Morning Read:


¶ “Brit,” the title of Chapter 58 of Moby-Dick refers, as best I can make out, to the microscopic zooplankton called copepods. But never mind. The chapter is really interested in distinguishing the peaceable land masses of the earth from the hostile oceans, and it ends on an elegiac note.

Consider all this: consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off frfom that isle, thou canst never return!

Like everyone else, I was brought up to nod reverently as this sort of humane sagacity. Now it simply reeks of incense, clouding the view of clearer truths.

¶ In Don Quixote, the only distinguished personage who hasn’t shown up at the inn is Forrest Gump. We have yet another recognition scene, as the muletier with the beautiful voice turns out to be Doña Clara’s youthful admirer from across the road in Madrid. I’d love to find out how this romance will end up, but I have to put the book down, because, after two chapters instead of the usual ration of just one, I’m so sick of Quixote’s antics that I can’t continue.

Just then, one of the horses of the four men pounding at the door happened to smell Rocinante, who, melancholy and sad and with drooping ears, stood unmoving as he held his tightly drawn master; and since, after all, he was flesh and blood, though he seemed to be made of wood, he could not help a certain display of feeling as he, in turn, smelled the horse who had come to exchange caresses; as soon as he had moved slightly, Don Quixote’s feet, which were close together, slipped from the saddle, and he would have landed on the ground if he had not been hanging by his arm; this caused him so much pain that he believed his hand was being cut off at the wrist or that his arm was being pulled out of its socket; he was left dangling so close to the ground that the tips of his toes brushed the earth, and this made matters even worse, because…

I have no idea what Cervantes is thinking, when he interrupts the tale of Don Luis with the roughhousing that Quixote provokes at every turn, but the tale itself is reminiscent not of The Marriage of Figaro but of its “pre-quel,” The Barber of Seville. Although I can’t remember what “Lindoro” (the Count in disguise) is supposed to be. Not a muletier, I don’t think.

¶ In Squillions, at the end of interminable Chapter 17, we learn why Noël Coward took to bunking at Cary Grant’s when he paid wartime visits to Hollywood. No, they were not an affair. The two men were both agents of “Little” Bill Stephenson, sizing up the sentiment of the movie crowd. It’s no surprise to be reminded that Errol Flynn was pro-Nazi.

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