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conversation. Upon whatever subject her pen was engaged, that was the theme to which she led all talk.
Sir Thomas Browne's famous letter. To a friend upon occasion of the death of his intimate friend' is a masterpiece of the art of digressing. Surely it is one of the quaintest letters of condolence ever written, if indeed it were ever intended to be such, for it has that stamp of careful literary composition which is usually so apparent in all letters written with a view to publication. The friend in question died of a consumption, and Sir Thomas recapitulates his disease, symptoms and death; contrasting each feature with the celebrated examples of history; moralising and discussing the opinions of the ancients upon these points as he goes along; and showing by his own experience that a man ‘after a cough of almost fifty years, in whom all the lobes adhered unto the Pleura,' might yet die of stone in the bladder. Doubtless the friend to whom the letter was indited was highly edified by the aged doctor's learning, yet one cannot conceive that he would be greatly consoled by being informed, when discussing the patient's cough, that 'in cetaceous Fishes, who have large and strong lungs, the same is not observed; nor yet in oviparous Quadrupeds.' Digressing in this manner is a risky business, and if the grief were still fresh, it is more than likely that the bereaved one would exclaim ' A fig for your fishes, Sir.' But Sir Thomas was a wise and worldly man, and would know from experience precisely when to administer his soothing draught.
The attractions of digressing are far more insidious than would appear at first sight. It is so easy, one finds such delightful things, it is all in the daily task of gathering knowledge, it may be useful to us some day, and so on. But unwisely employed, it is a more terrible thief of time even than Young's ‘procrastination. Worse still, it is a waster; for the scrappy knowledge so often acquired by this means becomes invariably the little learning' which is so dangerous—and useless-a thing. So that unless we are strongly imbued with the spirit of scholarly research, determined that we will not deviate one iota from the particular side-track which we are exploring, we are in grave danger of becoming lost in the maze of paths. Digressions in conversation and books can be of immense value, but he must be a man of iron will who can utilise to permanent advantage his resources in this direction. Constant and purposeless digressions, in reading no less than in talk, are just as injurious as interruptions. The mind is switched from one subject to another, and an entire sequence of reasoning which we may have been building up by the study of some days is destroyed in a few moments by the opening up of an unexplored tract of thought. For many years there was a learned man at work in one of our ancient cathedral libraries, cataloguing the manuscripts and monastic charters of the ancient foundation. Their number runs into many thousands, and at the outset the sacrist realised that if this task of providing an index and précis of the entire collection (which would be of incalculable value to the historical students who come after him) were to be accomplished in his lifetime, it would be necessary to adhere rigidly to his plan. Any deviation, however slight, would mean the loss of valuable time. To the historian and antiquary such a determination must have cost more than we can imagine; for every now and again he came across some charter of great historical interest. 'Ah,' he would sigh, reading it through, 'and now I suppose you must go back again into the obscurity in which you have lain for eight hundred years. He quietly made his précis, indexed the document, and replaced it in the oaken press. There, thanks to his labours, it will be turned to at some future date to add laurels to the researches' of another man.
Perhaps the most innocuous way in which we may digress is by compiling one of those delectable literary hotch-potches known as 'commonplace books.' Here, with careful selection, we may garner those delightful thoughts, those gay conceits or pithy stories, that strike our
fancy as we read. And though perhaps it may be urged that such collections resemble a casket of loose jewels plucked from their settings, yet they are jewels none the less. We may store all our collections within one cover, or we may preserve separately our extracts from the poets, our biographies, our meditations, or our anecdotes.
The first 'commonplacer' of whom we have seen mention was one Photius, a colonel in the Life Guards at Constantinople during the ninth century, or-as he was then called—Protospatharius. Later he became ambassador to the court of Baghdad, and amused himself by compiling a volume which he called Myriobiblon, a collection of extracts of the authors which he had read. He was a man, we are told, of extraordinary vigour of mind, and of encyclopædical knowledge, and he was so devoted to reading that he passed whole nights without sleep. Accordingly we are not surprised to find that the Myriobiblon, with its Latin translation, forms a folio volume of some 1500 pages. When on an embassy to · Assyria, he carried his library—some 300 rollswith him, presumably on camels. Thus, we suppose, he could bestride his dramatic camel, his poetic camel, or his theological camel as the mood took him, The Myriobiblon was compiled merely as a handbook for his brother Tarasius, that the latter might enjoy a brief synopsis of what the ambassador read on his travels. Several authors are now known only by the extracts in this book; and among them may be mentioned a writer named Conon, who is said to have written fifty novels, which Photius condensed to his liking. All this, of course, was merely pour passer le temps ; the really important works of this bookworm being a lexicon and a number of books on theology. Needless to say in due course he became Patriarch of Constanti
Who nowadays keeps a commonplace book ? Doubtless a good many readers of to-day have neither time nor inclination to indulge this pleasing fashion, at one time so popular; but to anyone whose delight is the reading of good books as opposed to modern novels, there can be no more interesting amusement.
It can be a risky thing, however, this commonplacing, and he would be a bold man who dared to assign unto any one writer a popular phrase for no other reason than that this one has first expressed it in writing. There is no new thing under the sun, and by continued expression a familiar maxim becomes at last a proverb. Ask at a dinner-table who first wrote ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.' The knowing ones will puzzle their brains in silence; some lady with religious tendencies will claim it for the Holy Writ, inclining towards Isaiah; but the quiet bookish man at the end of the table will smile in