kaj dosti takšnih stvari, ki bi jih bilo dandanes zanimivo brati; poleg tega pa je celo npr. v Zbranih delih slovenskih pesnikov in pisateljev, ki sem jih nekaj malega prebral in kjer je veliko stvari iz 19. stoletja, jezik pogosto malo moderniziran, vsaj glede pravopisa.

Kakorkoli že, dejstvo je, da je bilo branje tehle poskeniranih podlistkov iz leta 1890 zame redka priložnost, da pridem neposredno v stik s slovenščino izpred malo več kot 100 let in si malo ogledam, kako se je razlikovala od današnje.

• Mestnik ednine pri moških samostalnikih je veliko pogosteje na -i kot na -u: po naključji, v razmerji, po obnašanji ipd.

• Pri glagolih v 3. os. mn. skoraj vedno uporablja krajše oblike z naglasom na koncu: govoré, kričé, ustrelé, žró ipd. (Po drugi strani pa piše dajo, nikoli dadó ali dadé.)

• Pogosto uporablja -ov- namesto -ir-: bombardovanja, fotografovati, kandidoval, mobilizovati.

• Pogosto uporablja -ava- namesto -ova- ali -uje-: preiskaval, vzdržaval, podpisavam, nehavam ipd.

• Precej je razlik v pisanju besed na u in v, včasih imam skoraj občutek, da je bilo ravno obratno kot dandanes: udan, ukovani, uljudno, upliv, vspeh, vjet, vrednik, vdariva.

• Navezne oblike zaimkov skoraj vedno piše z vezajem; glede tega, kje bi jih naglasil, pa vlada popolna zmeda: tako najdemo na primer za-se, zá-se, za-sé in enkrat celo za-sè. Se mi pa zdi, da jih največkrat naglasi na zadnjem zlogu, ne na prvem kot dandanes.

• Namenilnik večinoma prav lepo uporablja, sem pa opazil tudi nekaj primerov, kjer je namesto njega uporabil nedoločnik: „pridejo naznaniti“; „pridete v obraz izzivati“; „prišel izzivati“.

• V 3. os. dvojine konča glagol na -e namesto -a, če je osebek ženskega spola: „dve skupini [. . .] ki nakladate“; „vednost in vero, ki se med seboj pobijate“; „kjer se križate rue Turbigo in rue du Temple“.

• Nekatere besede bi dandanes pričakoval le v pogovornem jeziku, tu pa jih vidimo v pisnem: šunder, šuntalo.

• Precej dosledno piše en o več kot dandanes v besedah, kot so kakoršen, kakošen, vsakoršen ipd.

• Pri samostalnikih druge ženske sklanjatve v rod. mn. ponavadi piše na koncu -ij namesto -i: besnostij, klopij, pesmij, rečij, živalij.

• Pogosto opušča besedo od v primerih, kot so: „lakote umrjem“, „so groze kar kričali“, „veselja vriskajo“, „rudel je jeze“, „divjal besnosti“, „žalosti prevzet“.

• Pogosto uporablja besedo „očitno“ v pomenu „javno“, mogoče zato, ker sta si v nemščini tako podobni.

• Besedi vojna in vojska uporablja večinoma v ravno obratnem pomenu kot danes; torej vojna kot skupina vojakov, vojska pa kot spopad. No, to slednje sem v pogovornem jeziku tudi še dandanes kdaj slišal, vojne kot skupine vojakov pa ne.

• Nekaj je tudi besed, ki mi delujejo kot sposojenke iz srbohrvaščine; neverojetno, nedostaje, ostavila, plačem, pušil, izbacniti, skupljajo, svrho, iznenadjenja, nego (ki pa je desetkrat redkejši kot kakor), grajan (ki pa jo uporablja le v zadnjem delu knjige, pred tem pa čisto lepo državljan in meščan). No, po svoje sem pravzaprav pričakoval, da jih bo še več.

• Še ena nenavadna sprememba v zadnjem delu knjige pa je braterstvo, kjer je prej čisto lepo uporabljal bratstvo. Ugibam, da je to pobral iz češčine.

• V mnogih pogledih pa se prevajalec tujkam precej temeljito izogiba ali pa jih vsaj razloži, ker očitno predpostavlja, da jih bralci ne bodo poznali. Tako namesto revolucija, revolucionaren ponavadi pravi prekucija, prekucijski; despota razloži kot trinoga (dandanes bi prej pričakoval, da boš moral razložiti v obratni smeri), generalštab kot viši stan; namesto skepticizma je dvomljivstvo, namesto škandala je pohujšanje, namesto morale je vedno nravnost.

• Uporablja se precej več naglasnih znamenj kot dandanes, čeprav nisem imel občutka, da bi se jih uporabljalo na kakšen posebej konsistenten način. Pogosto jih uporablja tam, kjer bi se dalo isto besedo prebrati na dva različna načina (čeprav je ponavadi iz konteksta čisto očitno, kateri je pravi); včasih pa tudi v primerih, ko je izgovorjava že tako ali tako čisto nedvoumna, tako da mi ni jasno, na podlagi česa so se odločili, kdaj napisati naglasno znamenje, kdaj pa ne.

Še posebej čuden primer je tale: na koncu posameznega nadaljevanja podlistka ponavadi piše „dalje slédi“; v majhnem deležu primerov pa „dalje sledí“. Čudno je že to, da pri zapisu niso bolj dosledni; še bolj čudna pa je ideja, da bi se to besedo izgovarjalo slédi namesto sledí.

• Občasno se pojavljajo besede na -sk namesto -ski: „Bil je nekoliko družinsk“; „Bog katoličanov je le [. . .] netvarinsk trinog“; „Ali se vam ne zdi škof [. . .] bolj protiprekucijsk“; „Republikansk trgovec, o katerem [. . .]“. Mislim, da sem pred leti nekje prebral, da si je takrat v poznem 19. stoletju nekdo zamislil, da bi se oblike brez i uporabljalo kot določne, tiste z i pa kot nedoločne ali nekaj podobnega. Radoveden sem, od kod jim ta ideja, saj dvomim, da je bila v govorjenem jeziku podlaga za kaj takega. V vsakem primeru pa je očitno, da se stvar ni prijela :) V tej knjigi so oblike brez i redke in mi ni ravno očitno, ali naj bi se po pomenu kako razlikovale od tistih z i.

• Nisem pa recimo opazil kakšnih posebnih primerov vpliva nemške slovnice, npr. na besedni red — v zgodnejših besedilih iz 19. stoletja so znali včasih glagole malo bolj na konec stavka tlačiti, v teh spominih pa tega nisem opazil; očitno so se do konca 19. stoletja teh vplivov že kar dobro otresli.

• Imena mesecev uporablja taka kot danes, le prva dva piše zelo bizarno januvarij in februvarij. Od starih slovenskih imen sem našel le eno pojavitev sušca (ki mu drugod pravi marec).

Ženevo (kjer je Taxil nekaj časa živel) dosledno imenuje z nemško obliko Genf.

• Pridevnik italijanski se pojavi le enkrat, drugače vedno laški.

Dvor v pomenu sodišče; verjetno pod vplivom raznih tujih jezikov. Še posebej me je fascinirala fraza „marcijalni dvor“, za katero sem se šele sčasoma zavedel, da gre za na pol prevod, na pol sposojenko iz francoske cour martiale, torej vojaško sodišče.

• Marsikdaj piše brez j, kar bi danes pisali z njim: natisneno, obrneno, spreobrnenje, zamaknen. Včasih pa je tudi obratno: lažnjiv, stopnjice, tanjkimi.

• Včasih piše e, kjer ga danes ne bi smeli: ministerstvo, ministerski, mojstersko.

• Pogosto piše so- namesto se-: sostaviti, sozidali, sošel, sožgali, tudi sostav (= sistem).

• Pogosto piše narazen stvari, ki bi jih danes pisali skupaj: pred vsem, ob enem, k večemu.

• Rad ima oblike na iz- namesto na s-/z-: izpovednik, izpozna, izprehod, izpremeniti, izprevidel.

• Včasih piše kacega, tacih, vsacega namesto bolj običajnih oblik s k; podobno drazih, druzega, ubozega namesto oblik z g. Priznam, da me to preseneča; predstavljal sem si, da je na primer do oblike tacega prišlo v pogovornem jeziku zato, ker smo e začeli opuščati in ker kg skupaj ne moreš izgovoriti; ampak s tem si ne moremo razložiti oblik, kot je tacih.

• Še nekaj čudaštev pri zaimkih: kot krajšo obliko zaimka njej raje uporablja jej kot ji; enkrat sem našel tudi njijino (v pomenu njuno).

• Predlog h uporablja le pred besedami na k-; danes bi ga tudi pred tistimi na g-, tu pa imamo k galeriji, k glasovanju in podobno.

• Namesto predloga s/z uporablja ž, če se naslednja beseda začne na nj-: ž njo, ž njimi in podobno.

• Pogosto piše -j- med dvema samoglasnikoma, kjer ga danes ne bi: klijent, legijonar, socijalizem, perijodična.

• Še nekaj razlik v primerjavi z današnjim pravopisom: vedno piše ladija (nikoli ladja), kolika (nikoli kolikšna), tezalnica (nikoli natezalnica), zopet (nikoli spet), provzročiti (nikoli povzročiti), teboj (nikoli tabo), žrtva (nikoli žrtve; tudi tožilnik je zato žrtvo), tvarina (nikoli snov), odnošaj (nikoli odnos), pisalec (nikoli pisec), učenik (nikoli učitelj), brezdno (le enkrat brezno). Ondi je desetkrat pogostejši kot tam; oni je pogostejši kot tisti; priprost je pogostejši kot preprost, prenapetnež je pogostejši kot prenapetež.

• Pogosto piše vs- namesto vz-: vshod (nikoli vzhod), vskipela, vskliknil, vspenja.

• Ena zanimiva beseda, ki jo uporablja še kar pogosto, danes pa je sploh ne srečamo več, je vsled (ki pomeni zaradi — uporablja pa tudi to, in še pogosteje kot vsled).

• Francoska osebna imena praviloma prevaja v slovenščino. Tako se pojavijo Leon Taxil s pravim imenom Gabrijel; pa Henrik Fouquier, Avgust Cabrol, Franc Bonnardot, župnik Janez Meslier ipd. Ivani Orleanski pa pravi Jovana d' Arc.

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